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Bunk Bar

Bunk Bar

photo by Andrew Roles
photo by Andrew Roles

Before there was a Bunk Bar, Matt Brown worked as a bar manager with New York-trained chef Tommy Habetz in the kitchen of a Portland restaurant. Later, their skills would be complemented by the addition of New Orleans’ sous chef Nick Wood. But Brown was getting worn out with the blasé attitude of swirling wine glasses and using food and beverage to up class status for a few hours. Citing a need for “a more honest exchange with the world,” he left the bar, and went on to help develop the music program at Rontoms, while also playing in bands and running a record label.

Soon Habetz and Wood were also ready to try something different.

“Tommy told me he had this idea for a sandwich shop; it would be rock and roll themed,” Brown says. “We wanted to make ourselves do something, but  didn’t have any money. So we had to learn how to scrounge up and ask for help to get started, like ‘hey we’ve got this dream that we’re trying to do.’”

It went well. Since the first Bunk Sandwiches opened in eight years ago in 2008, their business has become a small sandwich empire, expanding to a total of seven locations (six in Portland, one in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) and a mobile Bunk truck. The menus vary by location, but favorites like the Pork Belly Cubano and bar snacks like the Mole Tots reign supreme in the reviews. Plus, the culinary work of Habetz and Wood have received accolades, like being listed among “Simple Acts Of Sandwich Genius” in Food & Wine Magazine.

But a main component of the “Indie Rock Sandwich Shop” plan was always music. Once they got comfortable with the initial Morrison St. location they began to scout for a new space where they could have a bar and live music venue. That would become Bunk Bar on Water Ave., located in the Central Eastside Industrial District, largely characterized by businesses adapted from old warehouse and manufacturing buildings.

Bunk Bar is a part time venue, meaning there isn’t a show every night, but booker Tony Prato brings in an eclectic supply of local, independent and internationally touring musicians. July’s shows include local band Genders, psych outfit Vinyl Williams and Nicholas Allbrook of Pond and Tame Impala.

photo by Todd Wahlberg | Portland's The Ghost Ease
photo by Todd Wahlberg | Portland’s The Ghost Ease

“Go down there on any afternoon, and you’ll see it’s just a sandwich shop,“ Prato says. “The stage is created and taken apart for every single show. We try to keep it easy, and do a lot with very little. It’s a good room, and it seems to attract the kind of bands that we want.”

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And the name? Bunk is a nod to the iconic TV detective “Bunk” Moreland of The Wire, but it also serves as a joke.

“We’re kind of calling bullshit on trying too hard in the industry,” Brown says. “It’s more about having a good time and sending great sandwiches out into the world.”»

– Brandy Crowe