Kelly’s Olympian – Old but Still Chipper and What a Great Name!

Kelly's - Operating since 1902!

Kelly’s – Operating since 1902!

Those of you who have followed Thebeerchaser know that notwithstanding the name, this blog is not a rigorous journalistic or academic study of beer.   Although, I love microbrews, I am always pleased and will opt for a $2.50 Happy-hour PBR rather than an esoteric and more expensive craft beer.

Darwin's Theory - a wonderful dive bar in Anchorage
Darwin’s Theory – a wonderful dive bar in Anchorage

Rather, this blog chronicles my journey to what is now over a hundred bars, taverns and pubs in the last four years in Portland and the far reaches of Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, the southeastern US and several countries in Europe.

Dive bars are preferred, but regardless, this investigation involves dissecting the history and character of the watering holes, interviewing the bartenders and regulars and commenting on the distinguishing characteristics of each establishment.

The tavern at the summit of ___ foot Mt. Schilthorn in Switzerland
The taverne at the summit of 9,744 foot Mt. Schilthorn in Switzerland

And one of the most enjoyable parts of these junkets has been the companions with whom I raise a mug. In many cases this has been Janet, my wonderful spouse of 35 years, (one reason she was named 2014 Beerchaser-of-the-Year) but others have included lawyers, investment analysts, academicians, consultants, retired friends and just plain folk (although no animals) to this point.

From left: Thebeerchaser; Jack, Amy and Charlie Faust, Jim Westwood and Jennifer Johnson

From left: Thebeerchaser; Jack, Amy and Charlie Faust, Jim Westwood and Jennifer Johnson



The most recent Beerchaser event was at Kelly’s Olympian – a unique (and I use that word with mindfulness of hyperbole) dive bar right in the heart of downtown Portland. Fortunately, my five companions that day were as fascinating as the bar in which we gathered.

Let’s begin with the bar. Kelly’s, opened in 1902, is the third oldest bar/restaurant in continuous operation in Portland and per the Kelly’s website:

The name was derived from the name of one of the original owners, “Kelly”, and the Olympia Brewing Company, which was involved in the inaugural opening so that it could sell its product, Olympia Beer. It was originally called “The Olympian Saloon”.  The name “Kelly’s” was added a few years later…..

In the early days, it was a popular gathering spot for locals as well as visiting timbermen, sailors, shipyard workers, longshoremen and others passing through. In addition to being a popular bar, it had the reputation for having one of the most well known card rooms in all of Portland…and was truly a landmark.        

Downtown on 4th and Washington

Downtown on 4th and Washington

Legend has it that there used to be several secret entrances to the Shangai Tunnels, where Chinese immigrants and dockworkers lived and made their way about the underground of Portland.

……In one section of the basement is a peculiar patching of the wall and remnants of an old tile floor, from a rumored “speakeasy” that existed during the Prohibition years of the 1930′s. 

The Bar at Kelly's

The Bar at Kelly’s

So what’s changed from the early 1900’s and is Kelly’s still imbued with the personality chronicled in its archives?  Or is it just another old bar struggling to survive given the advent of shiny brewpubs and corporate establishments proclaiming the 99 beers on tap available to patrons.

This excerpt from Barfly provides evidence (and I believe our group would concur) that it is the former:

There’s no longer a piss-trough down the foot of the bar……. After more than a century, adjustments have to be made to any establishment. Women can come and go these days, the cellar tunnels to the port have been sealed, and, a few years back, once three generations of family ownership changed hands, a dozen vintage motorcycles were hung from the ceiling.  

Weird, that – sorta awful, sorta crazy – but, beyond niggling details (HD screens, paint job, more-than-edible food), it’s the same old bar. Servers still descend the trapdoor behind the bar to get ice. (Verified with Lucia, the Manager, that this is still the case and that’s where their kegs are also stored – see the picture below.) 

Mary Kate opened the trap door and shows the steps descending to the cellar

Mary Kate opened the trap door and shows the steps descending to the cellar

Elderly regulars maintain their presence. The shoeshine stand disappeared, tragically, but a decent sound system lures rising bands and tastemaker DJ’s……  (the music started in 2008)…..(Barfly)      


Faust Beerchasing at the U of O

Faust (right) Beerchasing at the U of O




Before some additional comments about the bar, let’s talk a bit about my companions that day. Two of them (Portland lawyers Jack Faust and Jim Westwood) are former “honorees” as Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter by this blog. (Check the links on their names.)  In fact, Westwood is the one who suggested we congregate at Kelly’s).

Westwood with caricature of his hero - George Washington

Westwood with caricature of his hero – George Washington

After having worked at a law firm (Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt) with over 100 attorneys for twenty-five years, my concern that at least three lawyers are really essential for meaningful dialogue, was allayed when Jennifer Johnson, Dean of Lewis and Clark Law School joined the group.

Jennifer’s career is impressive and besides, she is a great drinking companion!  After law school, she was awarded a prestigious clerkship for Judge Alfred Goodwin in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

She then worked at the Davies Bigg firm (now Stoel Rives) specializing in real estate finance and land use, before joining the law school faculty in 1980, where her teaching awards are numerous and impressive including the Leo Levenson and Burlington Northern Foundation awards for excellence in teaching.

In 2008, Dean Johnson was named Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar in recognition of her exemplary teaching and scholarship in business law and was installed as the Erskine Wood Sr. Professor of Law.  She became Dean of the Law School in 2014.

An award-winning professor before becoming Dean

An award-winning professor before becoming Dean

I enjoyed talking to her when we first met at the Rookery, but heard from a friend – one of the 2015 graduating law students – how she distinguished herself at their graduation ceremony.

US Senator and Lewis and Clark Law School alumnus, Heidi Hietkamp, was scheduled to deliver the commencement address.  But thanks to the dysfunctional body which may be mislabeled as the “Upper Chamber,” she was detained in Washington D.C. because of a Rand Paul’s filibuster on the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

Lewis and Clark Law School Alum - Senator Heidi Hietkamp

Lewis and Clark Law School Alum – Senator Heidi Hietkamp

Jennifer found out on Friday that the North Dakota Senator would not be able to make it to Oregon by Saturday afternoon. So Jennifer, pinch hit after writing her remarks on what turned out to be a long Friday night.

When I attended a graduation party for the law graduate the next evening, he and his parents both raved about how Jennifer “hit it out of the park,” with her remarks.   They opined that it was the highlight of the ceremony.

Beerchasing at the Rookery
Beerchasing at the Rookery – no Charlie Faust but add Schwabe attorney, Jennifer Woodhouse (left)


And before discussing Amy and Charlie Faust who rounded out on contingent, we should digress and mention that the same group we had at Kelly’s had Beerchased about six months earlier at The Rookery – at that time a fairly new and classy bar on SW Broadway.

The contrast in environment at the Rookery is described in one September 2014 Yelp review as:

“….really charming, I have a fondness for restoration projects and they did a wonderful job. We were eager to sample local brews and dig into taste bites….We ordered the charcuterie plate, mac & cheese and corned beef stuffed Yorkshire pudding.…….The mac & cheese was one of the best I can recall in ages and I never thought about stuffing a reuben into Yorkshire pudding, but …….it was a wonderful blend of Irish and British.”                        

Entertainment more genteel than rock bands at Kelly's

Entertainment more genteel than rock bands at Kelly’s

 It’s a suave and sophisticated bar on the second floor of SW Portland restaurant Raven and Rose.  The dark wood panels, the clientele (mostly downtown professionals) and the menu are all good, but perhaps a little bit stuffy.

