By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
“Every day we hear customers say, ‘I never noticed this place was here,’” described Laina Amerson of the Alberta Street Pub in Northeast Portland. She and her partner Robert Bouchard decided to brighten up the exterior of their nondescript rectangular building with a light, cheerful mural.
Amerson’s brother purchased the pub in 2012, which used to be a well-known dive bar. He closed it and totally renovated the interior and outside seating space before reopening in 2013. “Still,” said Bouchard, “it was an unfinished work. We wanted to do some facade improvements to attract attention. We also wanted to create a mural to contribute to our neighborhood community, the Alberta Arts District.”
They enlisted help from Bouchard’s brother, Jon Olsen, a street artist from Miami. After considering several different sketches, they decided on a dandelion gone to seed. “First he painted the blue sky gradient over the dull gray parapet. Immediately it changed the feeling to one of blue skies are here again,” said Robert. “We wanted to set an expectation that this was a happy place to get away from the daily stress of life.”
The mural wraps around three sides of the building. On the corner side, the large dandelion, just past its bloom, is just starting to go to seed. Across the front of the building, the wispy seeds float by. And wrapping around the side of the structure are sprouting dandelions.
“We liked the concept,” said Amerson. “Kids blow on a dandelion and make a wish, hoping all your wishes come true. And dandelions are hardy plants that grow everywhere. Personally, the painting is a tribute to a deceased family friend. And, last but not least, dandelions are liver cleansers.”
Furthering the pub’s commitment to the arts, Amerson enlisted the help of her brother, a musician, to help redesign the building while making sure to include performance space with the help of other local musicians.
“He always wanted a music venue. That was a big deal to him,” said Amerson. The inviting pub has three different areas: the front bar section with tables and booths that seat around 35, the back room or live room for music and other events and a large outside space that can seat up to 100.
“This place is totally different,” said Amerson. “The outside area used to be a garbage pit.”
Amerson took over as general manager in 2013. Not long after that she met Bouchard, who had moved to Portland from Port Townsend, Wash. where he was a wooden boat builder. Amerson’s family is also from Port Townsend. “I heard that this place was a Port Townsend hangout, so I started coming,” he said.
Bouchard has a background in construction and project management and was in the restaurant industry, both managing and bartending for 15 years. He stepped right into the same role at the pub.
When Amerson and Bouchard became parents to a baby boy, now a little more than a year old, Amerson stayed home with the baby while Bouchard took over at the pub. Now, they’re switching roles again and Amerson is coming back to the pub as manager. Bouchard is taking over child care and handling the business side of the pub, including marketing, operating systems, inventory and finances.
The bar has a full selection of craft beers with 21 rotating taps. “We focus on local products — local farms for the food, local distillers and local breweries,” said Amerson. “With the craft taps, we have two on nitro, two IPAs and two ciders. We always have a fizzy wine; right now it’s a citrus wine from Hi-Wheel. We often have a mead. The one now is from Nectar Creek out of Corvallis. We try to balance styles and adjust for seasonals.” Of course, they also have Dandy Porter on tap from Agrarian Ales, which is made with dandelion roots.
In another nod to the Alberta Arts District, Bouchard recently put up a display of mid-century era photographs. The photos are from a collection of slides Robert discovered that his deceased stepfather had saved in a cigar box. The photographer is unknown, but the prints are high-quality and wouldn’t be out of place in a publication like LIFE magazine.
“The idea behind the display is to engage the viewer in the mystery of it. The thread is the idea of the American Dream. This was an era of great growth and optimism in the United States. And these photos reflect that,” he said.
Alberta Street Pub
[a] 1036 NE Alberta St., Portland
[h] 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.(ish) daily
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.