Last weekend Bend, Oregon bars, restaurants and breweries began to reopen for in-house consumption under phase 1 of Oregon Governor Kate Brown’s eased Coronavirus restrictions. New School’s central Oregon contributor Heidi Howard ventured out to visit Monkless Belgian Ales, On Tap and Crux Fermentation Project to get a taste of the new normal.
By Heidi Howard –
Friday marked the first day of Phase 1 for Deschutes County. Several bars, restaurants, tap houses and food truck lots opened for onsite consumptions! Hurray! The excitement and my curiosity got the best of me, so I ventured out. My expectations for the evening were to be prepared to get turned away, and wait in long, evenly spaced lines wherever I landed. My first choice for my maiden voyage was Monkless Belgian Ales Brasserie, with a backup plan of heading to Crux for a beer while we waited hours to get into Monkless. This plan seemed appropriate given the droves of people I assumed would be chomping at the bit to get out of their house. I was way off the mark.
We pulled up to Monkless Brasserie around 5:30 pm on Friday. There was a parking spot right up front. My husband, Erik, waited in the car while I found out what the wait would be. Next to the door were two Monkless employees clad in their rubber gloves and masks. Their eyes smiling as I walked up to them. I asked “How’s the wait?” They look at each other and ask if I have a reservation. I said I didn’t as I only have 2 in my party but would happy to reserve for a table tomorrow. This is pretty much how I thought it would go. They look at each other again and laugh a little. Apparently, they do not take reservations for under 4 guests, but they run inside to see if any “2 toppers” are available right now. The gentleman comes back out, eyes smiling (because the mask… you know…) and he says… “Not only do I have several two toppers available, but you have the option of sitting inside, or on the deck”. At this point I am giddy. As I tear up at the thought of sitting on the deck eating some delicious spaetzle, I turn quickly so these strangers cannot see me, run to the car and tell my husband “turn it off… they’ve got a table for us NOW… on the deck!!”. Erik says… “Ha, yeah right.” I convince him that I am serious and we head inside.
The weather on Friday was upper 60’s with blue skies. We watched people walking along the river, pointing up at us diners on the deck. They seemed shocked. Have we really been quarantined this long? As I begin to shake with excitement at drinking beer and eating a meal without having to clean up after the fact. Somebody pinch me! Am I dreaming? The waitress comes by in her face mask and greets us from a distance. She asks how we are. She is also visibly excited to be assisting us. Every person here is happy, chatty, laughing, giving cheers. It was fantastic. We order beer and food, because we knew what we wanted before we even got to the Brasserie. We had been talking about it for days. She inputs our order into her handheld POS system. As we briefly wait for our beers, we watch as an employee clears a recently vacated table. With cleaner and a fresh rag, he sprays EVERYTHING down (even the legs of the chairs) and begins to meticulously clean every surface possible. I was so impressed!
We had a delicious dinner, and some beignets for dessert. Erik drops a piece of it on the table. Looks at it for a second and then picks it up and eats it anyway. He says “This is probably the cleanest surface I’ve ever eaten off of” referring to the cleaning regimen we watched while waiting for our beverages.
As I people watch, I see Todd and Robin Clement at a table with their masks on. Greeting staff with gusto! Todd stops across from our table and we have a distanced conversation about how things are going. He said he was not necessarily making money during the shutdown but was instead churning it. I’m thinking that I’m thankful they were able to open so I could have this experience. While I wrap up my conversations with Todd, Erik pays our tab. Our waitress holds out the handheld POS and asks Erik to place his card in the machines. When finished she asks him to review the tab, she finalizes the purchase and asks Erik to remove the card. Smart! We say goodbye and decide to walk to Crux (because we ate A LOT and needed the exercise).
As we walk up the street, we pass a group of 3 people leaving CRUX. I ask how the atmosphere is up there. They said “Not bad if you want to wait 20 minutes for a beer”. I think… yeah, I can handle that. Erik asks if they had a beer. They said No. They are going to explore what else is available. We got to CRUX and it really doesn’t look bad. It’s reminiscent of a regular Wednesday afternoon pre COVID. We see the beer line and the marks on the ground that aid folks in keeping 6 feet apart. Some are following it, others not so much. Some people are leaving space between the next person in line, others are taking it as a sign to get in line in front of them. That created a bit of a longer wait. I waited outside, while Erik traversed the line to the beer bar. Once inside, there were two people working the taps. One person on each end. The difficulty is the single file line and limited space (there was a line of kegs placed strategically to keep people from standing inside). When the person at the far end of the bar would call for the next person, you would have to brush by the people ordering from the other side. A little bit of a fail there, for sure.
Finally, with our beer in hand, we head over to the fire pit. We are drinking and talking, enjoying ourselves. Next thing we know there are people crowding us from all sides. We move away from the firepit and find a spot with safer distancing. We follow social distancing efforts, but it was apparent we were the minority in this environment. We quickly finished our (delicious) beers and began our trek out. Unfortunately, the entrance and exit is all outside but felt very small and crowded. As we were leaving space between us and others who were trying to leave in front of us, folks behind us began crowding my husband. He turns and says, “Hey… keep a safe distance buddy.” He’s scoffed at. Friday night was still a success. So much so that we began discussing what was on the docket for Saturday.
Saturday afternoon, we decided to head to On Tap food truck lot with our dogs. Tables were marked with tape, indicated acceptable places to sit to keep social distancing. Unlike CRUX, everyone here was very accommodating and respectful. Children were being corralled by their parents, and dogs were kept at a safe distance, including ours. It was relaxing, warm and quite enjoyable. Each time a person completed a transaction on the POS system, staff sanitized it, and sanitizer was available at the counter. I had an AMAZING cheeseburger from the Curbbq food truck, a sour beer and an imperial IPA. On Tap has THE BEST tap list, only second to White Water Taphouse, which has not yet opened for regular business due to their small space.
This was a fantastic weekend. More than once, I heard people say “This feels like Christmas” or “This feels like a holiday”. The joy in the air was palpable, with lots of excitement. I enjoyed this very much and hope that Deschutes County can continue to stay in Phase 1 and move cautiously to Phase 2. Cheers!
My name is Heidi Howard. I am a craft beer enthusiast turned freelance beer writer from beautiful, beer-centric Bend, Oregon. What makes me a worthy beer writer? I've been judging beer since 2015, and have LOTS of experience drinking craft beer. I have explored breweries all over the Country, from Washington to Florida and a bunch of places in between. I take the fun of craft beer very seriously! My goal in writing is to bring people into the craft beer world by explaining beer in a way that both newbie and experienced craft beer drinkers understand and enjoy.