Louis Eppinger, a five-foot-four, brown-eyed German immigrant, arrived in America in 1848. From the 1850s to the late 1880s, he managed and owned various saloons and hotels, in California and Oregon. In Portland, he opened the Bureau Saloon in 1879 and hired Frank Huber, former owner of the Cosmopolitan Saloon, to tend his bar. By 1890, Eppinger was managing the Grand Hotel in Yokohama, Japan, where he died at the age of 77 in 1908.
“Huber’s is Portland’s oldest restaurant and bar,” says James Louie, one of the Huber’s Café owners. “Frank Huber was an actor who learned how to tend bar in order to put food on the table and pay the rent. Huber bought into the business and eventually changed the name to Huber’s in 1895. Our great uncle, Way Fung Louie, a.k.a. Jim Louie, went to work for Mr. Huber in 1891 as the chef while the business was still called the Bureau. Back in the saloon days, if you bought an alcoholic beverage, you received a free turkey sandwich and a little ramekin of coleslaw, which is how the turkey tradition started.”
At the age of 11, Louie, born in China in 1870, had stowed away on a clipper ship bound for America. He learned how to bake and was hired by a French woman in Portland. His great nephew, also named James Louie, says, “My father always remembered his Uncle Jim’s cinnamon rolls.”
In 1893, the saloon relocated to 212 Morrison Street, and in 1895, Huber was listed in R.L. Polk’s Portland City Directory as selling wines and liquors at 281 Washington Street. That may have been the White House Saloon he purchased in September 1893 at the corner of Fourth and Washington. He still owned the Bureau Saloon. The Oregonian newspaper wrote, “Mr. Huber…now owns the two finest saloons in the city.”
On October 3, 1893, The Oregonian reported, “The choicest viands and daintiest bits of luncheon can always be had at ‘Frank’s’ (formerly White House, corner Fourth and Washington). Mr. Frank R. Huber reopening that place today.”
In 1907, Huber’s Café appeared for the first time in the city directory, with Huber as its proprietor, 272½ Stark and 102 Fourth as its location and 836 as its telephone number.
Huber’s moved to its current location, in the Railway Exchange building, now called the Oregon Pioneer building, in June 1910. Huber reportedly spent more than $10,000 on interior décor, including a vaulted ceiling of art glass and mahogany fixtures.
On April 30, 1911, Huber passed away from heart disease shortly after arriving in Seaside for a vacation. “The business was willed to his widow, Augusta Huber,” Louie says. “Since Augusta knew nothing about the business, Jim managed it for Augusta. In 1920, because of Prohibition, Jim converted the saloon into a restaurant. We kept the roast turkey as the house specialty….The menu was expanded to include steaks, lamb chops, roast duck and seafood. But Huber’s was also a speakeasy. You could get a Manhattan in a coffee cup. Great Uncle Jim just passed it off as ‘tea.’”
Today, Louie’s relatives own Huber’s, and turkey is still the mainstay, just like Great Uncle Jim would have liked. The café has shared with us the cocktail recipe that Huber’s original owner, Eppinger, created in Japan in the 1890s.
*** R E C I P E ***
3 dashes of orange bitters (1/2 oz.)
1/2 Italian dry vermouth (1 1/2 oz.)
1/2 Sherry (1 1/2 oz.)
1 lemon peel
Place the liquids into a glass and then twist the lemon to
release its oil.Add crushed ice and shake well. Strain into a martini or small
wine glass and garnish with a cherry.
Recipe appeared in New York’s The World,
May 29, 1900
Sherry Monahan has penned Mrs. Earp: Wives & Lovers of the Earp Brothers; California Vines, Wines & Pioneers; Taste of Tombstone; The Wicked West and Tombstone’s Treasure. She’s appeared on the History Channel in Lost Worlds and other shows.