Beerchasing on the South Oregon Coast and through the Redwoods – Part I

The fall is a great time to see Oregon and Janet and I decided to hit the road for a few days driving down the coast through Redwood National Park as far as Eureka.   Along the way, we enjoyed a few superb hikes and marveled at the coastal scenery.  And, of course, in furtherance of Thebeerchasers Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs, we visited twelve breweries, one bar and one bottle shop along the way – all of which were either on Highway 101 or close by. 

And we were thankful for the efforts of the late Governor Tom McCall and his foresight in preserving the Oregon Coast and the numerous outstanding Oregon State Parks along the way he championed.

The breweries we visited included Yachats Brewing, Defeat River Brewing in Reedsport, Seven Devils Brewing in Coos Bay, and Bandon Brewing, the Beverage Barn (bottle shop) and the Broken Anchor Bar and Grill in Bandon, Arch Rock Brewing and in North Bend Chetco Brewing in Brookings.

Into California, we hit  Mad River Brewing in Blue Lake, Six Rivers Brewing and Humboldt Regeneration in McKinleyville, Redwood Curtain Brewing in Arcata and finally, Lost Coast Brewing Co. in Eureka.  (See the links over the names for more info.)

We tasted some good beer and by always sitting at the bars, met great people.  While it is hard to compare, our favorite brewery was Mad River Brewing closely followed by Yachats Brewing and Farmstore as will be explained below.  And we loved the one bar visited – the Broken Anchor in Bandon.

We started on a positive note with the first stop being Yachats Brewing.  The quaint building right on Highway 101 with a great view, uses historic building materials in this reconditioned bank and at Tuesday lunch it was bustling.   A number of people were enjoying the patio, while choosing one of the thirty beers on tap. 

Jeremiah, our bartender and server, was a great guy, explaining the roots of this young enterprise going back to 2013.  Janet liked her Camp One IPA (an American IPA) while I downed a Thor’s Well India Pale Ale as we listened to Crosby Stills and Nash on their play list.  The food was great with a combo of quinoa soup and the barbecued chicken sandwich rating an A+.

My choice of beers was appropriate, because we then stopped to see the Thors Well sink hole, the Spouting Horn and the Devils Churn at Cape Perpetua on the highway, which was worth the stop.     

The Spouting Horn

 

We had read an article by Oregonian reporter, Jamie Hale on hikes along the southern Oregon Coast which was a great reference.  We stopped to see the beautiful Cape Blanco Lighthouse and then pushed on to Harris Beach and Cape Sebastian State Parks.

 

 

At Defeat River Brewing near Reedsport, our bartender, Jared, poured us  The Bravest, a pilsner inspired IPA, and we learned about another home-brewing effort by two partners which culminated in Reedsport’s first commercial brewery in 2016 in another reconditioned historic building.

Jared, a friendly and informative bartender

 

 

 

 

 

 A few more miles to a short stop at Arch Rock Brewing in Gold Beach – this time to a four-year old partnership after the co-owners converted their cabinet shop into a brewery. 

The brewer formerly worked at one of our favorite out-of-state breweries at which we tasted great beer – Grand Teton Brewing, which is actually in Idaho.  Arch River currently brews only three beers, is not fancy and has no real taproom, but the owner was very friendly and helpful.

 

The best hike of the trip – even better than the beautiful several mile stroll through the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwoods National Park was our three-mile loop along the cliffs at Cape Sebastian – the highest point on the southern Oregon Coast.

Stunning views both north and south thrilled us as we walked through the waist high grass .  Make this an absolute must if you hit this part of the coast on a nice day. 

Coos Bay, is an interesting city that shows signs of having weathered some tough times in the new economy.   lt was interesting to see the full-size posters of Steve Prefontaine, the City’s most famous individual decorate the sides of two adjacent buildings harkening back to his high school days at Marshfield High School before he set records at the U of O.

Seven Devils Brewing in Coos Bay

Another Oregon grad who has helped the community is Annie Pollard, who did both undergrad and graduate work there before eventually partnering with Carmen Mathews to open the Seven Devils Brewing Co. in 2013.  They are now an important part of the community.

Only a block or two off 101, they have a very nice open patio and a quality taproom with a nice menu featuring locally-sourced food.  It is a family-friendly venue and they have free live music concerts every week featuring local and touring artists. 

A glass door reveals the sparkling brewing equipment, which is a nice touch.  The ambiance is also heightened by the hand-made furniture and fixtures and the paintings, which make the barrel room and tap house quaint and comfortable. 

An overnight stay in Bandon, – at first disappointing because the Bandon Brewery’s grand opening was delayed until the next day, but as a result, we met a wonderful person, Jessica, the young entrepreneur, who opened the Broken Anchor Bar and Grill almost next door, a little over a year ago.  

The place was packed on a weekday evening and she and her staff including a friendly waitress named Loofa, showed great customer service and their unique sauerkraut pizza was one of the hits of the trip.  They have an expansive menu including both pub food and seafood.  Their live music on weekends draws good crowds.

Friendly enterprenauer, Jessica

 

In spite of the full house, Jessica found time to chat while she was tending bar (and doing management stuff) and I found that she had worked at both Cracker Jack’s Pub and the Dixie Tavern in Portland -both prior stops on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bar, Taverns and Pubs. 

