At first glance, a peek into Hemp Bar’s large windows reveals a typical Portland sight: a sleek bar made from reclaimed wood, kombucha on tap, curated shelves of locally made products. But the dedicated craft CBD cafe is unique among the city’s other watering holes—it’s a project of cannabis and hemp company East Fork Cultivars, who initially took inspiration from cannabis cafes in Amsterdam. With wellness at the forefront, Hemp Bar is on a mission to destigmatize cannabis and provide guidance to folks who are curious about the lesser-known, non-intoxicating compound. CBD (cannabidiol) dominant pre-rolls, flower, and tinctures are available for purchase, along with products from partner brands who integrate East Fork’s hemp, but the centerpiece of the all-ages sober bar is their CBD mocktail program. Drinks on Hemp Bar’s extensive mocktail list are by default made with 20 ounces of CBD in the form of East Fork’s CBD drops, an organic beverage enhancer. First developed at the request of the now defunct Townshend’s Tea, the USDA certified organic drops are essentially the backbone of Hemp Bar. The “fast-acting” emulsified tincture has a milky quality and is super soluble in liquid. For those interested in mixing CBD into their own drinks at home, Hemp Bar sells the drops in one or four ounce bottles. Folks can also order mocktails sans CBD. Alongside concoctions like the creamsicle-y Cocomo (coconut, orange, pineapple, lime, fresh nutmeg) and the punchy Mary Jane (pomegranate, mint, lime, Wilderton Earthen, Clear Mind kombucha), Hemp Bar serves a menu of plant-based snacks that includes Rawdacious cheesecakes and cheese boards with Vtopian vegan cheese.
CBD connoisseurs are likely no stranger to East Fork’s hemp and ingredients, albeit unknowingly—CBD from their farm goes through different processes before being used as an additive in Brew Dr.’s Tranquil kombucha series, Rogue’s CBD-infused beverages, and Seven Virtues CBD cold brew. The company also supplies their CBD beverage enhancer to bars and restaurants throughout Portland and the entire country. Subscribers of CBD generally use the supplement for help with sleep, pain relief, or to relax. When you visit Hemp Bar, their knowledgeable bartenders often lead by asking customers if they’re in pursuit of a specific function, much like a budtender might guide you at a dispensary. The folks at Hemp Bar are not medical professionals, nor should they be looked to as such, but they are able to provide insight on specific CBD compounds. “It’s the same fine line that dispensaries walk where people may be coming in looking for help with a specific ailment or medical advice. We’re careful to provide the information we have in a way that’s not prescriptive,” East Fork Cultivars co-owner and CEO Mason Walker told the Mercury. Walker explains that CBD is biphasic in the sense that for most people, it has different effects in low doses versus high doses. Broadly speaking, CBD is energizing and provides focus in small amounts, but a much higher dose is likely required to unlock its anti-inflammatory properties. Despite the City of Portland’s prohibition of marijuana use in public, Hemp Bar patrons are allowed to smoke pre-rolls when seated at the cafe’s limited outdoor seating space since hemp is federally legal. Roughly 300 miles south of the cafe, East Fork Cultivars’ 33-acre farm is nestled between the east fork of Oregon’s Illinois River and California’s Siskiyou Wilderness. The land was previously used as a llama ranch, thus East Fork’s cute li’l mascot. Prior to founding the company in 2015, brothers Aaron and Nathan Howard grew cannabis for over a decade within Oregon’s medical program. They were inspired to start their own cannabis company and farm to provide their late older brother Wesley with the therapeutic benefits of cannabis without intoxicating properties of THC, filling a niche that at the time, was wide open.
“In the last six years with cannabis, there was an outsized incentive for breeders and growers to grow high THC cannabis,” said Walker. “Our founding mission was to find and resurrect low THC cannabis because cannabis has lots of different compounds in it that are therapeutic and efficacious—useful beyond just intoxication.” Starting out, the brothers tapped their industry network to collect whatever seeds, plant cuttings, and clones with CBD that they could find. Today, East Fork’s line is made up of high-CBD/low-THC cultivars that have been bred and crossbred exclusively by them. A rising sector of their business is creating seed lines to sell to other farmers. As part of their efforts to educate the public about cannabis, Hemp Bar gave away plant starts last spring for Portlanders to grow in their own gardens. Walker equates growing a hemp plant to growing a tomato plant—they’re planted around the same time of year, the soil should be amended the same way, and you trellis hemp exactly like you’d trellis a tomato plant. The cafe is located within a building in the Foster-Powell neighborhood that was commissioned nearly 100 years ago by a female developer named Mary Elizabeth Noble. East Fork bought the building in 2019 and when Hemp Bar opened its doors last May, they had completely transformed the space with help from a $50,000 Prosper Portland grant. The effort was recognized by the nonprofit Restore Oregon, with the building receiving a 2021 DeMuro Award for Excellence in Preservation, Reuse, and Community Revitalization.
Hemp Bar, 6258 SE Foster, hempbarportland.com