At Kelly’s, our group’s personality adapted to our environment.  We were rowdier, drank cheaper beers and were less attentive to Jack Faust’s stories even though they are always captivating – but more so in a “dignified and staid” environment than in a dive bar with classic motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and tatted patrons.  P1030757

What about Jack Faust’s two offspring – Amy and Charlie?  Given their engaging personalities and interesting backgrounds, I knew that it did not take three members of the Faust family to ensure riveting conversation.

Charlie Faust with his Dad

Charlie Faust with his Dad at Bailey’s

Charlie is a Portland mortgage broker.  After graduation from U of O, he traveled for a year in Europe and SE Asia, then worked as a staffer for Senator Bob Packwood.

That prepared him to weather the storms when he worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration including the experience of being on the crew of a NOAA hurricane research plane during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 – peak winds of 155 mph. He has Beerchased previously at Marathon Taverna and Bailey’s Tap Room.

Charlie flew through Hurricane Gloria

Charlie flew through Hurricane Gloria

Amy is a talented writer and popular Portland radio personality and the female half of the Mike and Amy Show on KWJJ The Wolf.

She has an interesting background and after graduating from Scripps College – one of the five prestigious Claremont Colleges in Southern California, she moved to New York where she both met her husband and even sang in an all-female alternative country band (negotiations to get tapes are underway at time of publication…).

The Mike and Amy Show, after thirteen years of great ratings, was unceremoniously canceled by station management in September of 2012.  This was ironic because their show was one of five nominees for that year’s County Music Association Media Personality of the Year in the major markets.

Amy and Mike - the dynamic morning duo at KWJJ - The Wolf

Amy and Mike – the dynamic morning duo at KWJJ – The Wolf

Although it is unusual to hear management in any industry admit that it erred, in June 2014, based on listener demand and the poor ratings since the action, the duo returned to the airwaves and KWJJ Program Director, Mike Moore, announced:

I want to speak to you about a mistake that ‘The Wolf’ made back on Aug. 6, 2012”

Mike Moore’s description on Linked In states, in part:

Tenacious program director with 15+ years of experience in providing strategy, vision…..developing and executing on-air and online strategies that provide cost-effective programming that positively impact bottom line without compromising quality.

He is still with KWJJ and perhaps his ability to reverse course is one reason.  Typical of the responses to the return of the show was this one:

I am so very thrilled to have them back.  It’s nice to listen to the radio again. (Yes, I haven’t been a listener since they were fired — I was brought up on KWJJ and have listened to that station since about 1972).

Former colleagues - Amy and Mary Kate

Former colleagues – Amy and Mary Kate

Amy also validated the cliché about Portland being a “small city” when she discovered that our friendly and competent bartender was Mary Kate, a former colleague from the Entercom who Amy ran into when Mary Kate was a bartender at Dukes – a bar on Division and then at another bar on N. Mississippi Avenue.


Now the current owner of Kelly’s is not without some celebrity.   According to Willamette Week in its 2013 article on Portland Hydro Hogs,” Benjamin Stutz is a lawyer and besides being co-owner of Kelly’s he develops condos and also owns a drive-thru pizza joint in Hillsboro (Motopizza).  His wife Dr.Cynthia Gulick, is an osteopathic physician working in medical bariatrics.

They were “featured” as the top Portland “Water Hogs” in 2013, with residential consumption of 1,006,060 gallons. “(Their) apple tree-lined driveway (enters) a 3.3-acre property’s tennis court, swimming pool and a small vineyard of pinot noir grapes and also averaged 1.02 million gallons in the prior two years.”  (Willamette Week 4/21/13)

For those who enjoy an occasional cold beer, this 2013 consumption would equate to 64,907 kegs of PBR – a small fortune even at Happy-hour prices.

Enough water in 2013 to fill almost 65,000 of these puppies!

Enough water in 2013 to fill almost 65,000 of these puppies!

Stutz was also on the Top Ten list of Hydro Hogs for 2011-12, but to his credit, has not “resurfaced” on the list since 2013.

And as for Body Art…..

As one might expect, the clientele at Kelly’s is diverse as described in a  Zagat review: ….”a mix of punks, business types and ‘street urchins’ gathers for Pabst and ‘strong’ pours of Jack Daniels…..”

And, of course, with the bike theme, you would be correct in assuming that bikers – a group known for sporting body art, comprise a portion of the regulars.

In addition, a January 2014 Trip Advisor review after mentioning the biker contingent, also stated: “Of course, everyone working there sports multiple tattoos and piercings. No wimps allowed.”

P1030758The make-up of our group did not consist of professions known for their ferociousness or intimidation, (in fact Westwood before his legal career was a TV weatherman at KGW).  We did not exhibit traits that allow  you to drink without trepidation in a dive bar.

Based on that fact, I asked Jim if he had considered our vulnerability when suggesting Kelly’s.

He casually lifted his left sleeve to show me his recent tattoo, and assured me that this decoration – the numerals “1783” – while not typical of the more graphic tats displayed by the bikers, ensured our acceptance and respect.  (Besides I was prepared to tell them that we knew Schwabe partner, Jay Waldron – no tattoos, but a former rugby player, biker and one who has kicked back more than a few beers with whiskey chasers at Kelly’s.)

Westwood - comfortable in his own skin - Still!

Westwood – comfortable in his own skin – Still!

Westwood, who has served for fourteen years as coach of the Grant High School “We the People”  Constitution Team, endured the pain from the needle after he delivered on a promise to his team members.  He told them that if they won the 2013 National Championship, he would get a tattoo to recognize the victory.

Grant High National Championship Team including Coach Westwood

Grant High National Championship Team  in D.C. including Coach Westwood

Westwood’s most admired historical figure is President George Washington and 1783 is the year of two of the most significant events in our first President’s storied career as a military and political leader.  We have to admire Westwood’s motivational skills and commitment as a coach.


 The Kelly Motorcyles

The classic motorcycles are a distinguishing feature at Kelly’s. The description in their website does a good job conveying the effect:

Motorcycle at EntranceThe crowning glory is the collection of a dozen vintage motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and about, each restored to perfection. One of the owners is a motorcycle enthusiast and finally found a home for his impressive motorcycle collection.

Complementing the motor cycles are other motorcycle accessories, combined with museum quality neon signs, antique gas pumps and historic photos of Portland and motor cycles.   

The inventory of the classic cycles at Kelly's

The inventory of the classic cycles at Kelly’s


We had a great time at Kelly’s and you should try it taking into consideration this closing description by the Portland Mercury:

The neon, the road signs, the decorative motorcycles all scream “theme bar,” but Kelly’s Olympian manages to avoid the inauthenticity the décor would imply….. Kelly’s has the gravitas of a place that’s been around for over a century.

The food is… well… bar food, but the drinks are on the deep side, the tap list is long, and much of the clientele could probably tell you a thing or two about motorcycles. It’s not quite a grim and gritty biker bar—but it’s not faking anything, either.     

Due to the length of this post, we have not covered the quality bands which make Kelly’s a destination in the evenings.  Check these out on the link to their website shown below.  And check out the over 20 beers and one cider they have on tap at their Happy Hour from 4:00 to 7:00 each day and 11:00 to 1:00 on Thursday through Sunday.

