To Be Young Again…

I’ve heard that certain captive fish will continue to grow until they take up their entire tank. Much like up-potting a houseplant, the Stein moved from its little fish bowl on E. 11th Avenue into the full-on aquarium tank of the Midtown building, and has grown into the space with astonishing speed. (Please forgive the mixed metaphors…)

My first glimpse of the “new Stein” was that of a dusty old mansion; white fabric ghosting furniture, piles of electronic detritus from the previous occupant. No real form or structure for ambiance, just an amorphous mass of restaurant innards. Just weeks later, the mounds had been sifted and sorted. The bar, kitchen wall, and walk-in cooler gave dimension to the shadows. A pool table was delivered and received its inaugural racking in the late-afternoon March sunlight. The space was calm on the surface, but jittered with potential. All of the decisions to be made, policies to be considered, employees to hire. How do you grow into a giant box?

Quickly, as it turns out. Opening day was an ambush, and left us boggled; happy, but boggled. The line out the door, the tiny letters on the TV-screen taplist, the kitchen working way overtime to keep up with prep and orders. The one advantage, and the one advantage that pervades our oeuvre: good beer makes people happy.
Most days, two things happen:
1) A customer comes in to the “new Stein” for the first time since the move. The reaction is nearly always the same: “Wow. Good job, what a selection!”
2) A customer comes in, looks around as if revisiting a childhood home. “This used to be the L&L Market. There was a deli counter and meat lockers.”

The latter comment is a historical footnote in Eugene. Long’s Meats used to occupy this space; the picture below was taken from inside the front door, looking to the left where our beer cooler is now. Year is unknown, looks like the 60s.

longs meat market
“Wow, good job! What a selection!” (photo courtesy of a customer)

The shift from the [too] cozy “old Stein” (beer bar, gastropub, sandwich & bottleshop) into the high-ceilinged, 180-seat Beer Hall (let’s face it, it is a Beer Hall, Munich-style; evening lines to the door will probably be the norm) hasn’t been without its hiccups, but has also created an atmosphere you rarely find anymore. Not only can you meet up with ten of your friends, you can spread your arms without knocking over a beer. The “wall o’ beer” cooler is a monument, albeit harder to photograph than most. The servers are keen and always learning more about beer; some are getting into homebrewing, helping out at local breweries, generally dipping their feet in the wort. Food offerings have expanded to include a monthly beer style pairing menu. And most importantly, folks who were dissuaded by a lack of space (or claustrophobes for that matter) need not worry about finding a place to sit with some wiggle room.

There are a few invisible structures at play in the Stein, not the least of which is a challenge: maintain a huge number of beers without sacrificing quality. The beer selection is a point of pride, and takes as much work as maintaining bonsai– daily, attentive repetitions to ensure maximum freshness, and no-holds-barred infrastructure to make sure the beer is kept and served as it would be in a brewery. The food is no different; feeding a family of several hundred consistently good food is no easy task; as you can see on those [rather horrifying] reality TV shows where a celebrity chef “whips things into order,” communication and organization and strong team players are key.

Since the beginning, owners Chip and Kristina fostered a sense of family.  Of the 16 employees who worked on 11th Avenue in 2013, only one has left for greener pastures (a brewery). Many have worked for the Stein for more than three years; some are rounding their seventh. Those of us working more than 35 hours a week were offered health insurance (most accepted) that just kicked in.

The “one year!” mark is only significant because we say it is; we mark it as a passage of time and take stock of ourselves based on the events in that time. We use it to celebrate, to toast and reflect and think positively and marvel at the change that occurred. So that’s it. Here’s to good friends and good beer.



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