When the COVID-19 shutdown began in 2020, Turn! Turn! Turn! owner Scott Derr, like a lot of bar, restaurant and music venue owners, did a little online fundraising to help support his laid-off staff. Among the Kickstarter-like incentives he offered at the time:
Name a food or drink special after you! $10
Free hot dog (or veggie dog!) at any show you attend for a year! $25
Host a private party! $100
Assume ownership of the bar! (Not as much as it might have been two weeks ago!)
With that last one, Derr was joking but not joking: Going out of business seemed like a real possibility. But thanks to a combination of rent forgiveness and COVID relief grants, the experimental gathering place on North Killingsworth Street survived, partially reopening for takeout and record shopping over a year ago, and then fully launching with live shows in October 2021.
Still, Derr was ready to let someone else have all the fun and deal with less pleasant responsibilities like clogged toilets and after-hours break-ins. So, on the first day of 2022—exactly eight years after signing his first lease to take control of what had been the Record Room—he turned over Turn! Turn! Turn! to three friends and regulars.
New owner Elizabeth Venable and her partners, Geoff Soule and Clarence Jacobs, have been a part of the TTT family since day one. Venable and Soule’s band, Sad Horse, broke in the venue by playing its first show in February 2014. And Soule leads the Grand Style Orchestra, which has become something of a house band at TTT. Jacobs is not a musician but brings, perhaps, an even more important skill to bar ownership: He’s in construction.
“It’s been a dream of mine for a long time to have a space to host various events, from music and art to pop-up social services, lectures and educational programs,” says Venable, who’s curated her own variety-style parlor series, Variable, out of homes and businesses for 15 years.
“It just seemed like the perfect fit to move forward,” says Derr. “They’ve been playing there since we opened, and we have a shared philosophy to some extent, musically and artistically.”
Sad Horse also played the bar’s last pre-pandemic New Year’s Eve show, then wound up becoming a last-minute addition to the lineup to ring in 2022. Now they’re scheduled to play their first show since the ownership change March 4 (opening for the Gutters), while the Grand Style Orchestra will occupy a regular slot during the last Sunday of each month.
The new TTT will evolve into more of a community event space than ever before by hosting not only live music, but also open-mic comedy, happy hours, a monthly craft market and a first Thursday charity dance party. Moreover, Venable is actively pursuing more inclusive and diverse musical acts.
“While the space has accommodated many different genres, it has been primarily white, male-led,” she says. “On our booking inquiry page we ask bands to be thoughtful about this when building their bill.”
There are still records and CDs for sale (though not as many as before), as well as food and drink. However, the offerings have changed. Where there was once a toaster oven and hot dog-centric dishes, there is now an Instant Pot, a rice cooker and a slow cooker for preparing an intentionally simple menu of brown rice and black bean bowls with various garnishes, plus salads and, for the carnivorous, a side of meatballs.
“The motto here is ‘Scoop, scoop, give,’” Venable says.
One thing did survive from the old menu: nachos, “made with Hot Mama [Chips] because they are local and the best,” says Venable. “We hope the menu offers something to everybody, whether you want something healthy or you want some trashy nacho cheese sauce.”
The beer on Turn’s six taps all hail from Oregon and Washington and include familiar brands like Double Mountain, Matchless and Wild Ride. A two-door refrigerator case that Derr installed during the pandemic is stocked with canned and bottled beer and cider, as well as kombucha, cold brew and CBD sodas. Behind the bar there’s also liquor, though no cocktails per se—order as you would in a dive bar or most rock clubs.
TTT Version 2.0 may also end up at a new location in the next few years. That’s because the building formerly known as the Albina Arts Center, which has been home to the feminist bookstore In Other Words, the recent Soul Restoration Project pop-up, and Chinese medicine co-op The Vital Compass (which is still there), is currently being held in trust by the Oregon Community Foundation and ultimately meant to be owned by a Black nonprofit. Don’t Shoot Portland, another previous tenant, has been campaigning to reclaim the property. According to OCF spokeswoman Maureen Kenney, “an equitable community engagement process” to determine the future of the site is scheduled to begin in March.
“We signed a two-year lease with the knowledge that the owner’s intention is that the building be gifted to a Black-owned nonprofit,” Venable says. “We absolutely support this decision.”
GO: Turn! Turn! Turn!, 8 NE Killingsworth St., 503-284-6019, turnturnturnpdx.com. 4-10 pm Wednesday-Monday. Open later on event nights.