(Photo | by Cascade Business News)
The Pilot Butte Taproom is the new business bringing life to a historic spot that many Bendites grew to love; the old Pilot Butte Drive-in location, just off of NE Greenwood Avenue. The Pilot Butte Taproom, which also encompasses the Bend Poker Room, is run by Kohlter Kee, who also oversaw the former Bend Poker Room before it moved to this new location.
Kee and his family bought and ran the old Bend Poker Room about two and a half years ago, when COVID was causing the business some troubles. After looking for a new space to take the business, they settled on the old Pilot Butte Drive-in building. After renovating the space for about nine or so months, they opened their doors to the public on December 2.
So far, business has been great, according to the owner. Kee says things have been steady, and people have been enjoying the new life brought to this well-loved and historic space. Formerly serving some of the best burgers and breakfast in town, the taproom has since been converted into a bar space with brick oven pizza.
The main counter is now a bar and in place of many of the old booths that used to surround the massive fireplace are now poker tables, pulling in tons of guests who are hoping to leave the night a winner, while also enjoying the eight different TVs playing sports and the 24 unique taps pouring up local beer and cider.
While the taproom and poker room are the newest business ventures to grace the walls of this building, they are definitely not the first. The building was first constructed in the late 1960s as an A&W fast food chain, hence the architectural style that has since become iconic. It became the Pilot Butte Drive-in in 1983, later becoming a Bend staple for comforting food, and now it has switched again in late 2022.
While pizza, local taps and TVs playing your favorite sport are a definite draw to the business, the main game is poker. Cash games start at 5:30pm every day and go until they close at 1am Thursdays are designed to help new players get into the scene with low buy-ins; each Thursday, the cash games are capped out at a $100 max buy-in.
Tournaments are held nightly, and each day brings new activities and rulesets to keep guests entertained. For example, $60 on Sundays will cover your tournament entry, door fee, pizza and football squares. Uniquely on Tuesdays, tournaments follow freezeout rules, while on Fridays, a game of no limit Texas Hold’em costs guests at least $80 to buy in and play. Every Saturday in January, players have the chance to win a $1,000 grand prize, while other months might feature different themes.
Looking to the future, Kee and his family hope to maintain the success of the Bend Poker Room, while also growing the Pilot Butte Taproom into something as well known and well-loved as the old Pilot Butte Drive in. Kee mentioned that the Pilot Butte Taproom will be looking to continue renovations in the future, potentially adding in outdoor seating and inviting some food trucks, meaning that the Pilot Butte taproom might become a hotspot hangout destination for summer and spring.
As Bend’s Eastside continues to grow and expand, we can expect to find more and more social and nightlife businesses pop up on this end of town in the near future, all hoping to tap into our rapidly growing population. While the Pilot Butte Taproom is among one of the first, we will likely see similar business activity moving to this side of town within the coming years.