Stepping into Sam Bond’s Garage the other day was a little like seeing an old friend.
Closed since March 2020 on account of the pandemic — and, by closed, I mean closed-closed; nary a takeout container left the premises, nor curb-side order delivered — the beloved restaurant, bar and music venue in Eugene’s Whiteaker Neighborhood recently reopened with limited capacity in accordance with all COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Most notable about the reopening, however, is that it unveils the most extensive remodel in the venue’s 26-year history. But even though business has resumed at the fresh-look iconic bar-venue, which was selected in 2007 by Esquire magazine as one of the best in America, it’s uncertain when live music will return.
Sam Bond’s owners Bart Caridio, Todd Davis and Mark Jaeger own the building where Sam Bond’s is located, so there was less pressure to pivot as the pandemic swept through Lane County last spring.
Instead, the owners offered staff some time off, assuring them their jobs were safe once the pandemic subsided. As of this year’s reopening, all staff had returned to work.
Remodeling began last September and concluded shortly before Sam Bond’s reopened. It involved a long list of desired changes and fixes, like a new roof and a refinished floor. Other changes include a completely rebuilt bar, topped with zinc and trimmed with cedar.
The remodel crew was “putting in the last screw until about 10 minutes before we opened,” according to bar manager Andrew Lathrop, who assisted the owners with the work along with kitchen manager Diane Cooper, who’s been with Sam Bond’s since 1996. Lathrop won Eugene Weekly’s Best of Eugene Best Bartender Category in 2019.
Lathrop goes on to say that Sam Bond’s bar has expanded from eight to 12 taps, allowing for a CBD soda and a kombucha to stay permanently on the menu, and he intends to use his remodeled bar to expand the cocktail selection.
“I was able to get my dream bar,” he says. “Now I have everything within two steps to my right and two steps to my left and we have two glass washers. I’m able to clean my equipment without taking it to the back.”
According to Lathrop, these bar changes allow Sam Bond’s to also handle more volume during high-capacity shows. There have also been several hygiene upgrades, he says, including no-touch automatic handwashing stations in the restrooms and behind the bar for employees.
For her part, kitchen manager Cooper says she’s added a meatball sub to the menu, and it’s been selling well.
Much of what made Sam Bond’s “Sam Bond’s” remains — including the sculpted longhorn antlers above the stage and the vintage automobile license plates. The place was, at one time, an actual garage, and the interior maintains a comfortable hangout décor with a mix of trucker chic and urban logger sensibilities.
Lathrop says nearly all of the people he’s seen since reopening “notice the changes and love it. But a few people have said, ‘It’s too clean in here,’” he adds, to which he responds with a smile, “Give it time!”
Food, décor and drinks aside, questions about live music returning to the venue started rolling in shortly after the early March reopening, co-owner Jaeger says.
When does the music start? “Not quite yet,” Jaeger says, other than perhaps acoustic stuff outdoors on the patio over the summer.
But as soon as it makes sense, a full music schedule will return to Sam Bond’s, he says. The biggest hurdle is Lane County’s safety status. With rising COVID numbers, Lane County has bounced between high and extreme risk levels, limiting indoor capacity and operating hours at bars and restaurants.
This caution proved prescient. As Eugene Weekly’s May 13 issue went to press, Sam Bond’s announced on their website and through social media that a server at the venue had tested positive for the Coronavirus, and that they would close back down until further notice.
“Depending on test results,” Sam Bond’s said in a statement, “we could be back open for on-site consumption very soon but we will be very conservative on that front.”
But once Sam Bond’s does reopen, again, Jaeger assures, “There’s going to be live music down here because that’s our heart and soul. We’re all dying for it.”
A few weeks before Sam Bond’s closed back down, I took a closer look at the changes, noticing a flyer for a show from a former Eugene singer-songwriter now based in Kansas City, Dan Jones. The show was canceled last spring because of the pandemic, but the poster still hung on the wall; a moment frozen in time, waiting to begin again.
Sam Bond’s Garage is open with limited capacity and outdoor seating every day, 4 pm to 11 pm, at 407 Blair Boulevard.