If the E-Z Ups are out, that's a sure sign a good time is being had.
Think of all the occasions where the portable shelters are typically seen: camping trips, picnics, beer festivals. Now that bars and restaurants are taking over sidewalks and roads for safer pandemic dining, those instant awnings are becoming the design accessory of the summer.
At Zoiglhaus, they're one of the defining features of the brewery's new pop-up beer garden in deep Southeast Portland. Originally dubbed "Zoigl-Lot Brew N' Q," it has seating spilling outside the warehouse-sized pub and onto Southeast Ramona Street in Lents. That's where you'll find what used to be a lane for vehicle parking now occupied by a row of yellow pine picnic tables purchased in a pinch from Lowe's.
"They were delivered unfinished by a very helpful and friendly staff," says Jason Frischetti, Zoiglhaus brand ambassador, "who fashioned them for umbrellas and put a finish on them."
On a recent gusty Saturday afternoon, the bright blue E-Z Ups anchored to the wooden seating were the sturdier option for the assembled crowd—couples primarily, but also a few groups of friends from different households who found that sitting diagonally at opposite ends of the table a practical way to socialize while maintaining distance.
The setup is bare-bones compared to some patios that have materialized in recent weeks. You won't find any potted plants, Instagrammable backdrops or embellished barriers between patrons and traffic—just orange cones. But such frippery isn't characteristic of the gritty Lents neighborhood.
Music plays on speakers, galvanized tubs are filled with cans of the brewery's Hop on Top—a sassy, seasonal dry-hopped Pilsner—and someone oversees a smoker. It's just enough to transform the oil-stained patch of concrete off 92nd Avenue into a breezy block party.
Sadly, the outdoor cooking portion of the shindig has come to an end.
"We took into account the revenue we were taking in compared to the overall cost," Frischetti says. "Unfortunately, it just didn't seem sustainable."
Like other quick pivots in the era of COVID-19, the Brew N' Q was fleeting, which is a shame. The experiment, which started in late June, seemed just weird enough to work: a German pub, known for its schnitzel and award-winning Zoigl-Pils, rolling out a Texas-sized feed of slow-roasted pork shoulder and charred spare ribs. The kitchen will now focus on its core menu and at some point down the road introduce a "hot sheet" with rotating specialty dishes. Hopefully, that includes some of the short-lived barbecue items, like the sloppy-good grilled corn, flavored with Hot Cheeto dust and smothered in chipotle aioli.
Once the downpours unleash this fall, Zoiglhaus' tents will have to come down, perhaps temporarily halting the street celebrations in Lents. But if the brewery can work its way around a pandemic, surely it can handle some Oregon rain.
"Trying to come up with new ways to navigate service is very challenging, but we are used to being flexible and finding ways to make it work," says general manager Andrea Kelsey. "It has actually been a valuable learning experience to completely redesign restaurant formats in a very short amount of time, and I have found it very interesting, even if it is stressful."
Number of tables: Eight picnic tables and four bistro tables
Space between tables: 8 feet
Additional safety measures: Hand sanitizer stations; single-use paper menus; seats are sanitized between each use.
Peak hours: 6-8 pm
GO: Zoiglhaus Brewing, 5716 SE 92nd Ave., 971-339-2374, zoiglhaus.com. 4-9 pm daily.