Saraveza in North Portland is a great bar and for the fourth year in a row, it is on the list of Draft Magazine’s 100 Best Beer Bars in the country - along with four other Portland establishments in 2014 – Bailey’s Tap Room, Bazi Bierbrasserie, Belmont Station (reviewed by Thebeerchaser in April 2013) and Imperial Bottle Shop. Missing for the firm time in three years are The Horse Brass Pub (reviewed by Thebeerchaser in May 2013) and Apex. It should be noted that there are only 31 bars in the entire Western region of the US which garnered this honor.
Without making any inference about these venues, it raises a few questions about how Draft Magazine determines its annual listing of the best beer bars in the country. For context, the publication prefaces its 2014 awards with the statement:
”After six years of making this annual list, we had to rethink the definition of a top-notch beer bar. New ones are opening every second, and “good beer bar” no longer equals a zillion taps; there’s just more to it now. We needed to walk out of these places saying, ‘Now there’s a bar that really, really cares about your experience with beer.’”
So what does that mean? Having well-cared for, thoughtfully selected beer with an eye toward variety, trends and tradition, in the kind of place you’d want to stay awhile, delivered by someone who knows their stuff. We don’t want to send you to a place where the server doesn’t look up from her texting when you ask questions….”
To support its premise, the publication even uses the example of Bailey’s in Portland “which cares so much about beer freshness, the digital menu says when each keg was tapped and how much is left.”
This statement raises the question, however, about how sophisticated or picky a beer drinker has to be to truly enjoy his brewski – harkening back to college days when a luke-warm Blitz in a can (even if it had already been opened for several days) was synonymous with Nirvana on a hot day in Corvallis.
One reader who questioned the criteria stated, “Interesting that a bar from one year can be left off the list the next year, even though nothing has changed about it to warrant not making the list.”
And the list does make one wonder if Draft personnel personally visit all these bars – and more importantly, about the thousands of other watering holes which didn’t make the list but serve a mean micro-brew and have great ambiance.
Okay! So I worked around lawyers for almost forty years – process is important – but rather than castigate Draft Magazine, I will put forth Thebeerchaser’s Theorem on Bars based on my experience visiting 52 bars since August 2011 when Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs commenced:
“Bars are like Bull Markets or ______, (fill in your own option) when they are good, they are fantastic and even when they are bad, they are still very good.”
But I digress – Saraveza is a really neat bar. It has also made Willamette Week’s Annual Drink Guide or best bar list every year since it opened. The 2010 description is representative:
“With illuminated PBR signs posing as art, a bottle-cap mosaic tabletop and a misguided allegiance to the *#+*% Green Bay Packers, Saraveza is like the coolest Midwestern dorm room ever. The only problem is that Portland lacks a soul-crushing winter freeze to justify the heft Saraveza will donate to your midsection.”
“There’s the beer, of course—in bottles big and small, drafts bitter and sour and strong—but the pasties will do some damage, too. Bring a date and split one of those flaky meat pies and a mountainous Caesar salad.”
One important factor which makes a superb bar is the staff. And from Sarah Pederson, the owner and founder of the bar in 2008, (the name of the bar is derived from a combination of her name and the Spanish word for “beer.”) to Tyler “The Elder” Vickers – the original bartender, who is still there, they have a great team. I heard Sarah speak to a civic group a few years ago and she truly has a passion for her craft and is another Oregon example of a young entrepreneur who successfully pursued her dream.
In fact, our waiter, Brian – who had only worked at Saraveza for about six months – was one of the best waiters encountered on Thebeerchaser tour to date. He was friendly, knowledgeable and the epitome of a great server.
Thebeerchaser and his wife, Janet, were pleased to be accompanied by Roy Lambert, a retired tax lawyer from Schwabe Williamson and Wyatt.
Roy who could be considered an Ivy League guy having graduated from Cornell before going on to Columbia University Law School and then hitting the books again where he earned his LLM – a Masters Degree in tax at NYU – is also an avid swimmer. In college, he swam for Cornell and now swims every morning at 6:00 AM. His background prompted me to find my favorite quotes to promote some erudite conversation that night about taxes:
As a starting premise: “The Internal Revenue Code should provide some evidence that it was written on purpose.” He was also reluctant to agree with Will Rogers, who stated, “The reason death is not as bad as taxes is because death does not get worse each time Congress meets.”
Brian did a great job of walking us through the nine beers on tap and encouraged us to sample those that were not familiar.
Interestingly, three of the four of us immediately chose the Occidental Brewery’s Dopplebock – a great choice.
Roy’s companion was Mary Maxwell, who is a very interesting lady and had a demanding and important job as Director of Aviation for the Port of Portland for four years before she retired in 2009. Prior to that she was the Port’s General Manager of Business and Properties for seventeen years. I’m sure that she has stories which would make novelist Arthur Hailey’s Airport Manager, Mel Bakersfield glad that his fictitious job was prior to the TSA. The tales would also be much more interesting than Roy’s yarns about the nuances of the Internal Revenue Code.
Mary had a bottle of Red Nectar Ale from Humboldt Brewery in California. “….. a floral aroma, distinctive accents of toasted malt, caramel, spice and a sweetness to appease those demanding taste buds.”
And those who love Saraveza for the food, have a reason. Our group had macaroni and cheese, bratwurst and the fabled Caesar salad – it was mountainous! We reluctantly passed on the free bacon (if you buy a beer) because we were there on Bacon Night the second Monday of each month.
The pasties also receive rave reviews. I was not familiar with this traditional British pastry filled with meat or mushrooms or vegetables or combinations thereof - a specialty at Saraveza and one which they have mastered. The rest of the menu is also varied and extensive.
We took home what was a first-rate quart off Portland’s Upright Brewing ” Five” (“Five blends three hop varieties with pale caramel malt to create full flavors. Subtle pale fruit aromas produced during the fermentation brighten the profile and provide contrast to its bitterness.”)
It’s one of the 250 different kinds of beers they have in attractive display cases. In fact, Brian stated that a sizeable portion of their clientele is patrons who come in on beer tours and one can understand why such a tour would choose Saraveza.
And one last thought about Draft Magazine – perhaps after Thebeerchaser hits the remaining 700 Portland watering holes, the Tour should start visiting the top 100 and those that did not make the cut too!
1004 N. Killingsworth