For the past two and a half years the Oregon Public House as an organization has been designing and building a non-profit pub. The actual space we’ve been developing is located on the first floor of a historic building in the Woodlawn neighborhood. The Village Ballroom occupies the top floor of the building and is a rental space available for events and activities: weddings, dances, performances, community classes, ect. The Oregon Public House organization manages the Village Ballroom as a non-profit business and will run both the pub and the ballroom to raise funds for other non-profit programs in the community.
When we began working on the pub, the first floor space was pretty rundown and neglected. So the first stage of the project was total and complete demolition of every non-load-bearing feature of the room. Think Etch-A-Sketch (shake, shake, shake), right down to bare concrete. For the majority of the last two-plus years the actual space has been in a work in progress, at times looking very much like the set of a post-apocalyptic thriller, with piles of rubble and cascading dust and jutting wires.
And while the vision of a non-profit pub is exciting, the project has been a long and tiring one. Like most big projects, there was a middle phase that seemed to lag, that seemed to be incongruent with our expenditure of time and energy. Fair enough, this is often the case with things that change very slowly. It’s hard to notice the changes of a series of small developments as they happen. I’m sure that everyone has had least one experience with a project that just wouldn’t end.
However (jumping forward to the recent past), one of the big milestones of the project, one which seemed to bring things together in a sigh-of-relief sort of way, was the installation of the bar, specifically the bar top. The bar top is polished redwood and is amazingly beautiful. It was donated to the project as a thick slab of rough lumber. The organization’s founder, Ryan, fabricated a wide surface by having the slab cut transversely and then joining the edges together (you can still spot the seam running down the center of its length, if you look at the surface at the right angle). He also spent several weeks stripping off gnarled bark and finishing the surface to its current glossy presentation. The amazing thing was how much of a difference the finished bar top made. Overnight, I began to think of the space as a comfortable, cozy pub rather than something akin to the lair of the morlocks.
I remember an open house gathering that we hosted right after the bar installation. Even with very few chairs and unfinished booths with no tables, the atmosphere was relaxed and pub-like: people enjoying themselves, talking, laughing and later just nodding at each other when the ambient noise of the crowd became too loud for real conversation. And people seemed to ease into a comfortable lean at the bar, they really seemed to put elbows down and settle in for a while.
I didn’t really analyze what was going on until a few weeks ago, during the holidays, when I met up with some longtime friends of mine. One of them is a very skilled bartender and mixologist, and while we talked, he clued me in on the importance of a wooden bar top. He said that a granite counter can look amazing but will never feel like home. It will always be cold to the touch. A wooden bar top is organic and readily absorbs body heat, becoming a comfortable and inviting surface to lounge on, creating a warm, comfortable feeling something like being at home.
I think this feeling is the reason that we started the project in the first place. We wanted to build a place that would exist ultimately to support great organizations that care for the community, but we also wanted to create a place where people could relax and unwind, a place for friends and family, for forming new connections within the community. We wanted to build a place where we can all feel at home and at the same time feel good about being involved in a good cause.
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