The Columbia Bar and Astoria Pubs

On a recent short crabbing trip to Nehalem Bay, Thebeerchaser and his brother-in-law (Dave Booher) spent the good part of a day in Astoria.  Several hours spent in the wonderful Columbia River Maritime Museum chronicled the history and geography of the Columbia River Bar.  The description of the Bar as the “Graveyard of the Pacific” with diagrams of the numerous shipwrecks over the years was compelling.

The Columbia River Bar – Graveyard of the Pacific

With some time to spare in the afternoon, we decided to explore a few of Astoria’s other pubs.  While thebeerchaser tour focuses on Portland, it was another opportunity to expand the venues reviewed.  Besides, there were numerous establishments within walking (or trolley) distance along Marine Drive and within sight of the Astoria-Megler Bride.

The Astoria Trolley

The Astoria Brewery now owns four bars or taverns along the main street in Astoria, so we decided to visit the Desdemona Club and the Wet Dog Cafe in that order.  We did not have time to visit their other two – Hazel’s Tavern and The Chart Room.

All Bars Within Sight of the Astoria-Megler Bridge Over the Columbia

After reading about some of the hardships of the Lewis and Clark Expedition right across the River at Fort Clatsop during the winter of 1805-6 as set forth below, it made one wonder how much more hospitable their stay in Oregon would have been if these venues were available.

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Austere Even with a Ration of Whiskey

The Fort, only five miles from Astoria, was the last encampment of the Expedition during a wet and miserably cold winter before embarking on their return trip to  St. Louis. From the 12/25/1805 journal of William Clark:

“Our Diner concisted of pore [lean] Elk, So much Spoiled that we eate it thro’ mear necessity. Some Spoiled pounded fish and a fiew roots. It was a bad Christmass diner.”

Notice that there was no mention of alcohol above – that’s because the explorers finished their supply of whiskey on July 4, 1805.  One of the men brewed a little beer from fermented camas bread on the way down the Columbia, because it was “frequently wet molded & Sowered.”

 Clark described it favorably but evidently it wasn’t tried again, probably for lack of time.  This lack of liquor was a violation of military regulations because a few years earlier, Congress had raised the mandatory ration from half a gill to a full gill of rum, brandy or whiskey per man per day.*1  It also lends credence to the old Irish quote:  “What whiskey will not cure, there is no cure for.”    (*1 Wikipedia)

  

One of the Four Taverns Owed and Operated by Astoria Brewery

Since it was Happy Hour, Dave and I walked to the Desdemona Club (known as the “Dirty D”) to toast Lewis and Clark and contemplate shipwrecks. The venue was appropriate because the tavern was named after the ship of the same name.

Desdemona Sands is a series of shoals on the Columbia. The sands  had traditionally been called Chinook Sands. On New Year’s Day 1857, the Desdemona’s captain tried to cross the Columbia River bar without a pilot – having been  promised a new suit if he could enter the Columbia by January 1. The ship ran  aground on the bar. The cargo was saved, but the ship was lost, and one of the salvage crew drowned.
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The Desdemona Before it Sank in the Columbia

Laura, the bartender in the bar was and knowledgeable and cordial resource on the history of the bar.  The portholes and some other items in the bar were purportedly salvaged from the ship.

Porttholes from the Original??

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She and a friendly woman at the bar named, Maya, told us about the brothel, located above what is now the bar until the early 1970’s, as evidenced by the long halls with multiple small rooms.
The “shanghai trap door” was also mentioned along with some history of Astoria – because the area is marshy, it is built upon creosote pilings with a boardwalk – factors in the 1922 fire which destroyed most of the then wooden buildings of the City.

Laura gives Dave a history lesson

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Distinguishing Characteristics
Besides Laura and her quirky “beer mug glasses” shown below, a unique feature on the menu was the Deep Fried Pancake Basket – pancakes cut up and then deep-fried – a bargain at $2.50 although Laura said that she had only served it twice in the six months she’s worked there.  She said that the Dirty D was also the only bar in Astoria with free pool and shuffleboard.

Distinguishing Glasses

Although they had Bud Light Pints for $2………we had  each had a pint of Astoria Brewery’s Old Red Beard Amber“a copper-hued amber brew with a caramel malt flavor and a smooth profile.” (similar to Dave’s….)
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Wet Dog Cafe
Even though we each had consumed only a pint, given the propensity of Clatsop County DA, Josh Marquis, to zealously prosecute those with alcohol even on their breath, we decided to walk down the street a short eighteen or so blocks and visit the Wet Dog Cafe.  We passed Hazel’s and The Chart Room – Astoria Brewing’s other two bars on the way, but time and capacity constraints forced us wait to visit on our next trip.  
       

