Newly opened (like really new... I happened to go in on opening day last Wednesday) Shifters is the sister bar to next door pizzeria Humdinger. The properties are connected by a hallway and an ode to car culture, with all the pizzas and drinks bearing motor inspired names.
Humdinger and Shifters were opened by long-time residents of the Lents neighborhood Chad and Dana Rennaker. The neighborly vibe comes through from appearances by brewery-around-the-corner Zoiglhaus on the tap list and in the grab and go cooler, and a Dillon the Pickle bobble head perched on the cash wrap. (Dillon being the briny mascot of the Portland Pickles baseball team whose home turf is Lents Park’s Walker Stadium.)
When the owners’ other business Ascendant Beer Company went into a furlough, they tapped bar manager Amy Villarreal to head up the bar program at Shifters. Fresh squeezed juices play a starring role in her modern twists on Prohibition-era and old school cocktails. “We want them to pair with the pizzas but also stand apart from the pizza,” she says. Currently also the only bartender, Villarreal is having fun shifting gears in her new playground.
Fun things like weekly specials and game nights are in Shifters’ future. A few large pickling jars are idling on a shelf behind the bar, and Villarreal says that she’s working on some in-house bitters and shrubs. The mixologist thrives on innovation, or as she puts it “the science-y side of bartending,” and always welcomes customer input.
I went home with the “Thunderbird” (Benchmark Bourbon stirred with house jalapeno simple syrup, muddled pineapple chunks, and pineapple juice) after Villarreal gushed that it was her favorite. The whiskey really revs up the cocktail, and the simple syrup provides complexity but not much spice.
The cheese slice I had to accompany my drink was massive; I’d venture it was even equal to the size of some personal pizzas out there. There are some instances in which size really does matter. The pizzeria’s cornerstone is the “Humdinger,” a 24-inch pizza that feeds 5-8 and is only available for dine-in.
Finally, I am once again telling you transplants—and uppity inner Portlanders—that the city extends past 82nd, and even past I-205 *gasp*. Portland is a small town to begin with, so why not embrace it all? It enrages me whenever folx try to discount East Portland and other “uncool” neighborhoods, especially when issues like inequity and redlining aren’t acknowledged as directly responsible for uneven urban development.
The restaurant & bar and Villarreal are cognizant of this as well. “It’s nice to see [the neighborhood] clean up a little bit without going too far into gentrification where people get pushed out. I think that’s lacking in a lot of neighborhoods in Portland that have been ‘tidied up.’ I think Lents has really gotten a handle on ‘how do we do that’ without marginalizing people. Income diversity, racial diversity, family diversity, I think [these] all need to play a part, and I appreciate that I’m part of a business that sees that and puts that in as a piece to everything we do,” she said.
Shifters Bar (inside Humdinger Pizza), 9201 SE Foster, (971) 353-7200, www.humdingerpizza.com/shifters-bar