Inner Northeast's Spirit of 77 closed for the summer earlier in 2013, much to the chagrin of many Portland sports fans. But the beloved sports bar recently reopened with a new menu that's perfect for beer-drinking (and/or possibly hungover) football and basketball season.
From the moment you walk in, it's impossible to ignore the bar's retro-fabulous design. The walls are built with wood from an old basketball court floor, and vintage arcade games border the main seating area for halftime entertainment. The stadium-style seats are arranged to focus on the main 16 x 9-foot projector screen; it has the effect of making you feel like you're watching TV with a group of your rowdiest friends.
The food fits the atmosphere. The foot-long Chili Dog ($9) must be eaten with a fork and knife, but that doesn't change the fact that it's just great bar food. Instead of the soft, squishy hot dog bun of many a backyard barbecue, the chili dog has a crisp, toasty, and structurally sound sub-style bun from Portland French Bakery. The dog itself is from Olympic Provisions (the owners of the bar also own OP), but the chili is the real star of the show. It's spicy but not overwhelming, made by simmering good ol' chili powder and ground beef for about 2 ½ hours. It's an old-school recipe with high-quality ingredients.
"The menu in the past was designed to elevate your typical sports bar food. We were trying to give a wink and a nod to traditional fare," said Donald Kenney, general manager of the Ace Hotel, which is owned by the same group as the bar. "This year we switched up to much more direct approaches at sports bar food but using ingredients that fit with our ethos."
The Smoke Stick ($4), is Olympic Provisions' take on a Slim Jim. It's not available in retail yet, but it's on the menu at Spirit of 77. The first thing you'll notice when you take a bite? It's missing the overwhelming salt of so many widely-distributed cured meat snacks, and that means you can taste more of the meat instead.
"The last thing we wanted to do was just do a veggie burger," Kenney said. So they came up with the Vegetarian Torta ($9), a sandwich with cumin-spiced black beans, avocado, and piles of jalapeños falling out the sides. Like most of the food at the bar, it packs a fair amount of heat, and made me ponder why a plate full of spicy food is so much better than a plate full of greasy food.
On a separate visit (unfortunately without a decent camera), I tried the Texas-Style Nachos ($9), which you can get single-or double-decker—an obvious choice. The nachos are piled high with jalapeños, avocado, cheese, sour cream, and the aforementioned chili. They're satisfying and spicy—just make sure you get something to wash the high heat down with.
If you want to change your order up a little bit, just ask. The staff encourages menu "hacks," like getting the torta as a salad or the nachos with cumin black beans instead of the chili for another vegetarian option.
Drinkwise, Spirit of 77 is one of two restaurants in Portland to offer Stumptown Cold Brew on tap. And two of my local favorite beers that I fell in love with over the summer made the short list—Double Mountain's dry-hopped Vaporizer and 10 Barrel's grapefruit-y Swill. That tells me that this is a beer-drinker's sports bar.
While it hasn't been launched yet, a new happy hour menu is on the way and will feature smaller portions of the main menu items along with rotating "hot sheet" deals. Spirit of 77 also has a breakfast menu—since the NFL games start so early on the West Coast, Bowden says mornings are one of the bar's busiest times.
As a sports fan, I'm happy to see Spirit of 77 back in business. It's just a couple of blocks from Blazers games, perfect for pre- and post-gaming. And the atmosphere on a Sunday morning just can't be beat. Though I had no complaints about the previous menu, I'll definitely be back soon to eat more of the nachos...or anything else they decide to put that chili on.
About the Author: Rebekah Hubbard is a food writer and photographer living in Portland, Oregon. Check out her blog, PDXfoodlove, follow her on twitter at @rebekahahubbard or find her on Facebook at the PDXfoodlove fan page.