Here's the back story on Level Brewing, the newest business in Multnomah Village
Anyone who thinks the terms "good beer" and" family friendly" are mutually exclusive is living in the past and hasn't been to the Lucky Lab on a Friday night or the Old Market Pub on a Saturday afternoon.
You'll see more kids than kegs at both places.
There's a new option in Multnomah Village for those parents who enjoy drinking a pint in the company of their children. Level Brewery has taken over the building known for years as The Vault on Southwest Capitol Highway and opened a tasting room that serves beers brewed there and at its 40-acre operation in the northeast corner of Portland.
After a few short-term introductory openings (the "soft launch") in December, owners Jason Barbee, Shane Watterson and Geoffrey Phillips plan to operate full time after the first of the year. Each of the owners has two children. Level will be open seven days per week, from 4 to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, and 4 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
"As parents, you know, we want a place where we can go have a beer. But it's also important to us that it be family friendly," Barbee said. He's the driving force behind the opening of the Multnomah Village tap room, living about a ten-minute walk from the location and having seen the space was available while out with his family in Multnomah Village this fall.
"It's really nice to have a place nearby where my son and I can watch the Timbers games with a bunch of other people and cheer," he said.
On its website (levelbeer.com), Level calls itself an "American Craft Brewery … focusing on lighter alcohol beer styles."
As of late November, it was pouring 15 of its own creations at the tasting room Northeast 148th Avenue under the flight path of PDX. It also sells a dozen different beers in cans and bottles at local stores. Its "core" beers are Game On, an IPA; Let's Play, a pilsner; and Ready Player One, a saison —Available at Food Front and John's Marketplace. The packaging style is best described as Nintendo Retro. All three beers probably will be on tap at Level in Multnomah Village.
The three partners opened the Level brewery complex featuring a tasting room, event space, food trucks, an indoor picnic area and a dog run in 2017. The Argay neighborhood in outer Northeast Portland is experiencing a growth spurt of young families, not unlike what's happening in Southwest Portland.
"For these young families there was nowhere to go," said Watterson, who grew up nearby and went there as a kid when it was called The Barn and sold produce and country living. "All you've got are Burgerville and the Venture Inn, a dive bar where you can play video poker and have a shot of whiskey with your beer.
"But now we're here and we get tons of birthday parties. On a Sunday there's a party for a 2-year-old, a 1-year-old and a 40-year-old. People even rent bouncy castles. We've got an event space that's always rented out for birthday parties and retirements and weddings," Watterson said.
Barbee, who mastered the brewer's craft at Deschutes and Ex Novo — and his parenting skills at home — said there will be no table service because he and Watterson have seen too many "meltdowns."
"It's a benefit to us as a business because we don't have to have as many employees but it's also a benefit for the parents, not having table service," he said.
"I remember when my kids were really little and one starts having a meltdown and you want to get up and leave, and you're waving your hand trying to pay your bill. No one is happy. You want to hit the exit button," he said, like a dad who's truly been there and done that.
Instead of table service in Multnomah Village, "We're talking with Y'alla (the restaurant opening this spring in the old O'Connor's Café location next door to Level) about grab-an-go options and stuff. You'll be able to bring in food from other places," Barbee said. "You could take your kid over to Nectar, get a frozen yogurt then walk over here where they can eat their yogurt and you can get a beer."
Video and board games that parents and kids play will be available and the vibe will be what Watterson said customers from Japan call "heartwarming nostalgia." Level sells quite a bit of beer in Japan, where their video game-inspired packaging is popular.
Barbee, who said a woman from the neighborhood association welcomed him to the neighborhood when she saw him at The Ship, is also interested in working with Craft Factory to bring in crafts for kids and has heard from Annie Bloom's about hosting author readings.
"Things like that, it's just kind of getting everybody together to hang out a little more. It's community," he said.
It was big news in the local beer press that Level would open up a second outlet and it would be in Multnomah Village. That's because Level beer is well-regarded and considered a "comer" in local brewing circles.
Barbee and Watterson met while brewing at the Deschutes Portland location. Watterson went on to Laurelwood Brewing and Barbee to Ex Novo They stayed in touch because they wanted to start a brewery. They knew they could make good beer but weren't sure about the "business side" of things.
That's where the third member of the Level troika comes in. Geoffrey Phillips is the founder and owner of Bailey's Tap Room in downtown Portland. Baileys employs a high-tech pouring system for top-grade craft beers, makes board games available and allows customers to bring in food from the taqueria across the alley. (baileystaproom.com)
"We had a good beer plan and he had a very good bar business plan. Geoff was the missing piece," Watterson said. In 2015, Phillips bought the location on Northeast 148th and Level was on its way. Any similarities between Baileys Tap Room and Level in Multnomah Village are not a coincidence.
Level Brewery has a production system at their original location that can brew 20 barrels (5,000 pints) at a time. It also has a portable pilot system that can brew 77 gallons (750 pints). "We can mess around with the smaller system and do fun stuff with the pilot," Watterson said.
"Like bitters and brown ale and dark lagers," Barbee added. "We'll brew beers you might never get unless you come to Multnomah Village."
Pints will cost six dollars. "When we started it was five dollars a pint. But we started too low apparently. We went to $5.50 but those quarters were just a nightmare. So we're six dollars today and I don't think that will change anytime soon," Watterson said.
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