Having a small drinking establishment in downtown Bend may often be a challenge, especially when your kitchen facilities are limited.
Two businesses have approached the issue in two very different ways, but in keeping with the demands of the mountain-loving clientele they attract.
Velvet Lounge, located on Wall Street just north of Franklin Avenue, is a small cocktail lounge on two levels. Established in mid-2009 by adventure filmmaker Sky Pinnick and partners, the long, narrow space offers a touch of rustic sophistication together with ample reminders that this is a space for snowboarders and skiers.
The menu was created by Spork (and formerly Marz Bistro) chef Jeff Hunt for people who like something more than deep-fried snacks with their cocktails. Later redesigned by Velvet staff, it features nine gourmet tapas plates priced between $6 and $8.
Crow's Feet Commons opened three months ago on Riverfront Plaza, in the historic Goodwillie-Allen-Rademacher House on Brooks Street.
Founder David Marchi, a noted ski mountaineer, took over the former Mirror Pond Gallery and converted it into a gathering place for backcountry sports lovers and bicyclists.
Here, the menu is all about “carbing up." Some 15 Oregon craft brews are offered on tap, to accompany a limited list of morning pastries and sandwiches. Again, the prices are kept at $8 or less.
Owner Cori Hamilton, who bought Velvet from Pinnick about a year ago after serving as the bar's general manager, operates a nifty little space that's only about 12 feet wide but extends back for at least 75 feet. That's enough room for plush seating around built-in tables with views of action-sports movies on in-house TVs.
Mirrors along one wall seem to double the size of the lounge. Rough-hewn wood panels line the walls and the hardwood floors. A large chandelier made of deer antlers hangs above the entrance.
When my dining companion and I visited early one recent evening, business was slow and a single employee was doing triple duty as bartender, waiter and cook.
But he pulled it off in splendid fashion, starting us with specialty cocktails: a Blue Velvet, made with blueberry-infused vodka, house-made lemonade and yerba mate, and a Stimulus, a bourbon and ginger ale concoction.
A quartet of delicious small plates was an ample shared dinner for the two of us.
Two skewers of dried apricots, wrapped in thin slices of bacon, were dressed with a sweet soy sauce.
Good-sized button mushrooms, stuffed with goat cheese, were wrapped with prosciutto (Italian bacon) and served on a chick-pea puree with a drizzle of truffle oil.
A trio of vegetarian sliders featured big squares of marinated tofu in a soft potato bun, garnished with thin slices of Japanese cucumber, scallions and a spread of wasabi mayonnaise.
Tender, marinated pulled pork overflowed three tacos, served on soft white-corn tortillas with mango salsa and shredded cabbage.
All four were delicious. Were we forced to choose a favorite, it might have been the sliders or the tacos, but I'd order the mushrooms or apricots again, any time. Then again, there are two other varieties of sliders, as well as Andouille sausage skewers, baked brie with mango chutney, and a Spanish tortilla to choose from.
Crow's Feet Commons is less a cafe-lounge and more a community center for outdoorsy types. Opened around the first of November, it couples backcountry equipment sales and repairs with a small pub in its largest room, facing Mirror Pond.
All orders are placed at a single counter, dubbed the Brew Hub. When I visited one morning, I was pleased to find Stumptown coffee brewing. My latte (12-ounce size only) was well made, and there were a variety of other beverages available as well.
Pastries come directly from the Sparrow Bakery. I tried several, taking some home to share. The COCC cookie was a winner, a meal in itself with chocolate chips, oatmeal, cranberries and coconut. The banana bread was moist and not over-the-top in fruitiness. The ocean roll, a spooled pastry flavored with cardamom, may have been a day old, but it was still great with coffee.
I requested that a croissant be heated with ham and cheese. This was done in a toaster-oven, one of the few appliances available at Crow's Feet.
On another occasion I dropped by around lunchtime and found the options even more limited. My best bet, I determined, was a waffle sandwich. There are two varieties: sweet and savory. The sweet waffle has Brie and caramel.
I chose the savory. It took about 20 minutes to heat a single peppery sausage patty, place it between two thin toasted waffles and flavor it with maple syrup. I was not impressed.
Crow's Feet had no cooking area — no grill, certainly — but it does have a refrigerator to keep perishables. I would be much more inclined to return if the business's food options included green salads and healthy sandwiches.