Why did Stephen Colbert tip his hat and wag his finger at Portland on The Colbert Report? For offering people the “dangerous combination of good deeds and booze” at the nation’s first nonprofit pub!
The Oregon Public House, at 777 NE Dekum Street, mixes the fun-loving spirit of Portlandia episodes with two other characteristics that make Portland singular. As noted on the pub’s web site, Portland is the “craft brewing capital of America” and home to more nonprofits per capita than any other U.S. city. A nonprofit itself, with seven board members, The Oregon Public House is donating 100% of its proceeds to local nonprofits.
How and why is the pub’s founder Ryan Saari making it happen?
“I was primarily inspired by a general desire to be a part of the good that’s taking place in our city,” Saari noted, “and trying to figure out a way to do that, with literally no resources of our own.”
Saari also appreciates Portland microbrews and looks forward to contributing a few new brews to the city’s selection. “We will have several guest taps to start, when the pub initially opens,” he explained. “Our head brewer is Dean Ivester. He’s been a friend for many years, and a truly talented brewer—the perfect balance of scientist and artist.”
It all started four years ago when The Oregon Community, Saari’s socially active congregation, found a place in the Woodlawn neighborhood to meet on the Sundays when its members weren’t out volunteering in the community.
It took vision to see The Village Ballroom’s future in the rundown room on the second floor of 777 NE Dekum Street, which had been damaged by previous renters. Once restored, the ballroom has rapidly become a community meeting place, and now hosts about 50 events a month. The fees that community groups pay to use the space are being used to restore the downstairs area, which will house the pub. Pub renovations, underway for about two and a half years now, are being provided solely by volunteers. The Oregon Public House has a goal of being 100% debt free when it opens so all of its profits can be donated to local nonprofits.
Judging from the renovations to date, the pub will be a welcoming, comfortable place to gather. Its redwood bar was crafted from “a large piece that was blown down during the Columbus Day Storm” of 1962, which was donated to the nonprofit. Fanciful wood cookie bar stools line the bar.
“We want to see people building relationships with one another,” said Saari. “We want to see communities established. We want to see people doing something together that’s greater than themselves.”
The community spirit and activism that Saari envisions will carry on the original intent of the building. Built in 1909, The Village Ballroom was originally an Odd Fellows Hall. Odd Fellows were citizens who gathered to support their community, who were considered “odd” because they didn’t meet to do business but just to improve their community.
“I think that’s the really beautiful thing about Portland,” Saari said. “We really care about our city, and we want to make it a really wonderful place for people to live.”
“We love Friends of Trees,” Saari said. “It is truly an organization that has the same heart and vision that we do. Working together. Seeing communities established and cared for. Giving back in small ways … that become BIG ways. I love it. Seems a perfect partnership.”