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