(If you run into Jay Waldron, buy him a beer!)

Cleans up pretty well and still has cred with bikers....

Waldron – Cleans up pretty well and still has cred with bikers….

Kelly’s Olympian              426 SW Washington Portland


The Yamhill Pub – A Dive Bar with Character or Grunge?

the Yamhill Pub - Dive or Grunge - or is there a difference?

The Yamhill Pub – Dive or Grunge – or is there a difference?

One of the wide-ranging debates in contemporary society – rivaling that of climate change, the future of Congress as a viable institution and gun control is that of the definition of dive bars i.e. how does one determine if the PBR he is drinking is consumed in a true dive bar or a trendy hole-in-the-wall that tries to masquerade as one (or is there even a level below “dive bar”?)

Justice Stewart - probably raised a mug in some dive bars

Justice Stewart – probably raised a mug in some dive bars

Some will reference the late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart’s threshold test for obscenity when he wrote in his legendary opinion about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” 

Others try to identify specific dive bar characteristics,as exemplified by reference sources used by Thebeerchaser in his journey to visit bars, taverns and pubs in Portland – and subsequently, other locales including Europe, Alaska, Colorado, the South and Oregon regions east of the Cascades, and on the Oregon Coast.


An invaluable Beerchaser reference source

For example, my favorite from pages 9-10 of Seattle’s Best Dive Bars by Mike Seely:

“Some dives have vomit-caked toilet seats in the bathroom; others have cracked vinyl booths in the barroom.  Some have nicotine-stained murals dating back to the Depression; others have drink prices that seemingly haven’t wavered since then……..But really, no collection of characteristics can be melded to truly define what makes a bar a dive…..The term “dive’”is bestowed with a spoonful of love….What they have in common aren’t so much attributes, but a state of mind — you just know one when you see one.    

The Yukon Tavern - one of Portland's other dive bars

The Yukon Tavern – one of Portland’s other dive bars


Dive bars is one of the subsets of venues reviewed on the home page of this blog and of the approximately 115+ bars reviewed since August 2011, about fifteen have been so categorized including Portland’ dives the Ship Tavern, Bar of the GodsJoe’s Cellar, the Yukon Tavern and Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage Alaska to name a few.

And up North - Darwin's Theory in Anchorage

And up North – Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage


The Yamhill Pub in downtown Portland is the latest addition to the class, although I would submit that this historic bar may be submerged one additional step below “dive” to “grunge,” as discussed below.  In this scholarly discussion, I will first quote in full, the summary paragraph from Portland Barfly, because it so eloquently captures the “aura.”

“A genuine dive-bar lurking midst the downtown shopping arcade, the Yamhill Pub maintains an unreconstructed seediness through blaring juke, food…

Toilet No. 1

Bathroom No. 1

(and, for that matter, toilets) best avoided, actively-encouraged graffiti upon the smoke-stained walls, pennies-a-serving pitchers, and a fiercely-protective cadre of underemployed regulars (seniors, rockers, bike messengers) willing to throw themselves in front of Hummers to prevent the forces of gentrification. Intimidating for the first-time visitor, but that’s sort of the point.”

The bar at the Yamhill
The bar at the Yamhill

 And this excerpt from one of the Bar Fly reviewers in 2011 is edifying albeit puzzling,  “Yamhill IS the  bar in all of Portland, if not the world. I love it and will never stop drinking there.” 


You will not find the Yamhill Pub in the annual Willamette Week Bar Guide nor will it ever be one of the five Portland watering holes in Draft Magazine’s exclusive list of Best 100 Beer Bars in the United States

I visited the Yamhill three times – once with the Portland State University Athletic Department’s erstwhile, Denny Ferguson.  He also accompanied me at prior visits to the Cheerful Tortoise and The Cheerful Bullpen.  I also had an afternoon beer on my second visit with Merrill Lynch financial wizard, Mike Jones (also a Beerchaser at the Oregon Public House).

Beerchaser Regular - Dennis B. Ferguson (Fergy)
Beerchaser Regular – Dennis B. Ferguson (Fergy) with Thebeerchaser logo and PBR!



Beerchaser and financial wizard, Mike Jones







What “distinguishes” the Yamhill?

The Bathrooms – the bathrooms are most often characterized with adjectives similar to this description in 2010: “Bathrooms are disgusting,” and brought current by this Yelp reviewer in 2015: “The restrooms (were) just sick,” – both patrons evidently not disturbed by the fact that one of the heads has no lock on the door.


Bathroom No. 2 - also no paradise!
Bathroom No. 2 – also no paradise!
These hieroglyphics are not of an intellectual bent...

These hieroglyphics are not of an intellectual bent…

The Graffitias you can see from the picture, every conceivable space in the one-room bar is covered with words and phrases accumulated through the years since it’s opening in 1939, and the same is true on the bathroom walls.

While some neat classic beers signs and one for Camel Cigarettes were displayed, there was a real paucity of the good memorabilia – okay junk – that typifies many dive bars and adds to the character because there are usually stories behind them.  Unfortunately, the graffiti, rather than offering the usual range of intellectual expressions and philosophical albeit trite drivel, was either indecipherable scribbling or obscenities ranging from one or two words to more graphic short phrases.  P1030321 P1030324

The only exception I found, notwithstanding a zealous search, was this truism which might be a suitable campaign slogan for Hillary Clinton:

“To be one with your weaknesses, is your greatest strength.”

And immediately below this phrase to add context –  if not a verifiable scientific hypothesis:  “You smell better when you are asleep.”

The Clientele – unlike a number of social media comments suggested, we did not find a group of hostile regulars who resent any new patron as an interloper. The approximately fifteen-seat bar was filled on each visit with a diverse group (male and female and a broad age demographic) ranging from tattooed punkers, a jovial drunk, some blue-collar serious beer drinkers to a few office workers – presumably downtown employees.

P1030325On my third and final visit over the lunch hour, I sat at the bar next to a guy who was on his second Rainier Tall Boy when I sat down.  After spilling a good part of the second can on the bar which went on to his t-shirt, he told me that he was “getting ready” for his 1:30 court appearance for second degree trespassing.  (I did not suggest to him that the judge was probably not going to be impressed with his pre-function.)

The bartender on each visit was friendly and his conversation with those at the bar was ongoing. Unfortunately, it was difficult to the point of unattainable to carry on a conversation because the rock music pumping out of the juke-box was so loud.

The Food and Beer – Most of the dive bars reviewed at least have decent grub which helps one appreciate the usual lack of selection of quality beers; however, at the Yamhill, there is a microwave for popcorn or for a limited menu of frozen “treats” such as wings, corn dogs, chicken strips or lasagna and mac & cheese (the latter two obviously to be avoided). Kevin, the owner and bartender, told me that you can also bring your own food in although besides a Subway and the YUMM Chinese restaurant, there’s not much near by.   (Warning – you might get beaten up if you bought food in a YUMM container.)

And by the way, don’t look for a website with their menu, the beers on tap or anything for that matter.  They do have a surprisingly decent selection of beer with ten on tap, including Blue Moon, Widmer Hefeweizen, Georgetown Porter, Oakshire Amber, Sam Adams Nitro Stout and Alameda’s Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA.  (Mike and I downed draft Blue Moons – as expected, the standard orange slice on our class was missing!)

The Standard at Yamhill!

No. 18 in North America in 2012!

