One of the joys of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs, which commenced in 2011 and has resulted in review of over 60 establishments, is that it motivates one to discover hidden gems. While I have visited some classic venues such as The Goose Hollow, The Lutz, The Mockcrest Tavern, et. al., many have been neighborhood bars I never would have otherwise discovered. And some of them are the most memorable.
As evidence, consider one of my favorite resources, Willamette Week’s Annual Bar Guide. The just-published edition has 150 of the paper’s favorite bars (this included six strip clubs which Thebeerchaser does not review on this blog….). And only twenty-one of those visited by Beerchaser’s to this point, were in the 2014 listing. For context, remember that Portland has about 750 taverns!
Crackerjacks Pub and Eatery is a perfect example. Although it has been a gathering place at 28th and NW Thurman for fifteen years, it has never made the Willamette Week list.
While I don’t rank the bars I review, I can say that my two visits to Crackerjacks were among the most enjoyable of any since this journey commenced.
It has a Cheers type of ambiance and Sam, the wonderful female bartender who made us feel like we were regulars on our initial trip, kidded me about my nickname – “Dirt,” which you can see on the logo above and the caricature below.
I don’t have enough space to explain how that moniker was bestowed my freshman year at the Oregon State SAE house. Suffice to say it was when I weighed 120 pounds and spent Saturday mornings running obstacle courses in an ROTC counter-guerilla training group called “Raiders.”
When I walked in a week later on my follow-up visit, Sam yelled so every patron could hear, “Dirt Williams is back!” It reminded me of the shouts of “Norm!” at the famous TV bar in Boston when he entered Cheers.
The following reviews - the first by The Portland Mercury and the other from City Search sum it up well:
“This longtime neighborhood pub sports everything a dive-bar aficionado requires: strong drinks, cheap happy hour specials, an easy balance of hipsters and old-timers, “sports” on the big screen—when I was there, MMA was being featured instead of the Winter Olympics… priorities and all—satisfying pub grub and pizza slices, ’80s music on the jukebox…
You can either plop down alongside the curved bar, or cram your pals into any of the spacious booths that sprawl throughout the establishment. Don’t forget to drink and laugh heartily. Crackerjack’s was dropped from the heavens for exactly this.” (Steven Humphrey)”
Or take this review from City Search:
“Neighborhood Pub the way it should be – Man, I love this place. I love the atmosphere, the owner, the servers and the food. I always feel like I’m at home. At a home with free pool and tasty little corndogs, mind you……I don’t know a better place to get a salad in a bar. And the patio is great for an afternoon beer.”
While Thebeerchaser is certainly no gourmet, one of the best parts of this bar was the food – excellent on both visits. My good friend and Beerchaser, San Francisco consultant, Dave Hicks, (see prior reviews of The Horse Brass Pub and The Belmont Station) and I watched two simultaneous NCAA Elite 8 games on the big screens.
Dave had an excellent hamburger and I had four pieces of delicious friend chicken and French fries for only $11.50. While they have twelve beers on tap, I opted for the LLL Pilsner in a bottle and Dave had a Dead Guy Ale.
Dave went to undergraduate school at Princeton (his nickname was “Lucky”) and then to law school at the University of San Diego including a semester studying law in Paris. He honed his musical talents singing bass at Princeton in the famous a capella group The Nassoons.
One of the treats during our visit was the great line-up of ’70′s tunes being played on satellite radio – the line-up ranged from Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac to Hall and Oates and the Eagles. Dave talked about his thrill of seeing them live at the LA Forum in January this year and meeting lead guitarist, Joe Walsh and his wife, Marjorie, back stage.
On my second visit, after a bowl of fantastic Portuguese bean soup, I had an amazing Southwest Chicken Salad – huge pieces of chicken and very little lettuce unlike the converse in most pubs’ version of this dish. According to Sam, they recently overhauled their menu and serve nothing that has been frozen. We asked to meet the cook and had the pleasure of greeting Jimmy, who has held the position for the last eight years.
About the only negative comments I could find were from a 2007 Yelp review, “..The fries are decent. The only problem is that the clientele’s average age is about 38. Kinda like ‘Cheers.’ I guess I should have picked a better fantasy.”
Okay - since a lot of this bar’s clientele are regulars and the above review was 7 years ago, logic dictates that the mean age has now risen to 45 – and I was a significant deviation from the mean! That maturity opens the door to reminisce just a bit about the original Cracker Jacks….
This delicious concoction of caramel popcorn and peanuts with Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo on the box were first sold at baseball games. Anyone attending a Major League game has mentioned the treat in the seventh inning stretch when singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game“. On June 16, 1993, the 100th anniversary of Cracker Jack was celebrated at Wrigley Field.
Baby Boomer’s can remember the neat “prizes” in every box such as puzzles, baseball cards or decoder rings – now they are cheap decals. And speaking of decoder rings, this raised another great memory - Captain Midnight and his decoder rings a Saturday morning TV favorite…..
But if you want a prize inside that has not diminished in value, make a visit to Crackerjacks Pub. Open the door, walk in and tell Sam and Jimmy, “Dirt and Lucky sent us!”
(To view the map with all the bars reviewed by Thebeerchaser, click on the “View Larger Map” link at the bottom of the map below)