Last night I made a visit to my favorite watering hole in Portland, The BeerMongers, on the occasion of their 12th anniversary. While my constitution may have restrained how much I wanted to consume, to not attend would have felt wrong. While I only had one beer, the point of being there was to partake in this distinctly Portland beer culture that hasn’t really ebbed since the beginning of the pandemic.
I ran into co-workers and friends, reacquainted myself with some of the former regulars who were there when they opened, and chatted with it’s publican Sean. Amidst this scene, folks were playing games and watching sports on TV, all under a tent that Sean has done his best to keep installed in the small, shared parking lot. Having such an outdoor seating area has become a central means to sustain businesses in Portland over the past year and a half – enabling patrons a safe place to imbibe and businesses a better means of survival.
I never thought I’d be a regular (or at least a semi-regular) at a bar or pub, yet it was at this homey bottleshop and taproom that I became one and learned the sense of community craft beer creates. The importance of these community spaces cannot be understated, for they provide a sense of shared experience, laughter, enlightened conversation, education, and a feeling of humanity often lacking in today’s reality of social distancing and social media.
When I moved to Portland over 11 years ago, I was quite isolated from any sense of community. I was writing about music and politics, married, and living in a more remote part of the suburbs on the outskirts of town. Within a few years I finally secured a steady job and began writing about beer. My spouse and I went our separate ways, I moved downtown briefly, then moved again, this time further outside of town. For three years I effectively did everything solo and in some ways, lived the life of a hermit. It was only once I moved back to Portland, then visiting The BeerMongers for the first time during the Craft Brewers Conference in 2015, that I began to understand the value of community again.
Having started to write for a national beer blog, connecting with writers all over the country, I also began almost 2 years straight of Wednesday bottle shares with the PDX Cellar Society at Mongers. Having the opportunity to spend a few hours reveling in beer styles I’d never heard of, from breweries around the globe, with new people joining all the time, was unlike anything I’d experienced before. The sense of excitement, exploration, and community was invigorating. While the bottles slowly turned into cans and I changed careers more than a few times, the camaraderie and time spent with those in the group evolved beyond the beer. I’ve traveled more, often solely for the joy of exploring new beer focused locales, yet through it all I’ve found new ways to define and embrace the shared feeling of community, where ever I found it.
As the pandemic took hold in March last year, like most I stayed in lockdown, even working remotely at home for the first month, out of an abundance of caution. The sharing effectively stopped, yet most of us continued to support our local breweries and bottle shops with take-out and home delivery service. We showed our love for those places that always offered shared experiences, this time as a collective of individuals from a distance. And while that energy has done so much to help the local businesses, the fall, cooler temps, and a yearning for normalcy again (despite this new wave of infections amid the Delta variant of COVID) have created a different mood. I’m certain that I’m not the only one feeling a sense of exhaustion, latency, and uncertainty in our current predicament.
Just know that we will get through this. It’s going to take time, patience, and being proactive to protect ourselves and our community. Look out for others by getting that booster shot when it’s available, or get vaccinated if you haven’t already. Have those tough conversations and arm yourself with the facts of what’s really happening out there.
And when you can, safely enjoy the company of others, make plans to see friends, and support those local businesses that continue to embrace and strengthen our communities, even if only at a distance. While I know the tent outside Mongers is unlikely to be there a few months from now, after being open for 4,384 consecutive days, I’m certain it will sustain this difficult time. As long as these businesses continue to offer us community, there’s little standing in their way. Just don’t forget to show up, when you can.