Denny and I had PBR’s – $1.50 during Happy Hour and the bartender affirmed the astounding claim that the Yamhill is the top seller of PBR in Oregon (“We have four kegs of it on tap daily“).

Not only that, but at one time in the ’90’s they were #5 in North America!!  Before I could scoff, he pointed out this PBR sign from 2012 – Number 18 in North America in PBR sales.  Perhaps it’s the special they advertise “$3 for a pint of PBR and a shot of Old Taylor Whiskey.”

Thebeerchaser has used more quotes than typical in this post; however, they are so rich that they are worth sharing and it is fitting to close with the following two:

“The Yamhill Pub is a glorious sh*t crater. It’s a hole, a mess, a f*ing dive. The walls and floors and sundry surfaces are more graffiti-ed than not, and the pub certainly came by every squiggle honestly. Plastic cups do for the dirt-cheap well drinks, and the very idea of ordering any kind of cocktail seems vastly inappropriate. The only thing that clashes with the Yamhill’s perfect image of a dive is the surprisingly decent collection of taps. Even in the midst of punk squalor, Portlanders still demand a decent IPA. The Yamhill Pub is amazing. It’s perfect. Never go there. You’ll ruin it.”  (Joe Streckert – Portland Mercury)        

Any bets on the five-year scenario?

Any bets on the five-year scenario?

And this one from a regular I chatted with briefly about Thebeerchaser blog. He ended our conversation with the lament, “Mark my words, this place will be gone in five years and that will be a tragedy.”

Although the Yamhill Pub is a grunge pit – He’s correct.

The Yamhill Pub

223 SW Yamhill

Club 21 – Don’t be Fooled by the Name of this Good Bar

Club 21 - Definitely not a Strip Club....

Club 21 – Definitely not a Strip Club….

Okay – admit it.  When you saw the title of this review was Club 21, you thought I had abandoned the guideline to exclude strip clubs from the venues reviewed on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.  But that’s not the case.  Club 21 is a great NE neighborhood bar in an iconic 1930 building (at one time a Russian Orthodox church) co-owned by Marcus Archambeault and Warren Brophy, who also own two other Portland bars –  Gold Dust Meridian (see Thebeerchaser review in October 2012) and The Double Barrel.

Ryan, Dan, Leslie and Scott with Thebeerchaser logo

Ryan, Dan, Leslie and Scott with Thebeerchaser logo

Unlike some multiple bar owners who stay with one theme, they are creative – each bar has its own marketing, menu and ambiance based on the clientele, the building design and the neighborhood  history.

Club 21 has great character and lawyers Scott Whipple and Dan Duyck and young O”Neill Electric Project Manager, Ryan Keene and I enjoyed our beer and a dinner there one late weekday afternoon.

Whipple is a Beerchaser regular having accompanied me to Ash Street Saloon and the Dixie Tavern downtown, in the early 2012 days of this “journey,” then to Slab Town and the Skyline Tavern in October 2013.

He and his law partner, Duyck, were along for Gold Dust Meridian and Bar of the Gods and Ryan and his girlfriend, Laura, Beerchased at Quimby’s, Sniff Café and most recently, Stammtisch.  (If you’re interested in seeing any of these reviews, just use the “Search” feature at the top right of Thebeerchaser logo.)   P1020507

When we arrived at 5:00, there were few in the building, but a steady stream of regulars quickly filled both the inside and an expansive patio on the sunny afternoon.  And the regulars were friendly and talkative when we asked them to tell us about the bar.


Expansive and Dog-friendly Patio

Expansive and Dog-friendly Patio

According to our bartender, Leslie – who has worked there 3.5 years, Club 21 has been the name of the bar since 1958.  After its time as a place of worship, it became the eastside annex of Jake’s Crawfish.

The owner of Nick’s Coney Island bought the building and  named his bar, Shadows.  In 1958, it became Club 21 – just because it’s on 21st and NE Glisan.  Marcus and Warren purchased it in early 2011.

In the photo below, that’s Dennis in the center – he works at Franz Bakery, and first came to the bar in 1966 – where he met the woman who is still his wife in the early ‘70’s.

Jovial and Helpful Regulars - and good taste in beer!!

Jovial and Helpful Regulars – and good taste in beer!!

Dennis and his friends remember the structure when it was a church and talked about sitting on what used to be the altar when they first started patronizing.

As an undated Portland Mercury review asserted,Be sure to say hi to the regulars they’ve been drinking there before you were born. No but seriously. They have!” (Unless you are as old as Thebeerchaser….)

And the dark and cozy environment reeks with personality with accoutrements such as old Schlitz lamps and classic Blitz beer signs, three antler heads, a stuffed duck, a classic nude painting, four old-fashioned pin-ball machines, Big Buck World and a small nook in the wall with religious statuettes.

One of four trophies....

One of three trophies….

In fact, even the men’s bathroom has character – you have to open a door and walk through a small narrow hallway to get to it. (The door on the right is the entrance to the maze in the photo below.)

Even the entrance to the bathroom has character....

Even the entrance to the bathroom has character….





The current owners remodeled the infrastructure (kitchen, plumbing and code issues) while being careful to maintain the spirit of the building.    They improved the interior and reformed the menu.  Subsequent reviews show they accomplished their goal:

“Yes, I think they’ve done a knock-out job bringing this historic building back to life. It still feels like a dive bar, but now it has some much appreciated style going for it”. (Barfly 12/13/11)

"Droolworthy" old Blitz sign.....

“Drool-worthy” old Blitz sign…..

“Club 21 is back in action, following a change in ownership (now in the same capable hands as Gold Dust Meridian), and a lovingly-rendered makeover of the old gal.

Don’t worry – she looks like the best Club 21, ever. And, no more of that embarrassing body odor. These are all good changes – enlarged patio, enclosed and ventilated kitchen, new paneling, everywhere, annoying mini-flat screens, nowhere, a drool-worthy collection of beer signs and booze memorabilia.”

And this from Willamette Week (10/12/11):

Thebeerchaser thinks Schlitz __ is even better than Pabst stuff
Thebeerchaser thinks Schlitz signs are even better than Pabst stuff

“(Club 21) still looks like a little fish tank castle on the outside and feels like a ski lodge on the inside. But the former dive bar, which took only a slight hit in patronage while closed for upgrades this summer, has stepped up its style game considerably.

Its former duct-taped booths have been replaced by new upholstery; dingy old beer mirrors replaced by…well, even older Pabst paraphernalia; two pinball machines have turned into four; the patio now seats dozens of young blue-collar regulars…”

Double the fun.....
Double the fun…..


And everybody raves about the food, which once was described as, “….burgers that (came) from a stack in a frozen bag from Sysco.”

Willamette Week continues:

“The obscenely cheap food specials are out, but replaced by still-cheap and altogether more satisfying options, including an epic build-a-burger menu with endless variations (how about a housemade veggie patty on Texas toast with smoked Gouda.” 

 And we leaped at the chance to try their menu specialty, “Build-a-Burger (BaB)”.   (My selections are in bold) and as one City Search reviewer labeled it – “A fat kid’s dream.”

"Build a Burger" and add tater tots or onion rings

“Build a Burger” and add tater tots or onion rings

BaB is seven-step process commencing with picking your “foundation” – one of five options ranging from Oregon beef or prime rib, to fried or grilled chicken to a veggie burger and then your bread from  one five (whole wheat)  and selecting one of eight types of cheeses (pepper-jack).  Keep going with the sauces (sea and salt peppercorn, smoky pepper, 12 spice BBQ, Cajun, habanaro, Jamaican jerk) and condiments (A-1 sauce, sweet & saucy relish).

