Perhaps there should be some recognition for a watering hole that was voted, “Best Portland Dive Bar” back in Willamette Week’s 2005 Readers’ Poll and still, amidst the burgeoning high-rise condos and pretentious shops and eateries in the Pearl District, retains its reputation as a dive bar in 2015. (Note: The Sandy Hut and Marathon Taverna, both reviewed by Thebeerchaser were second and third place in 2005.)
Note this review from Willamette Week’s 2015 Bar Guide:
“Low Brow Lounge didn’t land in the Pearl, the Pearl landed on Low Brow Lounge. Once just another dive proudly declaring its lack of pretension, the bar has, somewhat miraculously, survived long enough to take up the mantle as an oasis of indelicacy freaking out the nouveau-riche squares filling the condos that have sprouted up around it in the last decade.”
Thebeerchaser ended up at the Low Brow Lounge at the suggestion of his daughter’s boyfriend, Ryan Keene, who established some credibility in bar discernment by previous Beerchasing events at Sniff Cafe, Quimbys and Club 21. Ryan is a very good athlete and enterprising young man as well as a good drinking companion.
Also joining us were Dr. Sam Holloway, University of Portland professor and his dad, Portland attorney, Ron Holloway, who first crossed paths with Thebeerchaser in his freshman year at Oregon State University, when Ron, a junior, was his room-head in the SAE fraternity house. (More on that chronicled history below.)
The student reviews of Dr. Holloway are overwhelmingly superb and Ryan, enjoyed his interesting lectures. He was also reassured after a conference with Sam in which the good professor admonished him, “Remember, 50% of all students are below average….”
Ryan had been to the Low Brow before and it was close to the senior Holloway’s digs in the Pearl. Arriving on a Friday afternoon, we passed on the their signature dish – chicken breasts and tater tots – they label them , “Tits and Tots,” and ordered beers and the more mundane but equally unhealthy – tots and mini-corndogs.
The Low Brow fits the general definition of a dive bar (see Beerchaser post “Analyzing Dive Bars Head First.”) and it reminded both Ron Holloway and me of similar venues in which we matriculated while in college in Corvallis – Price’s Tavern, The Peacock and Don’s Den, to name the most popular, but certainly not all the bars.
The Low Brow was not totally absent of class and the mural on the external west wall by Portland artist Ashley Montague was distinctive. (His work consists mostly of commissioned murals on authorized walls, like the side of Lowbrow Lounge or the wall at Chapter 24 Vineyards)
Otherwise, it was the typical dive environment including pinball machines, a Wonder Woman mural, some memorabilia and a curious four-foot high Miller High Life bottle with thousands of bottle caps in it.
The reviews of the Low Brow often have comments about surly bartenders and it appeared that those working that day fit the mold – also one reason that I have no explanation for the Miller bottle cap collection. In almost every watering hole visited by Thebeerchaser – even in the grungiest dive such as the Yamhill Pub, the bartenders are friendly and willing to share some stories or chat about their bar.
Not so with the Low Brow, which is one reason this blog post is written after just one rather than the customary two or three visits.
Others agree as evidenced by the following:
“…..bartenders so perfectly surly they must be coached in unpleasantness.” Portland Barfly
“……the bouncer—who looks about one phone call away from being arrested for loitering.” Willamette Week 2014 Bar Guide
“The new, extremely rude, bartenders have ruined this once great dive bar destination and as a result this place is now the most uncomfortable bar in the city.” Yelp review 3/9/15
That said, any time one can drink cheap PBR, stuff down fried food and share tales (both true and concocted) with old (and in Sam’s case) new friends, is memorable. Thus, I’ll end this post by focusing on the company.
Sam Holloway (who in an unprecedented early disclosure by Thebeerchaser, will be featured in June as the 20th Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter) is a well-educated gent. His first degree was in physics from Willamette University, followed by an MA in teaching from Pacific University and finally his Ph.D. at the U of O. This excerpt from the summary of his credentials at University of Portland conveys the breadth of experience for a young guy:
“Professor at the University of Portland’s Pamplin School of Business Administration. Prior to completing his Ph.D. in management, Sam’s professional appointments spanned a wide array of industries, countries, and areas of expertise. These positions include being an estimator in the U.S. highway bridge construction industry, teaching advanced physics in Prague, Czech Republic, and teaching secondary mathematics in Beaverton, Oregon.
He has received several teaching awards, including being named the outstanding graduate student teacher at the University of Oregon.”
Sam was awarded tenure at UP in 2015 and as mentioned earlier, was Ryan’s favorite professor during his undergraduate days at UP – an outstanding educational institution. He played a key part in the recent implementation of a Master Crafting Strategist Certificate – a graduate level curriculum to give craft beer industry professionals specific business training and wisdom.
Thebeerchaser in the forthcoming post will also discuss Sam’s reputation in the craft beer industry including consulting both nationally and internationally as a principal in his company Crafting a Strategy.
