By Ashley Loney
The Whiteakers historical Tiny Tavern is quite on a Friday afternoon at 2:30. The tavern is dimly lit by diffused light pouring in through the windows. The red and black-checkered floors have been freshly polished. Two men sit at the bar lining the back wall, while a third is intensively playing the slots, as Sublime and The Red Hot Chili Peppers play quietly in the background.
A petite woman, with blazing red hair wearing a white University of Oregon sweatshirt, named Miranda Rodriguez stands behind the bar conversing with one of the seated men. Rodriguez is a 5th year student at the University of Oregon and works at The Tavern as a bartender. Rodriguez says, “The bar runs itself. It has been around so long.”
According to locals the Whiteaker community is known for its restaurants, bars, artistic vibe and its at times rough edges. However, a new bar and brewing scene is striving to make its way into the center of this well-established community.
As the 32nd largest craft brewer in the United States, Ninkasi Located on Van Buren Street, has plans to double the size of its production site. According to Eugene’s daily paper this will allow the company to produce beer at nearly three times its current production rate. Sam Bonds located on Blair Boulevard is also looking to produce a brew in the near future. In addition to these expansions both Oakshire Brewing and Hop Valley Brewing Co. have plans on moving into the area.
According to the Eugene daily paper, the brewery expansions will help the Whiteaker to prosper, creating somewhat of a destination location. According to Portland’s daily paper, the community has recently adopted the nickname “Brewgene” due to these new changes. Yet, the members of the community have developed mixed views about the new expansions in the area.
The Tiny Tavern is the second oldest bar in Eugene, opening its doors in 1945. According to Eugene’s KEZI news, The Tavern found home in an old 1890’s farmhouse, which was at one point surrounded by fruit trees and rose bushes. The Tavern is small and may be rough around its edges, yet it is a place in the community for the locals to congregate.
As Rodriguez wipes down the counter she says, “The Tavern offers a strong sense of community, everyone grows up around each other and will take care of each other.” Although the Whiteaker community has faced its ups and downs, like many communities do, The Tavern has acted as a support system.
Rodriguez says that she is not worried about the flow of business due to new expansions of breweries and bars to the community. The new bars will bring in new people Rodriguez says, but the locals, will still want a place to go. “The expansion may force The Tavern to undergo improvements, but I don’t think the type of bar it is, or its crowd will ever change. ”
“We have loyal customers that feel like they own it, it’s their bar,” Rodriguez says. Although the new bar scene will bring in new people, the old crowd will still be here. “People have been coming here for 20 to 30 years.” Even with the competition of the new breweries and bars The Tavern remains confident in their customers.
Many love The Tavern, yet it has some negative undertones. Local Ben Maude remembers growing up in the neighborhood and not being allowed to walk pass The Tavern due to the type of crowd it drew in. “The mentality here is fantastic…But it goes hand in hand, what makes it so awesome kind of makes it a little scary.”
Maude was raised in the Whiteaker area for most of his life, and has recently moved back to Eugene. Maude says with a smile across his face, “Tiny’s hasn’t changed one bit in my memory, it is exactly how I remembered it.”
Maude finds the brewery expansion in the area to be a positive change. “The Whiteaker in the 90’s was not a great place… but now it has turned into this trendy cool little area,” says Maude. The Whiteaker used to be a place that people passed through, but rarely stayed to visit. Maude feels that the new bars and breweries will lead to the expansion of the Whiteaker as a whole – creating new jobs and helping other local businesses to prosper. As long as they hire local that is. However, Maude worries that the new bars might change the vibe of the community, taking away some of the “Whiteakerness from the Whiteaker.”
Peter Weinberger, office manager at the Whiteaker’s J.E.S.C.O (Junction City, Eugene, Springfield, Cottage Grove, Oakridge) located on Blair Boulevard, seems to have a different perspective. J.E.S.C.O is a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that rests in the center of the existing, and soon to be brewpubs of the Whiteaker. Weinberger is worried about the expansions, and sees Ninkasis attitude towards the community to be superior and overpowering.
Weinberger loves the vibe that the Whiteaker has to offer, “I feel comfortable here, and I know a lot of people in the area. ” Weinberger says that he is not against the new bars coming into the area, but is nervous about the repercussions it might have on other local businesses.
Vice president of J.E.S.C.O Lisa Beck shares similar concerns with Weinberger. Beck has spent 8 years in the Whiteaker community. She has formed a connection with the members of the Whiteaker. “Nobody judges me here… I feel like I belong,” says Beck.
Beck feels that the expansions, “just plain stink.” The community has had a rough history. Beck finds that bringing in new bars and expanding breweries will form a façade. It will produce a new crowd during business hours, yet the Whiteaker community will stay the same, Says Beck.
Ninkasi joined the Whiteaker community in 2007 and has been constantly growing since. Marketing director James Book is looking forward to the new brewing expansions. Book states, “The properties we have purchased have been dead properties, so we feel that we are making a positive change.” Ninkasi currently has 70 employees. By the end of next year, when the new facility is complete, Ninkasi plans to have around 100 employees. Book says that Ninkasi strives to hire local, the majority of the current staff are locals, and the owner is local to the Whiteaker.
In response to the expansion of the other breweries and bars, Book states, the neighborhood “is an art district. It’s edgy and it’s fun… We are not here to try to change it.” Book continues to say that they are all for the new expansions of other brewpubs as long as it does not affect the neighborhood’s diversity.
City Councilor of ward 7 Claire Syrett lives close to Ninkasi and is on the edge of the expansions direct impacts. In regards to the expansions Syrett says, “Overall I think the development is going to be positive and create long lasting sustainable jobs, that can’t be shipped out of state.” However with the positive impacts come lots of new people passing through the neighborhood leading to parking concerns and an increase in alcohol consumption. “Those things do bring some safety concerns and livability concerns for those of us who live close,” Says Syrett.
The Whiteaker community may have mixed views on the expansions, yet some continue to embrace the changes. Syrett looks forward to the development of the brewpubs in the area; however, says “it is hard to predict if housing or other growth will prosper from these changes.”
Garbanzo Grill and Breweries in the Whiteaker
The smell of sweet caramelized vegetables fills the air at the Whiteaker food court. Sounds of sizzling foods flood out of the Garbanzo food cart, drawing in its customers. A small family sits happily eating their freshly cooked meal, while a man and woman are zealously cooking in the kitchen.
Jeannine Navratil and Jon Terry started the Garbanzo Grill food cart in the Whiterkers food court directly across from the Ninkasi Brewing Co. two years ago. The Cart was originally located in the parking lot of the Tiny Tavern and moved to its current location in May. The Garbonzo cart hopes to attract a larger clientele with the new brewery expansions.
When it comes to the Whiteakers rough history, Terry sees no negative connotations between the new breweries and violence. “They all go to the Tiny Tavern,” says Terry. Although The Tavern has rough edges, it is known to be a local meeting place. Navratil says, “I love the Tiny Tavern, I think it’s an awesome place I really do. And maybe someday, somebody will put a little care into it and love it back into shape.”
Navratil sees the Whiteaker as a community going through an uphill transition. Navratil and Terry find that the new and expanding bars will attract more upscale patrons – pulling in an increasingly diverse crowd. “It’s always good to see growth in expansion in the community,” says Terry.