Check out the menu below which further illustrates the process.

Build-a-Burger - A construction project....

Build-a-Burger – A construction project….

If you want one of the eight extras for just a buck, add an eighth step (bacon, ham, fried egg, avacodo, caramelized onion, onion straws, sautéed mushrooms, anaheim peppers, pickled habanero, tomato bacon jam and grilled pineapple) – the works for only $8!


since it was Happy Hour – every day  from 3:00 until 7:00, we got a buck off on the food and $.50 off on our beer.  Side orders included fries tater tots, onion rings, green salads or Caesar salad).

A good menu - remade in 2011 with better quality and wider selection

A good menu – remade in 2011 with better quality and wider selection


All of us chowed down, supplemented by one of only four beers on tap (Rainier, Vaorizer, Boneyard or Kolisch).   We were so stuffed, we couldn’t even take advantage of the all-day breakfast special consisting of two eggs, hashbrowns, and toast for $5.

And Club 21 has a great juke box and live music periodically (“We’re not a rock show venue, but feature a few bands a several times each month.”)   Also check out some specials such as “Bottomless Mimosas” and “Comedy Brunches.”

They do not have a website but rely on minimal marketing through Facebook.

Don - the cook who is good at his job.

Don – the cook who is good at his job.

So if you are looking for info on the web about Club 21, be careful to be specific about the name and location. Otherwise, you will end up at the websites of venues with the same name in:

Oakland: Club 21 is the San Francisco Bay Area’s Hottest Gay & Lesbian Latin and Hip Hop Party Destination, the number #1 Gay Latin and Hip Hop Night Club.”

Galveston Island,Texas: (in the Historical District. Rated #2 out of 13 on Trip Advisor for nightlife) “Island Chic. Sophisticated. Relaxed. That’s the low-down on 21, Galveston Island’s premier spot for great times, great atmosphere, and great friends.”

Pueblo Colorado:  (The only strip club in Pueblo – rated at 2.5 stars out of 5  – mostly because “The dancers were burned out.”)

Or you could end up at the websites for the nightclub on West 52nd Street in New York City or a luxury retail story in Singapore.  Nevertheless, it appears that Marcus and Warren are going to stick with the name Club 21 and the history it embodies.

Religious statuettes and old whiskey trinkets - tacky but quant.....

Religious statuettes and old whiskey trinkets – tacky but quant…..

But if you want a no frills, old school environment with  exceptional burgers, a charming atmosphere with friendly regulars and helpful staff, no mixed drinks, a diverse juke-box and a good, albeit limited, selection of cheap draft beers, head to Portland’s Club 21.

And Marcus, why not hitchhike on Build-a-Burger (BaB) with BaBS (Build-a-Banana Split).  First you  select the ice cream flavor, then topping…….then……!

An inanimate regular at the bar




Club 21     2035 NE Glisan





(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)

Thebeerchaser Does Alaska – Anchorage – Part 1

Mt. McKinley - the tallest peak in North America

Mt. McKinley – the tallest peak in North America

Alaska is not the only place in the United States where one can still find pristine wilderness, but the magnitude of the expansive unspoiled forest, glacial fiords, diverse wildlife AND good bars make it a worthy trip – one which Thebeerchaser and his spouse experienced for eleven days in late June.

2014-06-22 16.34.45 HDR

Boarding the Statendam in Seward

 Robert Louis Stevenson said, Old and young, we are all on our last cruise,” and since we had never been on a cruise, we decided to take the Holland-America Inside Passage cruise on the Statendam – a wonderful decision.

We flew into Anchorage and had a day in this picturesque city, before a day train trip to Denali National Park for two days.

The bar in the ___ Brew Pub

The bar in the Glacier BrewHouse

Of course, it was important to get a feel for the bars in Anchorage – not that I could deduct the trip, but Thebeerchaser has a reputation to uphold.  So for lunch in the city, we stopped at a brewery recommended by the hotel – The Glacier BrewHouse – for a good salad and split a Glacier Brewery Imperial Blonde – it was good and rejuvenated us after the flight.  The Brewery produces more than 4,500 barrels per year.

Adventurous spirit was not required to find the next bar – since it was a half block from our hotel, but Darwin’s Theory will go down as one of my favorite bars on this trip and on the three-year Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.  After dinner, while Janet rested, I walked to this wonderful institution – one that had NO draft beer, wine or hard liquor, but free popcorn, a great jukebox and an outstanding environment.  Read two Yelp reviews which were spot on!

Survival of the Fittest embodied.....

Survival of the Fittest embodied…..

“When you step inside, you’ll realize that this is no hipster dive bar.  No sir!  This has been a dive bar since inception and doesn’t appear to have changed.  Beer in the bottle, great service, and interesting patrons round out the perfect dive-bar experience.” Yelp – 11/13 by Eric from Nevada City, CA

On a Friday night, the place was jammed and I sat next to a guy named Bill – in his fifties and an oil field worker, in addition to having fished in the Bering Sea and running marijuana from Mexico to the East coast in the ’70’s. “I had an old Lincoln with really big fenders….”  I asked him about bars in Anchorage and he said to be careful because in the last few years there had been a few shootings at bars close by.

The "patio" outside Darwin's

The “patio” outside Darwin’s

I thought he was exaggerating, but checked out stories on the internet and he was correct.  To wit:

At J.J.’s Lounge on  Oct. 10, 2011 – two people killed.

  • Three men shot and injured outside a downtown Anchorage nightclub – the Anchor Pub in June 2013 – three blocks from Darwin’s.

November 11, 2013 – A shooting wounded a woman and left a man in critical condition outside of the Office Lounge, a Midtown Anchorage bar.

One of the reasons, I felt safe in Darwin’s was the bartender – Barbara Jean – who told me that the bar was 30 years old and she had worked there 29 of them.  She was friendly and her patrons loved her, but she was tough and would not tolerate rowdiness.  She put me on the Darwin’s mailing list and didn’t hesitate when I asked to take her picture with Thebeerchaser logo. (Darwin, the last name of the owner celebrated his 70th birthday that Saturday – and there was going to be a big celebration.)

Betty Jean with Thebeerchaser logo
Barbara Jean with Thebeerchaser logo

 Another review from a Portland guy who visited Darwin’s in November, 2013 is worth quoting from Yelp.  Ryan P. said:

“ABSOLUTELY the the best bar I’ve been to in Anchorage! The ladies tending the bar were amazingly nice and welcoming and made me feel right at home. Coming from a local bar town like Portland, it was very nice to have the same type of feel in this place.

From the moment I walked in I felt completely comfortable and welcomed. I LOVE THIS BAR. I’ve heard it can be crowded at times, which is reasonable considering how small the space is, but the service is THE BEST. PLEASE VISIT THIS PLACE! They are amazing!”

I paid $4 for my bottle of PBR and the same amount for a Silver Gulch Brewery’s Silver Gulch’s Northern Light (Bill’s recommendation from a good Anchorage brewery) and paid in cash based on the sign on the bar: “We accept no out-of-town checks and damn few local ones!”

