Velo Cult: A Bike Shop, Beer Bar and Community/Event Center in One Place
Velo Cult Facebook | Twitter Watch Tour de France 1969 NE 42nd Avenue 10:00AM–10:00PM Monday-Friday
Portland's love of beer and bikes is well documented and the two cultures often cross paths. Hopworks has been successfully mixing the two since they started back in 2007 and even kicked the bike theme up a notch last year with the opening of their second location, the BikeBar. Apex recently celebrated its two year anniversary as a great beer bar that also focuses heavily on their other passion – bikes. Even the venerable Lucky Lab, founded way back in 1994, manages to balance their dog-friendly aspects with a loyal devotion to bikes through events such as the Tour de Lab and viewing parties for the Tour de France (although both rides share a similar name, the intensity is a bit different). This year there is a new spot to catch le Tour on the big screen. Recently relocated bike shop Velo Cult will be expanding their already ridiculous hours by opening up at 5 AM for a 'Coffee Hour' live showing of each stage. After work, the 'Beer Hour' showing will give those that chose to sleep in a chance to catch the replay in its entirety. Velo Cult will have the volume cranked and encourages bike fans to get rowdy in support of their favorite riders with cow bells and whatever else excites you throughout the Tour's run from June 30th to July 22nd.
The year before Hopworks was starting up in Portland, Sky Boyer opened the original Velo Culture in the San Diego area. Although the story of his shop's evolution and eventual move to the Hollywood neighborhood in NE Portland (including all employees and their families) is a fascinating one, I imagine you are most interested in the Portland beer angle and much has been written elsewhere on the move (bikeportland.org , utsandiego.com and even on another beer blog beervanabuzz.com). Despite the core of Velo Cult being bicycles, the bar really is the main focal point upon entering the shop. The bar itself is one of the few items to make the move from San Diego. It was custom built by a boat builder that was also an avid customer. Velo Cult has a way of building a very loyal clientele – two customers from San Diego have already relocated to Portland to follow the shop. Another item that made the move was the kegerator that is now dedicated to serving Crate Lake root beer. The kegerator was the only tap line at the San Diego shop where beer was complimentary for customers, much like several barber shops around Portland. Although beer is no longer free, the selection has greatly expanded and beer is now flowing out of four constantly rotating tap lines. When I last visited, they had Everybody's Brewing Local Logger Lager, Boneyard RPM IPA, Columbia River Brewing Northern English Nut Brown (CRB will probably make frequent appearances as they are just around the corner) and PBR. The PBR was put on at the recommendation of several locals that said a bike shop in Portland needed to serve PBR, but beer geeks should be happy to hear that it is not moving quickly and Sky said he will not put it on tap again. The tap strategy is to buy only one keg of each beer, rotate a new local option each time one blows and not repeat any beer. It is a lofty goal, but an admirable and potentially achievable one in this area with all the new breweries, seasonals and one-off beers coming online. He is willing to branch outside the Northwest for some of his Southern California favorites. Green Flash IPA has already come and gone and Sky is lobbying his distributors to bring up others such as Alpine, Ballast Point and Port. Based on my frequent travels to Orange County for work, I hope he is successful and would be willing to relinquish a local tap line for some of those options.
In terms of the bottles and cans, the selection is akin to a New Seasons. You are probably not going to find a rare bottle or a special release, but you also should not be disappointed. Sky stated they are still trying to find the right mix as their palettes adjust from the San Diego/West Coast IPAs, so now is a great time to swing by and make some suggestions. The current population numbers around 25 options with a good mix of 12 ounce bottles and cans, 16 ounce tall boy cans and 22 ounce bombers. As you can imagine, IPAs are well represented (e.g., Hopworks, Great Divide and Caldera), but you can also find light lagers, running the gamut from craft (North Coast & Fort George), to macro (Old German), to imported (Stiegl), and even to novelty (Churchkey). Several stout options are currently available, as are some ambers, ESBs and pale ales. A customer recommendation that has done very well is cider (currently several options from Salem's Anthem and Corvallis' 2 Towns) for the gluten free crowd, so you may come across other gluten free beer options in the near future. One surprising thing I found in the vintage beer cooler was Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers, which I thought died out with their classic commercials from the 80's.
Once you have made your selection, you can belly up to the aforementioned custom bar or settle down to the large communal table that fills the middle of the shop. The table was constructed from a maple 1952 bowling alley similar to the ones used at the old Bridgeport Brewery (pre-Pearlfication). If you actually came here for something other than beer, you can also browse the merchandise at the back of the shop, check out some of the vintage bikes displayed throughout the place or sit down on a custom bench next to the mechanic's stand where your bike is being serviced. All options encourage dialogue with other customers or the shop employees because the biggest goal of Velo Cult is community building. It did not take long for Velo Cult to find a prominent place among Portland's bike community after their grand opening on March 24th through such events as the Tweed Ride, Pedalpalooza Kick-Off Party and the Disaster Relief Trials (an event near and dear to my Search & Rescue heart). Their definition of community is not limited to just the bike world, though. They hosted a screening of the documentary Food, Inc. a few weeks back that included a discussion with representatives from Yonder Holler Farms and the Hollywood Farmer's Market about food transparency, food systems and knowing your farmer. The shop is also now a pick-up location for Yonder Holler's CSA program. I hope the next spoke to be added to the community wheel is a spot in Portland's pub culture. Stop by and have a pint or two…on your way out Sky may 'thank you for your support.'
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