What unseen quality elevates a mere bar to a beer hall? This question is my drinking companion on a recent visit to Loyal Legion, Kurt Huffman’s new 99-tap “Oregon beer hall” in Southeast Portland. Having spent my adolescence in the beer tents, basements, and halls of Munich, Germany, I have been dispatched to this tile- and leather-clad space to deliver some cultural pronouncement on this new concept.
From my bar stool, I gaze down the length of the wood-topped infinity bar that wraps in an unbroken line around the center of the narrow “hall”—once owned by the Portland Police Athletic Association. The sleek space, with its dark booths and woods, seems small for a beer hall, but never mind. In Germany, quantity is king: Give me a liter of the house lager! Schnell! Schnell! Here, the exhaustively curated, all-Oregon beer list encourages methodical choosing and deliberate drinking.
A bartender takes my order and pours my beer, choosing seemingly at random from the unending rows of taps behind him (a key component of the state-of-the-art system that uses two separate chillers to cool your pint to less than 36 degrees). Between sips of an excellent Hand Truck Pale Ale from Baker City outfit Barley Brown’s, I soak in the vibe of this (dare I say?) sexy space. A typical Portland happy hour crowd: lively, aching for fun, but not quite able to shake off their office masks—yet. I long for the casual debauchery of Munich—where cavernous spaces and lederhosen uniforms make you anonymous and you’re always one liter ahead of where you should be.
Still, I find solace in the food menu, dominated by beer-soaked Olympia Provisions bratwursts, frankfurters, and Käsekrainers. The cheesy, gooey, messy burger, served on a pretzel bun with a generous heaping of pickles, becomes an instant favorite.
Loyal Legion is no Hofbräuhaus. But maybe this Oregon beer hall takes a different inspiration altogether: our love of beautiful spaces, of all things local, of simply gazing into space and people watching. And if I’m being honest, I don’t really miss the oompah-pah accordion music.