We did not partake at any other Anchorage watering holes, but embarked on a walking tour and took some pictures – it showed a number of interesting options:

P1020424Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewery – what a great patio on the roof overlooking the bay.    P1020425



The Pioneer Bar –  “As a connoisseur of dive bars this one ranks up there. To start off, despite what opinion you have of PBR, any place that serves 24 oz. cans of PBR has a lot of class. Not to mention all the Alaskan beers on tap and knowledgeable bartenders . (Colin from Anchorage on Yelp 7/2011  P1020427

In case you need directions to The Pioneer Bar....

In case you need directions to The Pioneer Bar….







Humpy’s Great Alaskan Ale House – presumably named after the whale and not a patron – looked interesting and had “more beers than all the other bars in Anchorage combined,” on tap.   It has a sister pub in Kona, Hawaii  and got mixed reviews, in part, based on slow service and mediocre food, but does have live music.  It will have to wait for another visit, but had a lively crowd, expansive menu and looked intriguing.        P1020434


The Gaslight Lounge – This is one that you might want to avoid based on violence reported above at other bars.  Four of the five reviews on CitySearch did not recommend this bar and two mentioned fights


Not recommended.....

Not recommended…..

“Trashlight Lounge – I worked next door for years and every time I regrettably went in, there was an absence of friendliness. Staff were mostly arguing with drunk customers. It became a joke to look out our back window and watch the fights roll out of the bar every night….it seems to revel in it’s low class reputation among downtown. (ja4vlink – pre 2014)

McGinley’s Pub – While one might be suspicious of a bar that advertises itself as “A touch of Old Ireland in the heart of downtown Anchorage,” they have a great website.  We ran out of time and just took a picture of the entrance – which looked a little boring –  but they have a bunch of dark beers and ciders on tap, serve corned beef and cabbage , sheppards pie, and bangers and mash in addition to standard pub faire.

Some questioned whether it was really an "Irish experience."

Some questioned whether it was really an “Irish experience.”

It got mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, which had them rated 161 of 674 restaurants in Anchorage based on the 67 reviews submitted – 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Glacier Bay Brewery and Darwin’s were definitely hits in Anchorage.

We embarked on the train the next morning for the seven to eight hour trip to Denali National Park through some wonderful scenery.  The bald eagles were magnificent and as we saw one dive successfully for a salmon out the window, I reflected on the observation of one Alaskan resident:

“Alaska in the summer, is a great place to be a bird.”     2014-06-20 16.48.42

Darwin’s Theory                             426 G St, Anchorage






Glacier BrewHouse  and Brewery   

737 W 5th Ave Ste 110, Anchorage






Wait — Did you say “Handy Slut…..?”

The Sandy Hut - A great neighborhood/dive bar - not a restaurant

The Sandy Hut – A great neighborhood/dive bar – not a restaurant

The outlandish and long purple building known as The Sandy Hut, looked intriguing when I passed it several months ago on the way to review another great Portland dive bar on Sandy Blvd. – The Slammer.Entrance

I was also surprised to learn the Voodoo Donuts has a second Portland location – Voodoo Too right across the street.

While the “Handy Slut,” as it is known to regulars and operating since 1923, has been missing for several years from my favorite bar reference guide – The Annual Willamette Drink Guide, the descriptions from these 2008-9 excerpts were still spot on:

2009 – “When people from outside the area—say, writers for The New York Times—think of Portland, they imagine we all look like the eclectic mix of customers at the Sandy Hut. Even post-smoking ban, if you look at the Sandy Hut in the right light, you can still feel the nicotine fog filling every cubic inch of the air.   


It’s the sort of place you can wear a leather choke collar and no one will bat an eye, but a full suit and tie will lead to exclusion from the bar’s spontaneous bouts of insanity.”            

A great group of "regulars"

A great group of “regulars”

2008  “The Handy Slut, as regulars and the bar’s merchandise call it, is a lurid, windowless utopia. It looks like it once housed the Rat Pack—and hasn’t cleaned since the party ended.

The drinks pack enough alcohol to fuel a racecar, and often mere eye contact constitutes consent. The east side loves you, Sandy—you dirty little slut.”

Mansfield admiring the poster by  on an exterior wall and wondering if it is copyrighted.

Mansfield admiring the Jackie Danger mural on an exterior wall and wondering if it is copyrighted.


One of Thebeerchaser’s most frequent and entertaining regulars, Portland lawyer, John Mansfield, (His firm’s slogan is “Smart Law – Smart Clients!”) accompanied me He was also present at The Slammer, Church, The Ship Tavern and Mock
Crest Tavern).

John, who focuses on Intellectual Property law and litigation, and I always have interesting conversations while raising our mugs, and the Sandy Hut was no exception, to wit:

  • He expressed concern about the proliferation of “patent trolls,”  i.e. individuals or groups which buy obscure patents and then threaten lawsuits against hundreds or even thousands of people and businesses to coerce them to pay cash to make what is a specious lawsuit, go away.
These patent trolls may have good costumes but did not graduate from accredited law schools
These patent trolls may have good costumes but did not graduate from accredited law schools

While John deplored the tactics, he did think it would be a kick to attend his next Halloween Party in a patent troll costume.

  • We also talked about innovative, but ill thought out patents, and as evidence, I showed him a news article to demonstrate:

Dr. Calvin Rickson, a scientist from Texas A & M, invented a bra that keeps women’s breasts from jiggling, bouncing up and down and prevents the nipples from pushing through the fabric during cold weather.”  

The article goes on to state that, “At a news conference, after announcing the invention, a large group of men took Dr. Rickson outside and kicked the crap out of him.”

Four beers  on tap and   bottled and canned brews besides wine and cider

Four beers on tap and twelve bottled and canned brews besides wine and cider

We toasted these gents – me with a $2.00 PBR Tall boy (available all day) and John with a Lagunitas IPA, one of the four beers and one cider on tap at the Sandy Hut – they also have   twelve canned and bottled beers.  And don’t forget about the Jell-O Shots for a buck!

Christopher, our friendly and very well-informed bartender, explained their menu, which includes breakfast, a focus on Mexican food and the old pub standards such as burgers, pulled pork, fish and chips, etc.  They also have a “lighter” menu that starts at 5:00.

Christopher the bartender - helpful and competent
Christopher the bartender – helpful and competent
"Breakfast" Burrito - gigantic and delicious...
“Breakfast” Burrito – gigantic and delicious…


I had a very large and delicious Breakfast Burrito and John, thinking he was going to have to lose some weight to make it into a troll costume, chose the Mexican Wedge Salad – a two-thumbs up option.

Christopher also introduced us to the weekend cook, and touted the guy’s original tamale recipe – which is so popular, they have a brisk “to go” business.

One of the highlights of many dive bars – and The Sandy Hut was no exception – is the patrons and this old, but still accurate, Google Review by Andrew summed it up well:

Free shuffleboard and a number of video games

Free shuffleboard and a number of video games

“Is it the dark, windowless dim lighted bar? Is it the jello shots? Is it the shuffle board? Is it the diverse group of people, from hipsters to old locals? (emphasis added) It has to be a mix of all of those factors because this is a great dive bar with a great bar staff and an amazing jukebox. The sum of the parts? A great, great time.”

Kevin – a friendly regular we sat next to at the bar epitomized this.  He welcomed us and stated he has frequented the bar since 1979 when he moved from Phoenix.  He said the bar is filled with people who work nearby or who live in the neighborhood.  “These people take care of you,” Kevin stated – which seemed to include both the staff and the twelve to fifteen people sitting at the bar, including Kevin’s wife.  He said there is a younger group who frequent the bar at night – we were there at about 5:30.

