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.

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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!

however

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

 

 

 

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(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 - Betty Jean - who told me that the bar was 30 years old and she had worked there 28 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
Betty 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….

 

 

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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

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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

P1020430

 

 

 

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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.   

P1010977

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.” (KGW.com 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

“…..it’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

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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…..one 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

Tanker Bar – Here Comes the Armored Cavalry….But Wait…..

the Tanker 018

Tanker is another one of the great taverns located in Portland’s “Barmuda Triangle” (BT) on Hawthorne Street (see Beerchaser post on October 3, 2012).  And while it might be assumed that the moniker for this bar is a tribute to the “iron beasts” that General George Patton used when he commanded the US Third Army to help defeat the Germans in World War II, it is actually named for the magnificent and mammoth ships that haul cargo in the Columbia and the world’s various waterways.

An excerpt from Portland Barfly gives a very apt description of this combination neighborhood tavern and dive bar.  (Note that we learned from Jessie, our friendly Tanker bartender, that the BT is also known as “The Stumble Zone”  — for obvious reasons to those with any kind of deductive reasoning capabilities.)

Jessie the Bartender with Jim Westwood

 “…..in the heart of the Stumble Zone, lies the capsized hull of The Tanker. The sea-worthy attention to detail shows freshly swapped decks and a total lack of barnacles…….

While you won’t mourn for the lost souls of lonely sailors, you will enjoy friendly service, tasty grinders and possibly the most reliable Wi-Fi in all of Portland.”

A Seaworthy Version of the Namesake

A Seaworthy Version of the Namesake

After having a beer at Beer on Belmont Street (see Beerchaser post on April 7, 2013) Portland Attorney and Beerchaser of the First Quarter of 2013, Jim Westwood, and I hit Tanker for dinner and a nightcap.

You might remember that Westwood has advanced linguistic skills and his late and wonderful mom, Catherine, happened to be both his and my Latin teacher at Oregon City High School, which was fortunate that night.

While the only Latin words I remember – understandably never successful in high school or college as a pick-up line – were “pulchra puella” (beautiful girl), Jim translated the Latin phrase used in Tanker’s coat-of-arms below, which is a very appropriate motto:

And who says High School Latin was not a useful course??

And who says High School Latin was not a useful course??

“In heaven there is no beer, so that’s why we drink it here.”

That promoted discussion of the converse assertion, which we decided should be, “In hell, you can drink all the beer you want, but there’s none available except Keystone Light.”

Tanker has pinball machines, Pacman Battle Royale, and as one might expect, the Big Buck Hunter Safari video game.  According to the Willamette Week 2010 Drink Guide, “….the nautically themed waterhole has the most avid followers of the game (in Portland).” 

A game in which one tries to shoot the life out of galloping electronic gazelles led me to question Jim about his prior legal work in Oregon Firearms Education Foundation v. State Board of Higher Education, a 2011 case regarding regulation of firearms on Oregon university campuses.

The real type of pinball machine

The real type of pinball machine

While the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled against Jim’s client being able to regulate guns by Administrative Rule, the court opened the door by affirming the State Board of Higher Education’s authority to control its property.  This enabled the Board in 2012 to unanimously adopt a policy that bans guns from most corners of campus life.

Mandatory Background Checks for BBH as a start???

Mandatory Background Checks for BBH as a start???

I suggested that possibly a reasonable first-step towards rational gun control policy would be to persuade Wayne LaPierre, of the NRA, to agree to support mandatory background checks for people who play Big Buck Hunter.

Possibly a good strategy, but he would undoubtedly bemoan government intrusion while asserting that the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment to include electronic weapons and besides, Big Buck Hunter provides a training ground for a well-regulated militia.

Distinguishing Characteristics

Naughty Bingo on Tuesday nights:  As described in a Tanker review: “Win Adult novelties playing bingo……drink discounts as well as a signature cocktail list featuring The Naughty Bingo Martini. Everybody wins something.”

Name Your Tall Boy!

Name Your Tall Boy and Join the Can Clan….

Tall Boys and Whiskey Selection:
Besides their 15 Taps, Tanker has 42 different varieties of Tall Boys and more than 30 whiskeys.
———–
Drink one of each type of Tall Boy and you become a member of the “Can Clan” and get a free t-shirt and a $1 perpetual discount.  The same is true once you have downed one shot of each of their 30 varieties of whiskey.
They have a lot of “regulars” for the variety of events they host and feature Trail Blazer and Portland Timber games on their five big-screen TVs with drink discounts.
———————
And While we are on the Subject, A Brief Tribute to My Favorite Tanker….

