By Patty Mamula
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Rivertap started out as a small pub in The Dalles and was more of an afterthought — a way to make use of a narrow space between a restaurant and a computer store. Today, it’s a lively gathering place for the community and out-of-towners alike, growing to five times its original size while also now contracting with a neighboring brewery to create its own custom beers.
The story begins in 2009 when Tom Wood, an experienced restaurateur, took a chance on a space that stayed vacant in what was the first new building in the downtown area of The Dalles in 23 years. That was the height of the recession, so it wasn’t uncommon to find empty storefronts throughout the state. But Wood saw an opportunity to give locals something they were lacking.
“People in town said we needed a pub,” Wood explained. The downtown was sleepy with little traffic. “No one wanted to risk it back then, so I decided to open one.”
From the beginning, Rivertap featured a strong, regional beer selection.
“This town wasn’t engaged at the time with craft brews,” said Wood. “But they’ve come to love our IPAs and our diverse selection of unique microbrews and ciders.”
Manager Angela Carter is passionate about craft beer. She’s been at Rivertap for the past five years after moving with her husband from Indiana in search of a small mountain town with plenty of sunshine and natural beauty. In her role, she’s passionate about researching new brews to add to the lineup.
“You never know what you’ll get here,” she said. Since they only have 12 taps, they cycle through product regularly.
Those handles now pour Rivertap’s signature beers. While there’s no brewhouse on premises, the business has gotten assistance from one of its neighbors. Last January, Freebridge Brewing opened across the street in a historic U.S. Mint building. Rivertap contracts with them for a few custom creations.
Carter said, “We have two of our own beers now: Rivertap IPA and Rivertap Blonde Ale. We also have a fresh hop on now made with Cascade hops called Fresh Cascade.”
Rivertap also likes to engage its customers with everything from meet-the-brewer sessions to tap takeovers. About three years ago, Carter launched Battle of the Brews, a blind tasting pitting similarly styled beers against one another in a bracket-like system that can last for months.
The facility also received a makeover in 2012 when Wood closed his franchise restaurant that was sharing the same building in order to focus on the bustling Rivertap. “In the evenings we would get to the pub and it was packed in way too tight,” he said.
The restaurant space wraps around the corner of the building and both exterior glass walls are garage doors that open on sunny days. A patio seats approximately 50 and often is the stage for live music.
This fall, Wood and his staff completely revamped the menu, refining and streamlining dishes to facilitate kitchen preparation. “We kept all the products our customers love,” he said. “But with these changes, our chefs have more time to focus on fresh sheets.” A few of the house favorites are bacon-wrapped jalapeno Yukon golds, fish tacos and fish and chips made with halibut cloaked in the Rivertap Blonde Ale batter.
“We constantly source local foods,” said Wood. They get fresh Klickitat salmon from the other side of the Columbia. “It comes from a glacial-fed river that’s always cold. We buy it from a local native and get it in the morning, right after it’s been caught.” Salmon bisque, one of their regular house-made soups, makes use of their abundant salmon supply.
There are now more signs of life in what was a sleepy downtown. Just up the street from Rivertap stands the Sunshine Mill Winery, which opened its doors the same year as the pub. And in addition to Freebridge, Sedition Brewing brought beer making back to The Dalles in 2016. Together, the businesses seem to be strengthening tourism, and the community, in this section of the Columbia River Gorge.
703 E. Second Ave., The Dalles
Stories from the print edition of the Oregon Beer Growler.