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APEX in Portland, Oregon

Barkeep by | Oct 2012 | Issue #69

Photo by Anna M. Campbell

Jesse McCann’s first love was bicycles, and with “very few, brief interruptions,” he’s been working with beer or bikes his entire life. It makes sense, then, that he opened APEX, one of Portland’s finest watering holes, complete with a massive patio fronted by one of the city’s biggest bike racks.

McCann, an Ontario, Canada, native, earned his beer stripes bartending at the San Francisco beer institution Toronado, then worked as a New Belgium Ranger. “Maintaining a small operation with such lofty beer aspirations is really an ongoing balancing act,” McCann says of his two-and-a-half-year-old bar. “The main requirements are a vision of what you want the bar’s standards to represent, and a set of self-correcting rules to keep it on that path. If you don’t know how something works well enough to diagnose, fix and improve it on your own, you don’t really own it—it owns you.”

Aside from the gargantuan outdoors space, which is perfect for Portland’s temperate climate and encourages barflies to bring in their own food (APEX doesn’t serve any), McCann’s beer mecca sports pinball machines, walls lined with beer labels, and relatively inexpensive, interesting drafts (like Moa from New Zealand, and locals like Alameda and The Commons) on impeccably clean lines. The beer list is displayed on a big screen under which McCann himself can often be found, smiling and chatting enthusiastically about new brews.

There are about 250 bottles available to go, half pours to encourage adventurous drinking, and some rather helpful signs posted, like: “DO NOT STAND ON THIS SINK” (“It’s amazing what people will do when they’ve locked the restroom door behind them,” McCann notes).

Head bartender Niki Delehanty (the staff call her “Sheriff”) says it’s all in the attitude. “Ours is more rock & roll, where [other bars are like] jazz or jam,” she says. “We don’t want you to sit and taste the flavors of the region—we want you to experience beer. We listen to rock music, loud, and watch MotoGP.”

Regular John Lord says APEX is more than just a bar; it’s a reflection of McCann’s persona. “Jesse fosters quite the geek crowd,” says Lord, who works in Portland’s high-tech/electronics industry. “One week, one of the big menu screens was showing the NASA Mars Curiosity Rover landing. Another day, the Mozilla Firefox developer team gathered on the night of a major release. Other days, there’ll be custom artisan cycle builders or a crowd watching the Tour de France.”

And just like that, we’ve come back around to bicycles.