Garmo cadet pictureThebeerchaser’s brother, Garry, was a West Point (Class of 1972) graduate who chose the Armored Cavalry i.e. Tanks, as his occupational specialty.  During his time at West Point, he was a member of the West Point Glee Club and a small combo in that group called The Headliners

As the picture below shows, they played at the White House for President Nixon and also appeared on the Mike Douglas show on CBS national television.                        

"Don't worry, Cadets, your performance has been recorded....."

“Don’t worry, Cadets, your performance has been recorded…..” (Cadet Williams to the immediate left of Nixon)

Garry had billets at Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Knox in Kentucky (where the CO was George Patton V) and an extended assignment in Schweinfurt, Germany.  He was an outstanding junior officer during his six years in the Army as this excerpt from a 1974 fitness report, written by a Colonel, demonstrates:

“Lt. Williams judgment is of the highest order – totally dedicated to improving his subordinates – devoted to his duty and the battalion. 

He has a perspective and understanding which far exceed any other officer in his battalion….He is the best young officer I have ever known. His talents are so far beyond those expected of even the most outstanding officer that no narrative can do him justice.”

“Soldier, obviously you haven’t heard of the slogan, ‘Don’t Tread on Me.'”

——————-

After the military he worked at Tektronix for several years and married a beautiful lady named Pam.  Unfortunately, Garry died in 1989, but this post and a round of beer is dedicated to his memory.

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When you’re in the Stumble Zone, give Tanker a try even if it is not on a Naughty Tuesday Night.  As one Barfly reviewer summed up quite succinctly, “good bar, good times, good vibe…”And the food was good too – ask for the chicken quesadilla which Jessie cooked himself and was one of a number of good items on Tanker’s menu.

Jessee, the Bartender and Thebeerchaser logo
Jesse, the Bartender and Thebeerchaser logo

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Tanker        4825 SE Hawthorne

All Hands on Deck at the Ship Tavern

The Ship with Two Regulars in the “Smoking Lounge”

“The Ship isn’t anything to write home to Mom about . . . heck it probably isn’t even a place I would tell my Mom I went . . . but it knows what/who it is.” (Yelp/9/17/11)

I wanted to hit a tavern on the west side for the next stop on Thebeerchaser tour.  My  Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt colleague, John Mansfield, and I were meeting former  Schwabe lawyer, Chris Lewis, and Multnomah Village seemed to be a good location.  I was drawn to The Ship Tavern (hereafter “The Ship.”)

Mansfield and Lewis — Not the Physique, but each has the face, if not the intellect of a Rugby Player.

A little due diligence almost resulted in a veto, however.  Jay Waldron is also a Schwabe lawyer – one of the best environmental and energy lawyers in the NW and a man of varied interests.  When I was the COO at Schwabe, he used to motivate me with quotes such as that from Scottish writer and essayist, Thomas Carlyle, “A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder.” (The quote seems appropriate for a post about this bar…..)

Not a rugby player, but like Waldron, a strict Cavlinist

Not a rugby player, but like Waldron, a strict Calvinist

Waldron is a director of the U.S. Rugby Foundation and has played, coached and broadcast rugby on a regional, national and international level. He has also been on whitewater rafting expeditions (successfully tackling the Upper Yangtze River in China) and motorcycle adventure trips on six continents.

A man of varied interests who has visited The Ship

Jay is a follower of this blog and was very positive about The Ship even noting that it had been a long-ago hangout, of sorts, for Portland Rugby Club players.  This raised some initial concerns on my part as I wanted to drink from a glass rather than eat one……A little more research, however, uncovered the fact that their impact was relatively mundane – the site of the Rugby Club’s “Book and Brew” discussions which will be addressed below.

The Ship is the epitome of a dive bar.  Quoting from one of Thebeerchaser’s posts (September, 2011) and the notable reference book, “Seattle’s Best Dive Bars,”  this 70 + year Multnomah Village institution fit the definition to a tee:

” “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.”  (Seattle’s Best Dive Bars by Mike Seely – pages 9-10)

An Invaluable Resource for Thebeerchaser

In the words of one Portland patron: “The Ship is simply your quintessential dive bar……It’s an ultra local joint with good history…….that dark and dank local bar with a handful of guys in trucker hats and grey mustache’s…..”(Yelp 2/29/12)       

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The Bar at The Ship

  Distinguishing Characteristics

Da Bears…..The Ship is a Chicago hangout as evidenced by the fact that any time The Bears, the Cubs or the White Sox play, Pabst Old Style Beer – A Chicago favorite –  is $1.50 per can and margaritas and blood mary’s are $3.50.  Debbie, the friendly bartender, emphasized, “This doesn’t apply to Blackhawk games – we’re not big on hockey.”        