Kevin, John and Thebeerchaser Logo

Kevin, John and Thebeerchaser Logo

I inquired what the NHRA logo (National Hot Rod Association) was on his coveralls and learned that he is a master mechanic at Gibson Auto and Electric (an independently family owned & operated business since 1983).

It’s a full-service shop but Kevin focuses on Porsches and the computer and electrical systems of other autos.  John and I talked about buying Porsches just so we could attest to Kevin’s good work…..

The Sandy Hut makes good use of its roomy, long rectangular environ and has a pool table, free shuffle-board, a number of video games – including an imposing Golden Tee golf game by Incredible Technologies with a 47 inch flat screen.

Not a shirt - but you can test your iron play

Not a shirt – but you can test your iron play

Blazers 40 - Houston 55 in Third Quarter - it didn't get better

Blazers 41 – Houston 55 in Second Quarter – it didn’t get better


You will also find four TVs including a 100-inch projector screen – which unfortunately amplified the poor play of the Blazers against the Houston Rockets (Lost 101 to 116) when we were there.

And don’t forget their juke box which, “….is internet based, so you can choose nearly any song you want to hear.”

Juke Box is Internet-based so how about some Count Basie or Benny Goodman??

The Juke Box is Internet-based so how about some Count Basie or Benny Goodman??

Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland bars, tavern and pubs which started in August of 2011, has visited some great dive bars and the Sandy Hut ranks up there with all of them.

And don’t forget to check out the interesting mural on the outside (see picture above) by California artist Jackie Danger.  It reflects her “edgy and rebellious presence.”

The Sandy Hut    1430 Northeast Sandy Blvd  (503) 235 7972

Slabtown – A “Slice” of Portland History

An important institution in an historic neighborhood

An important institution in an historic neighborhood

After six posts on pubs and taverns in Europe based on our Rick Steves’ Best of Europe Tour, Thebeerchaser takes comfort in returning home – to the roughly 700 watering holes in Portland.  And what better way to regain the origins of this blog than reviewing a Portland classic dive bar – Slabtown.

External character in a manner of speaking

External character in a manner of speaking

As evidence of its status, it is the only bar other than the recently Beerchaser reviewed Slammer Tavern (September 2013) that has been named one of the favorite bars in the ”hallowed” – at least in my eyes because of its value as a reference source – Willamette Week Drink Guide (Favorite Bars) for the last six  years.

And as we walk you through our visit to this NW Portland institution, we will provide some highlights from the WW past reviews:

2013“Old-school rock and roll venue, Slabtown is, as ever, a play-town for putative grown-ups (with occasional all-ages shows served up from the back entrance) with pinball, air hockey, Skee-ball and Pop-a-Shot.”          

Old School venue with traditional bar competition
Old School venue with traditional bar competition – Air Hockey, etc.

I was pleased to have Portland lawyer, Scott Whipple, a Beerchaser regular and esteemed graduate of Iowa’s Grinnell College (where they still talk about his accomplishments on the basketball court) accompany me both to this bar and our second stop that night at the Skyline Tavern.

Fred and Scott - A character in a bar with character(s)
Fred and Scott – A character in a bar with character(s)

We sat at the bar next to a great old guy with a white beard, overalls and a baseball cap named Fred, who while I talked to the friendly bartender, Dave, wanted to engage Scott on topics such as “quality trading” in the stock market,  World War II and the global economy.  Ben, another quality barkeeper who has worked there for 4 1/2 years was there working with Dave on my second visit.

Two Class A Bartenders - Dave and Ben

Two Class A Bartenders – Dave and Ben with Thebeerchaser Logo

Dave was very helpful, has worked there for 18 months, is a Wilson High graduate and the grandson of John Howard,  the former and very well-regarded President of Lewis and Clark College.

2011 “….Slabtown has changed, man.  But don’t freak out – it has changed for the better.  

The owners booted the video poker machines for more pinball and video games (this place is like a Chuck E. Cheeses for adults) upgraded the sound system a bit and incorporated a wider range of music into the schedule….The building seems further from collapse than ever before….”

Old style pinball machines replaced Video Lottery --- Good Move!!

Old style pinball machines replaced Video Lottery — Good Move!!

Distinguishing Characteristics

Its History – Slabtown has been around since the ‘70’s under three different owners   It was originally a strip club and was also known as “Cal’s Fort.”   It has an interesting “altar” near the entrance, paying tribute to fabled rock musicians Wendy O’ Williams and Freddie Mercury.  The bar was also used as a set for two scenes from the “Portlandia” show.

The "alter" at the entrance.

The “altar” at the entrance.

The Slabtown neighborhood is also one of Portland’s most historic neighborhoods and oozes with history as evidenced by this excerpt from the July 13, 2013 The Oregonian

“For a century, Wallace Park was the site of trading for Native Americans, (Tracy) Prince writes in “Portland’s Slabtown.” The book (published by Arcadia Press) traces the Slabtown neighborhood’s history……when Native Americans outnumbered white settlers 1,000 to 275, through its blue-collar decades, and into its current “Trendy-third” reputation for its Northwest 23rd Avenue boutiques…..

It was a working-class neighborhood home to marginalized groups — Native Americans, Chinese and European immigrants, gypsies, and black Portlanders.”

Timber is a key to the "roots" of Slabtown.

Timber is a key to the “roots” of Slabtown.

Why the name “Slabtown?  “….back in the industrial days of lumber milling, the slabs of the rounded tree edges made good fuel and were to be found all over this area.” ( 9/7/2010).  The slices of wood piled up at the George Weidler Lumber Mill on NW Northrup Street commencing in the 1870’s.

The Menu – It’s entirely vegan since last June!  This is the first time Thebeerchaser has encountered this situation although it was not a problem.  Neither Scott nor I could tell the difference between the excellent large order of vegan french fries we had that night versus what we are used to……..

A very positive change initiated in July 2012 was the introduction of Falafel to their kitchen with a new chef.  You can see the reviews are superb:

Yelp 6/6/13:  “Dive BAR! but right now they are renting the kitchen out to an amazing FALAFEL CHEF… So good you must try…”

Although a limited menu, the food gets high marks.
Although a limited menu, the food gets high marks.

Yelp 5/9/13:  “Best falafel sandwich I’ve had in Portland and quite surprising to find it at a dive bar.”

Yelp 10/12/13:  “Lover’s of delicious food: this is a serious find. It is a serious dive……But the people who make the falafel are serious about their craft. I’ve never had a better gyro, and I’ve been to Greece and eaten them there, so I feel like I am qualified to speak to Gyro power.”

Drum sticks and guitar strings - A unique feature

Drum sticks and guitar strings – A unique feature

The Vending Machines – It may well be that Slabtown is the only bar in Portland where one can purchase both guitar strings and drumsticks (not the kind one eats) from a vending machine.

You can also see Scott waiting in anticipation at the kissing booth, which, understandably,  did not get any participants when we were there.  There are also a number of old classic pinball machines, air hockey and skee-ball and Pop-a-Shot that did see a lot of action.

"Better not give up  your day job, Scott."
“Better not give up your day job, Scott.”

2010 “…You can order a basket of French fries and  play pinball for three hours and no one is going to try to grab your boobs…”

Pop-a-Shot - The score reflects Whipple regressing to his college days at Grinnell...