This Sports Bar Will Have to Wait Until Next Visit

Fortunately, we met an old lady-of-the-sea on the walk although she was very non-conversant.

The Beerchaser in a One-sided Conversation

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Hazel’s looked interesting although the Chart Room was very nondescript on the outside.  Astoria Brewery’s investments have helped the ambiance of these two venues based on the difference in the quality of the reviews since their purchase and upgrades in the spring of 2012.  Moving the bulk of their brewing operation to a building adjacent to the Chart Room doubled their capacity to well over 800 barrels per year.

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The Wet Dog Cafe, founded in 1995, is also the site of their smaller brewery opened in 1997 as Pacific Rim Brewery and is an interesting and spacious building.  I concur with some of the reviews that having the bar separated from the restaurant would enhance the ambiance of the latter although evidently, I missed the adults only section of the bar.         

The view is outstanding and they had a large patio with superb views of the River.  They also have a nice selection of draft beers and an ample menu. According to the reviews, try the fish & chips or the Reuben sandwich. Take a look at their great dessert menu too. The bartenders were friendly and helpful although stretched to handle the crowd.

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View from the Wet Dog Patio

Watching the River traffic is fascinating including Bar Pilots. One can almost envision the horse-drawn gill nets that supplied much of the salmon to the old and now abandoned canneries along Marine Drive.

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The Bar at the Wet Dog Cafe

The Wet Dog has most (about 12 of Astoria’s hand-crafted ales on tap.  Dave stuck with the Old Red Beard Amber and I had a Da Bomb Blonde Ale, a light golden ale although I was tempted by the description of their milk shakes:

“Made with “Hand Scooped” Old Fashioned Vanilla Ice Cream. Served in a malt glass with a side tin. Your choice of Marionberry, Vanilla, Oreo Cookie, Caramel, Root Beer, Strawberry, Chocolate, Butterscotch, Chocolate Stout made with our own Bad Ass Stout.”

More Tempting than a Milk Shake made with Bad Ass Stout!

The Wet Dog Cafe/Astoria Brewing is also one of the seven breweries along the North Coast Craft Beer Trail  – which might merit another blog post……

Hats off to CPA Steve Allen and his wife, Karen Huber Allen.  During a recession that hit the coast harder than most regions, they have been entrepreneurial and expanded their business.  They have seven children and three of the kids work in the family businesses full-time and it appears that they treat their many employees well.

They are environmentally astute.  For example, in  2008 the Wet Dog added 15 Solar panels on the roof.  This action apparently made them only the second brewery in the Oregon to use solar energy to heat hot water tanks for the production of beer and for their kitchen. They recycle all plastics, cardboard, tin, glass, & paper.

Astoria Brewing and Wet Dog Cafe            144 11th Street

Hazel’s Tavern              1313 Marine Drive

The Chart Room            1196 Marine Drive

The Columbia River Maritime Museum                1792 Marine Drive

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6 thoughts on “The Columbia Bar and Astoria Pubs

  1. Thank you for such a wonderful blog/write-up…….we are so glad you had a great time and enjoyed our beverages! Steve, Karen, Kera, Andy & Mike

    • Thanks Karen. Coincidentally, my wife in I were on a trip to Eastern Oregon this weekend and spent the last night at Brasada Ranch near Redmond. They have a small bar and only three beers on tap – one of which was Da Blond Bomber. So I was able to replicate my positive experience at the Wet Dog Cafe.
      Don

  2. Beerchaser, I could swear that chap you are having the “one-sided conversation” with is in fact, a retired lawyer from a noble, white-shoe, Portland law firm. No, not that one…..!

    Dudd

    • Walt, that one sided conversation is with a “lady of the sea.” I also realized when she finally did respond to my attempt at conversation, that she dated one of my friends in high school., but that’s another story and she went mum on the details……
      Don

  3. Pingback: Seattle and Portland: best blogs for travellers | Around the World

    • Thanks for the comments in your excellent blog. Your recommendation regarding a listing by geographical location as a sidebar is a good one and one that I will be pursuing.

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