Bit House Saloon, Reviewed

PONY PARTY: On opening night at the Bit House Saloon (727 SE Grand Ave., 729-9929), the liquor shelves fell. Thousands of dollars of rare Japanese whiskey—bottles that bar manager Jesse Card worked two years to procure—shattered on the floor. “The Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam? That was all fine,” he says. Luckily, there’s still plenty of rare liquor to spare. On a recent Monday, Card passed around shots of single-barrel Bernheim wheat whiskey made especially for the bar, one of eight exclusive small-batch liquors served there. The cavernous old-time saloon was once the ill-attended East Bank, which it turns out was one of the most underutilized old buildings in Portland. The new owners—who also rehabbed Lutz Tavern in Woodstock—threw down flooring with wood from old bourbon barrels, added a huge fire pit on the spacious back patio, and plan to host events on a previously empty second story that once housed boxing matches. The old boxing bell hangs behind the bar, and bartenders ring it when a friend walks in. Former Wildwood chef Dustin Clark’s food menu is downright carnivalesque, with authentic Rocky Mountain oysters ($9) alongside armadillo eggs ($9) that are basically a cross between a Scotch egg and a jalapeño popper, plus a fried chicken-thigh sandwich ($13) and rabbit hand pie ($12). The festival continues on the drink side, with a $5 Hopworks draft aged in bourbon barrels, mezcal or genepy “boilermakers” ($8-$12), mystery-flavored boozy ice pops ($5), and a house-blended sherry ($7) that tastes pleasantly like toffee. The tap cocktails are mostly sweet, very complicated, and all about $9—try the K23, which mixes rum with mint and beet juice, or one of two fancy house slushies. But so far, it’s mostly the service industry that has discovered the place. On multiple visits, seemingly every bartender in town was ponied at the bar drinking mini-bottle beer backs of Miller High Life, while across the street, the sidewalk shitshow at Dig a Pony continued apace.