1229 N Killingsworth St., 503-806-8940, upnorthsurfclub.com.
On most nights at Up North Surf Club, there's a steady stream of beanie-clad regulars stopping in to watch surf videos and exchange stories about their favorite breaks on the Oregon Coast. They enter through a tasteful imagining of a hip and tidy surfer's living room, with copies of The Surfer's Journal strewn about and a wood mural of a sunset covering what used to be a bay door. Behind a rack of surfboards from shapers like Murdey, Album and Jon Christenson is a colorful retail space selling T-shirts, palo santo and Up North mugs with the surfer battle cry "YEW!" printed on them.
It's an attractive spread, but few patrons are pondering their next surfboard purchase. Instead, they're seated at a glistening 17-foot bar made of bleached curly maple, drinking steins of German lager. While Up North is technically a surf shop, it's also a neighborhood beer bar. And a great one at that.
"Right now, it's more of a bar with a surf shop," says co-owner Martin Schoeneborn. "But as long as we can pay the bills, it's fine by me. The beer definitely keeps the lights on, but the boards help sell everything else."
Schoeneborn, 37, grew up in Wisconsin with a German father, which explains his preference for German styles like Weihenstephaner—Up North's adopted house beer—or Stay Golden, a crisp lager custom brewed for the bar by Eastern Oregon's Terminal Gravity. His intent was to stock imported beer exclusively, but he ultimately decided that a balanced list with IPAs from Pfriem and Breakside alongside local, German-influenced brewers like Rosenstadt and Occidental made much more sense than relying on beer that's been on a boat for a week.
Back in Wisconsin, Schoeneborn's exposure to surfing was limited to the tiny waves of Lake Michigan. It wasn't until 2005, when he left a film production job in New York to follow snowboard-bum friends to Portland, that he fell in love with the sport. Thrilled by the chilly solitude of the Oregon Coast and the lack of a requirement to buy a lift ticket, he found his new life as a freelancer and intermittent bartender well-suited for surfing.
A decade later, Schoeneborn hit the same wall many service-industry vets do in their 30s. After trudging across town with a résumé in hand for the umpteenth time, he and his wife, Karen Randall, decided it was time to go it alone. The two knew surfing would be central to their endeavor, but the idea of opening a surf shop in an expensive city 70 miles from the coast was iffy. What they were certain of, however, was that beer would be an essential piece of the puzzle.
"I felt like beer was a really great way to create community," says Schoenborn. "I didn't really like the experience of going into a surf shop and wandering around, just looking. Whereas here you can hang out, drink a beer, and if you want to buy something, that's cool."
Up North is right on time with the growing swell of surf culture in Portland. Along with Sandy Boulevard surf shop Leeward and surf cafe Cosube on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, its arrival in January 2017 signaled a sea change in the city's perception of how appealing and accessible the sport really is. And even if surfing isn't your thing, it's hard to deny that Up North's aesthetic is as inviting as its beer is good.
Following the keen design sense of Randall, which she honed as an apparel developer, the duo enlisted a supergroup of friends who've worked with Stumptown, Bolster Furniture and Ace Hotel to help with the build-out. The vibe at Up North is undeniably chill, which is probably for the better considering the $1,200 price tag on some of the boards. Still, Schoeneborn readily acknowledges that selling alcohol in a surf shop can sometimes spell trouble.
"We were showing the Conor McGregor-Floyd Mayweather fight, and I didn't realize it was such a big draw," says Schoeneborn. "Word got out, and all of the sudden I had to tell one of my regulars to stand by the door and not let anyone in. I was out of glassware and almost out of beer, and I'm watching some yahoo waving a surfboard around."
Another surfer mantra you'll find woven into Up North's branding is "Keep It Easy," which was Schoeneborn's only option at the time.
"I was too busy to go over there and do anything about it," Schoeneborn says, "but it turned out all good."