Ditka Would Love The Ship

Mike Ditka Would Love The Ship

And for Bear fans, every Sunday during football season they “offer meals that are themed after the opposing team.” 

For example, on a recent Sunday when they played the Minnesota Vikings, the special was “Tator-tot Hotdish” and Caesar Salad for $5.50.  According to Wikipedia, Hotdish is a variety of baked casserole that typically contains a starch, a meat or other protein, and a canned and/ or frozen vegetable, mixed with canned soup.  The dish is popular in Minnesota and North Dakota.”

Harry Carey (RIP) Would be Proud

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What do  You Mean Credit???   The Ship may be one of the few bars or pubs in Portland to totally disdain credit cards.  It’s cash only and no tabs – pay as you imbibe!  Times change, however.  Last year was the first time The Ship offered liquor and Candace, the Manager, (who was also very helpful) said they might consider credit next year.                     

All of the people in the photo collage at The Ship have one thing in common -- they paid cash for their beer!

All of the people in the photo collage at The Ship have one thing in common — they paid cash for their beer!


Peanut Demolition Day – Each Thursday – the day we were there –  each table has free peanuts in the shell all day.  The shells hit the floor when you discard them……..

Other Interesting Fixtures – You will see five TVs, a bunch of video poker terminals, one old-fashioned pinball game (“Medieval Madness – King of Evil”) and while many bars have video games, the one at The Ship was particularly interesting and fitting i.e. “Big Buck Hunter.”

Doe Tags are Not Valid on This Machine

Doe Tags are Not Valid on This Machine

The rules on the two pool tables are also worth noting.  If you drop a cue, the fine is 25 cents and 50 cents if a ball goes off the pool table – according to Debbie, the bartender, it is a “maintenance fund” for pool table repairs.

You will find no menus at The Ship.  The food, which is what  you would expect at a dive bar – that’s a compliment – is on a blackboard above the bar.

From L to R - Debbie and Candace standing below "The Menu"

From L to R – Debbie and Candace standing below “The Menu”

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The Juke Box at many bars will reveal a little about the regulars.  When you want to play it at The Ship, you inform the bartender so the stereo can be turned off.  The “hottest plays” were the following:

Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “Get a Job”

Bad Company“Bad Company”

The Raconteurs - “Steady as She Goes”

Waylon Jennings – “Good-Hearted Woman”

"Hey Debbie - Turn off the Stereo"
“Hey Debbie – Turn off the Stereo”

And the Rugby Club’s past  “Book and Brew” discussions???  As an example, there was heated debate on the non-fiction classic, “The Iron Man – How Shelby Donovan Revolutionized the Chicago Dry Cleaning Industry” and some awkward moments when former Oregon Governor Vic Atiyeh’s presentation, “What Can Your Rug Be?”  was not quite what the rugged jocks expected…….

The scene at The Ship during a heated debate by "The Beef and Brew" group.

The scene at The Ship during a heated debate by “The Book and Brew” group.

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My apologies to Jay Waldron for the above, although he deserves legitimate credit for his perfect delivery of one of Thebeerchaser’s favorite bar jokes at the City Club of Portland when he was a presenter on Metro area transportation planning two years ago:

“A traffic engineer walks into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and says to the bartender, ‘Give me two beers –  one for me and one for the road.”

The Asphalt prefers Budweiser....

The Asphalt prefers Budweiser….with an oil chaser…..

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The Ship has been in the same location since 1946 and this site of a former garage has big-time history and character. Visit The Ship and remember the intent of James Lawrence’s (skipper of the USS Chesapeake)  famous last declaration in 1813 – paraphrased – “Give up the Ship??? — Knot!!”         

Three rotating taps -- microbrews and all these beers in cans available...

Three rotating taps plus several microbrews and the old standards like PBR on tap —  plus all these beers available in bottles and cans…

The Ship Tavern             7827 SW 35th Ave                       Portland