Pop-a-Shot – The score reflects Whipple regressing to his college days at Grinnell…

But perhaps the machine that ended up with more than several of our dollars in its belly, was Pop-a-Shot.

Scott immediately gravitated to the machine and we played no less than five games in which he marginally came out on top in four of them. Scott sang the Grinnell Fight Song as he shot.  After we went back into the bar, Dave the bartender, said to me, “He’s a competitive guy, isn’t he?” (If  you only knew, Dave….)

As a Concert and Performance Venue – When I asked Dave and Ben how they would best describe Slabtown i.e. Dive Bar, Neighborhood Bar, Music Venue, Ben stated, “It’s something different to each person and can be each of those.”  Dave, however, chose the Performance Venue option because of the history and the percentage of the bar’s receipts resulting from these shows.

Indeed, check out the calendar on the Slabtown Website or Facebook page – a full calendar with different types of music – live and otherwise – some with cover charge – some free – almost every night.  They also have all-ages shows to open it up for more patrons and obviously, closely control the alcohol for underage folk.  Also Bingo and Industry Night events on Tuesdays.

2008“….Slabtown strikes a near perfect balance between style and scum with dirty rock and plenty of breathing room to relax over cheap food and plentiful beer…A fine after-work drinking spot if there ever was one.”           

Scott at the "Bar" - making a closing argument to himself

Scott at the “Bar” – making a closing argument to himself

As a sign by the entrance said at one time, “This isn’t the Pearl – It’s  Slabtown!  You’ve been warned.”

So noted!  And that’s a good thing.  Check them out while you have a gyro….

Slabtown       1033 NW 16th

If You’re Good, You May End Up in The Slammer……

One of Portland's Classic Dive Bars

One of Portland’s Classic Dive Bars

“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land: it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

The most recent Beerchaser posts have been on pubs and sights encountered on our Rick Steves’ 21-day Best of Europe Tour.  In light of a recent reading of famed British philosopher and author, Lord Chesterton‘s above quote, however, it was a vivid reminder that Portland’s bars, taverns and pubs are second to none in both the US and the globe!

Oozing with character and history......

Oozing with character and history……

And The Slammer is a Portland classic.  As evidence,  Willamette Week publishes a “Best Bars” or “Drink Guide” supplement each year.  Thebeerchaser has kept printed copies of these going back to 2007 and they include 100 to 125 of the approximately 700 total Portland bars each year.  They are an invaluable resource for this blog.

Well, The Slammer (and Slab Town – visited already and to be reviewed next month..) appear to be two of the few, if not the only, establishments to make the list each of the last seven years.  Let’s look at a few excerpts:

“…The Slammer is maybe the friendliest bar in town ……It is a family-run dive bar of the old school, an after-softball hangout….and a place that will suffer fools but never assholes, one of the few places in town where widely disparate strangers talk to each other……It is a heartening place, and its very bad for your liver.”  (2013)

A great group of regulars and memorabilia from the '70's

A great group of regulars and memorabilia from the ’70’s — that’s a Tonka Truck…….

“…the Slammer’s core clientele of square-jawed stalwarts with uncomplicated wardrobes (Eagles jackets shelved at the first flush of Slammer Softball jerseys…) that once typified the East Side Industrial District.”  (2012)

“Walk into the Slammer and be transported back into a reassuring hybrid of your uncle’s basement den and freshman-year college parties. Intimacy presides in this former speak-easy. A cigarette vending machine, pinball and Big Buck Hunter offer ample distraction…. Escape the no-man’s land of industrial Southeast Portland and be welcomed home to a strange, rowdy and delightful den of locals.” (2011)

I was fortunate to have my friend and Beerchaser regular – Portland attorney, John Mansfied, join me for the visit and he could have been a regular based on the way he commandeered the old Skee Ball machine – one of the few in Portland.

Beerchaser followers may remember John as the skilled intellectual property lawyer who has a propensity to interpret language literally.   For example, at the Mock Crest Tavern (May 2012 blog post), the menu stated, “Breakfast Served – Any Time.”  John asked for French toast from the Renaissance Era…..To see another one of his “literal” stories, see the end of this blog post.

Mansfield  - His victorious expression has an inverse relation to his score at Skee Ball

Mansfield – His victorious expression has an inverse relation to his score at Skee Ball

“…’s safe to say the Slammer was pulled from somebody’s dive-bar fantasy and realized with a hasty affection. The bar has a cozy, funky atmosphere….filled with a mix of old regulars and neighborhood youngsters.”  (2010)

“….. but the Slammer is a corner bar so enchanting you may be moved to stand on an outdoor table and sing along to “Rocket Man” playing on the loudspeakers. After which the regulars will come outside and congratulate you.”  (2009)

P1010590Chris, the bartender, maintained the tradition of just about every one of the fifty-plus bartenders I have interviewed on Thebeerchaser tour of Portland bars and taverns – he was extremely friendly and helpful in giving us information about their bar.  He’s the son of the female owner.

Bartender Chris and John Mansfield with Thebeerchaser logo

Bartender Chris and John Mansfield with Thebeerchaser logo


The Slammer opened thirty-four years ago and Chris’s mom bought it eighteen years ago.  He thought that one of the distinguishing characteristics is the great mix of clientele – WW agrees with him.

“Plopped on the weird convergence of Southeast Stark Street, 8th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, Slammer’s the kind of place that’s slightly different every time you go in… thing’s certain—the door on the bathroom is still nonexistent, and you’ll probably hug the bartender before leaving.”  (2008)

The sign says a lot about the character of this quirky establishment.

The sign says a lot about the character of this quirky establishment.

Based on our visit, Slammer was a great bar with friendly regulars and a solid and endearing character, but it has not always been this way.  In fact, one of my friends – a former Portland police officer who has been on Beerchasing visits, advised me to avoid it for our own welfare based on his experience as a cop.

When queried for specific examples, he stated, “The guy who did a car prowl and ran into the bar to hide.  Noise complaints not uncommon.  The occasional bar fight we were called to suppress – usually a boyfriend/girlfriend argument when they had too much beer.

Honestly, probably not any more incidents than a bar of comparable size.  The patrons more often got in trouble walking home and peeing on the side of the building or passing out on the sidewalk.”

Chris noted that a number of years back, they had a few “burps,” but those are from days gone by.  A group of regulars sitting at the tables on the “patio” right outside the door stated, “Slammer is the best (and friendliest) bar in Portland.”  

"The Friendliest Bar in Portland."

“The Friendliest Bar in Portland.”

Slammer doesn’t have a bunch of beers on tap or an expansive menu (essentially sandwiches, tacos, chili and sides), but the food and beer is cheap and they have a reputation for strong drinks and friendly bartenders.

This old, red Victorian house with two renovated apartments up-stairs, the small bar on the ground floor and a bunch of Christmas lights strung all over the exterior is worth a visit.

I will conclude by stating that it is always a treat to drink beer with attorney Mansfield.  Besides being honored as an Oregon Super Lawyer since 2009, he is a talented musician and in his younger days played in a rock band.  Another example of his tendency to analyze and interpret language literally is evidenced by this communication with the police dispatcher when he was at the U of O and a wild and crazy guy:

Dispatcher:  “Eugene Police Department”

Mansfield:  “I’d like to report a theft at our residence.”

Dispatcher:  “What is your street name?”

Mansfield:  “Bubba”

The Slammer  500 SE 8th Street       

Bar to Exterior