With typical humility, Sam defers praise and said while consuming his PBR: “I give all of the credit for my success to my parents – especially my mother and father.”
There is consensus on Sam’s genetic make-up among those of us who know both Ron Holloway and his college sweetheart and now spouse, Dinda. While Sam may have received some of his aptitude for higher education from his dad, (Ron served for several years as Assistant Dean at Willamette University) but his intelligence, interpersonal skills and good personal appearance all emanate from his mother’s side of the family.
Ron was my room-head for several terms at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house in my freshman year at Oregon State, where “Ronnie Clyde” claims he molded me and laid the foundation for all of my future accomplishments. He was also nicknamed “Root Beer” because to his credit, he did not drink alcohol until he was 21 (I told his son it was because he had an affinity for A & W). He served as President of the fraternity and player-coach of our intramural C-League basketball team. His leadership-coaching style was kind of a bizarre combination of Rutherford B. Hayes and John Calipari. The SAE’s won the all-university championship in all three intramural leagues that year (1967).
Root Beer went on to law school and served as an Assistant Dean at Willamette before entering the private practice of law and in 1996 co-founding the firm of Sather, Byerly & Holloway, a successful twenty-lawyer litigation firm in Portland.
(It should be noted that the firm’s website reference which sites the co-founders’ concern at their prior law firms for “….soaring overhead costs and the inefficiencies of an overgrown bureaucracy,” is not a reference to Thebeerchaser when he served in firm management while Ron practiced at Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt.)
The SAE house was loaded with ahtletic talent that year (where future OSU basketball starter, Mike Keck, and former all-state round-ballers, Bob (BA) Allard (also Pac-8 Golf Individual Champion in 1969) and South Salem’s Chris Haag made up part of the A-League squad. The B-League roster also had several former high school all-league basketball players.
Ron and I along with teammate Craig (The Dude) Hanneman (Defensive tackle on the OSU Giant Killers -1968 to 70 – where he was 2nd Team All American and First Team All Pac 10 and All Coast in addition to playing in the East-West Shrine Game, the Hula Bowl, the All America Bowl and the College All-Star Game) showed our hardwood talents in the C League. Ron and I regaled Ryan and Sam at the Low Brow with tales of legendary exploits in high school basketball where both of us lettered in the old TYV League – Ron at McMinnville HS and Dirt at Oregon City HS.
C-League teams were rated low in finesse, but high in belligerence. (Hanneman’s personal experience in those games ingrained him with the grit for his successful post NFL business career.)
More so, the games imbued him with what he needed to become the first former NFL or NBA player to scale Mt. Everest – he accomplished that in 2012 and “Run with the Bulls” in Pamplona the next year – he was showcased as one of the 2012 Beerchasers of the Quarter)
It also attests to Ron’s motivational skill when as a coach, he channeled the rage Hanneman expressed during the championship game when a competitor showed poor sportsmanship and Mike Tyson-like behavior. (Hanneman called a time-out because he was bleeding and said in the huddle,“That Beta SOB, just bit me in the shoulder.”) The Dude went on to a triple-double in the game besides making sure the offender looked over his shoulder when he walked on campus for the next month.
Ronnie Clyde, inspired by Mike Keck’s no-look passes in the A-League games, developed his own version “the no-pass look,” where he established records – probably still standing – for most shots taken in one season. (Also the inverse record – shots taken verses shooting percentage.)
After graduating from the University of Portland, Ryan joined O’Neill Electric as a project manager and demonstrates his work ethic by part-time work on the weekends at Artleta Library and Bakery Cafe as well as serving as an assistant coach for the track and cross country teams at Clackamas High School. He is an accomplished runner and was a member of the Gonzaga University Cross Country Team his first two years in college.
In 2013 he ran a 50K – that’s 31.1 miles – ultra-marathon in Bend on the Flagline Trail. He finished 3rd overall with a time of 4:15. – that’s essentially an eight minute mile for the distance!
The first time I met Ryan’s mom, Nancy, I talked to her about his running and the conversation went something like this:
Beerchaser: Ryan is a good athlete and his running is amazing. How did that happen?
Nancy: Well Ryan liked to run when he was little and in the ninth grade, he decided he was going to focus on this sport so he started running ten miles every day that summer.
Beerchaser: Wow, ten miles every day. That’s really dedication for someone that young.
Nancy: Well, it sounds impressive, but it wasn’t all good.
Beerchaser: What do you mean?
Nancy: Well in the fall when it was time for him to start high school, we had no idea where he was……
We enjoyed our time at the Low Brow in spite of the environment. Perhaps one visit is not enough to appreciate its idiosyncratic ambiance, but this comment in City Search seems to be typical.
It also explains why Thebeerchaser will look for options with more amiable staff when checking out Portland dive bars in the future.
“Used to be a decent place to wind down…A long, long time ago, in a far, far away dream. To say the service is poor would be a compliment. Dive bars are supposed to be nice for their local feel and charm. The Low Brow is now anything but.”