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New bar opens in downtown Oregon City in the oldest retail building in Oregon
by: ellen spitaleri, An eight-foot long gavel adorns the bar at The Verdict in downtown Oregon City.

Even if you haven't done the crime - you can still spend the time seeing 'justice served daily' at downtown Oregon City's newest restaurant and bar, The Verdict, just across the street from the county courthouse.


The place is the brainchild of owners Aaron Breniman and Ryan Smith, both of whom have been actively involved in the community for years through the Oregon City Downtown Business Coalition.

The two men will celebrate the grand opening of The Verdict Friday and Saturday, May 29 and 30, with special dishes, music and lots of giveaways.

Legal theme

Because of the spot's proximity to the courthouse, Breniman and Smith chose to accentuate the 'legal aspect' of the location in both the atmosphere of the restaurant and in the category names of the menu items.

Instead of happy hour, customers can enjoy an 'Abatement Period,' daily from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 9 to 11 p.m. Both Breniman and Smith suggest you try the bacon-wrapped shrimp, served with cocktail sauce, for $5.

Choose an appetizer from the Opening Statements section, move on to a Lighter Sentence with the house-made beer cheese soup or salads. For pasta fans there is Order in the Court; dine on a variety of sandwiches while spending time in the Jury Box or go big for dinner on the Hot Seat. And even if you are found Guilty as Charged, the dessert menu provides lots of opportunities to be naughty.

The restaurant attracts a crowd from the courthouse, so Breniman and Smith had some fun with cocktail names, including Dead Man Walking, Convict's Cola and The Get-Away Car.

Construction

At first, the two men wanted to start a restaurant that was 'more like a happy hour bar with music that was only open Monday through Friday, from 3 to 8 p.m.,' Breniman said.

But once they started tearing apart walls and the place began to take shape, they realized 'it's a restaurant,' he added.

The Verdict on 8th Street is in 'Oregon's oldest commercial building,' Breniman said, noting that it was built in 1848.

'Ryan is a developer; he did the building where Cypress and Winestock are, and he had his eye on this building for awhile. There is such a campus feel to it - there are people who go [to the courthouse] every day, some want to be there, some don't. Some are celebrating, some aren't, but there is always a built-in clientele.'

Smith described the location as 'a primo corner in downtown,' adding that he had been 'stalking this building for five years.'

They started the project in October when they began excavating the site. Eventually they removed 200 yards of dirt, about 20 dump trucks full, Breniman noted, and they discovered a collection of old bottles, which they display above the bar.

They kept as much of the history intact as they could, saving brick walls and a brick chimney that they hope to get working again. The earth-tone painted walls sport historic photos of Oregon City's early days, and the bar occupies an 'island' in the middle of the space.

Their overall goal was to create a restaurant that they would frequent, one with the right mix of a 'nice, warm, comfortable, classic environment,' good food and excellent customer service, Breniman said.

Décor items include a 'current set of Oregon case-law books and an eight-foot gavel made by a local chainsaw artist,' he added.

'When people walk in, I want them to say 'wow,'' Smith said, adding that he wants customers to feel that they are in a 'comfortable and homey' spot.

He added, 'We wanted it to be a classy place, upscale in atmosphere, but not in price.'

There are TVs on the wall, but The Verdict is 'not a sports bar,' Breniman said. But, he noted, the spot is 'the only place in downtown Oregon City with the Comcast sports channel,' so customers can watch the Ducks, Beavers and the Trailblazers.

Food

The executive chef, Rob Campbell, has worked at Cattleman's and makes everything from scratch, Breniman said, and at The Verdict, 'food is foremost.'

Campbell said the menu is 'unique, because we use the best quality breads and make all our own sauces from scratch. We use only the freshest ingredients and hand-cut our own beef - and we put love in every dish.'

Campbell is particularly proud of the Cajun rib-eye steak, served with a bay shrimp cream sauce with green onions and tomatoes.

In addition to bacon-wrapped shrimp, Breniman said he had a hard time choosing a favorite dish, because 'it's all so good.'

Smith loves those shrimp as well, and added that the fettuccini Alfredo is delicious.

The restaurant has beer, a well-stocked wine list with a focus on local wines and cocktails that use liquor from several local distilleries.

The two men have another construction project underway - they plan to put a deli just up a flight of stairs from The Verdict. The menu will include standard deli items like wine and cheese, and take-home meals, like casseroles, could be available as well.

The deli will be called The Caulfield House, because 'the Caulfields were the original people who built the building,' Smith noted, adding that Congressman Kurt Schrader's office is upstairs.

The Verdict is currently open, and customers have been responding positively to the restaurant, both men said.

'There were some ladies who came in for drinks and were here for three hours - that is a compliment,' Smith said.

Breniman added, 'Customers will come in one day, and the next they come back and bring somebody else.'

Fast Facts

• The Verdict Bar and Grill

110 8th St.

Oregon City 97045

503-305-8429

• Hours of operation: Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

• www.verdictbarandgrill.com

• Minors allowed until 9 p.m.

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