 Her bar’s social media reviews are very good on food, drinks and service.  Typical is this one from Yelp from July 18, 2017:

“Great place in Bandon. The fish tacos are breaded, plentiful and the aioli is perfect. If you like hot their jalapeños are fresh and hit the spot. My husband’s burger was great. Waitress was awesome and they have a great selection of local beers”

Crackerjack’s is one of the favorite neighborhood bars I’ve been to in the six years of this journey and Jessica even called the former manager, a charismatic lady named, Sam, while we were there and told her Thebeerchaser was in the house. 

Jessica, a Minnesotan, who after college and getting her teaching certification, started working in restaurants and bars (and according to the reviews, she knows how to make an outstanding cocktail) and is typical of the personable and enterprising people I have met since starting this hobby in 2011.

Another interesting stop in Bandon was the Beverage Barn, essentially a bottle shop and tobacco family business opened in 2015.  You can find forty beers on tap and four ciders as explained by Amy who helped us.  

Bandon Brewing – open for business!

 

Coming back through Bandon (this time on the return trip), we hit the Bandon Brewery on its second day of operation – for lunch.   Their wood-fired pizza was solid as was their grilled cheese sandwich and the friendly staff was ready for their first weekend.   

With a stay at the Bandon Inn, a nice motel with a great view of the town and the harbor, ended our first day on the road on this trip – a great combination of brews, bistros, beaches and …..coffee! 

Stay tuned for the rest of the Oregon and California part of this journey.  

 

 

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The Doctor is in at T.C. O’Leary’s

In the six years of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars Taverns and Pubs, I have found that while there are some bars which leave a bit to be desired (such as my last visit to Portland’s Slow Bar), there are none for which I regret my visit(s).  Most of the bars or breweries are admirable small businesses, which radiate warmth, character and are replete with stories of the owners, regulars or the trappings of the watering hole itself.

Such is the case with Northeast Portland’s “T.C. O’Leary’s – A Little Irish Pub.”  Located on 29th and NE Alberta, the pub has interesting space, an excellent patio, innovative music and activities, and the background of Thomas Christopher O’Leary, the owner/manager, including the story of how he got to Portland and his PDX connections, could fill a small book. 

Some people will remember this space as the former Branch Whiskey, which was also managed by Tom and was a favorite neighborhood spot known for its classy selection of hard liquor which Tom has retained.  As one Yelp reviewer opined in May, 2016, “Branch is an amazing spot for sophisticated food and cocktails in a casual atmosphere.”  

Tom has a strong background in managing bars and hospitality based on years working in bars in Ireland, New York City and Los Angeles.  When the opportunity arose in 2016, he with the advice and financial help of family connections who had confidence in the investment potential, became the owner and changed the name and theme to that of an Irish Pub.  The bar would be a family-friendly neighborhood gathering place and would not serve pub or bistro grub, but authentic Irish food.

Tom Kelly

And those “family connections” are some of Portland’s finest citizens ranging from his wife, Siobhan’s, mom and dad – Anne Kelly Feeney and Dick Feeney to uncles Tom and John Kelly and aunt Susan Kelly – all individuals celebrated for their sustained community and public service and entrepreneurship.

Neil Kelly Co. logo

(Tom is the President of the Neil Kelly Co. started in 1947 by his father with a $100 investment and which is now nationally recognized for its award-winning design and innovative practices in home remodeling).

Dick and Anne from article in the “Catholic Sentinel” magazine

Anne was the Multnomah County Auditor for two terms and later served as CEO of Loaves and Fishes.  I remember Dick when he was the Public Affairs Director for Tri-Met and a skilled and effective lobbyist for the agency in the 1970’s and I worked for the Clackamas County Commissioners.

Besides being an investor, Dick has stopped by the bar almost every day since its opening.  He stuck his head into the Snug that day to say “hello” to our group. The couple now devotes much of their time to charitable work.  http://www.catholicsentinel.org/Content/Faith-Spirituality/Living-Faith/Article/Faith-fuels-their-ongoing-public-service/4/29/18615

In the short time since the bar’s “soft opening” – the day after Thanksgiving in 2016 – Tom and Siobhan O’Leary have taken big steps in achieving their goals for the bar.  Let’s look at two other Yelp reviews which reflect the overall sentiments of those commenting on the social media site: 

“This establishment is pretty fantastic….Ever changing specials, Guinness on tap and entertaining live music including a fiddler! You’ll find it here. The fish and chips are delicious. Their Shepard’s Pie is delectable and the service is outstanding. It is nice to know that you aren’t just a customer here, this is your friends and family. ”  (7/10/17) 

“Sweet addition to the Alberta neighborhood! Really nice genuine people own the place and their actually Irish- full accent and all! I have never eaten Irish food before. I really enjoyed the Vegetarian Blaa beet sandwich on soda bread and the fresh garlic and herb fries were pretty damn tasty!”  (6/30/17)

Chuck enjoying his fish and chips

And on my first visit with retired Portland lawyer, Chuck Mitchell, who had not been Beerchasing since our 2012 visit to 1856 – a NE Bottle Shop.   We both concurred that the fish and chips – one of T.C. O’Leary’s specialties – was superb.  Just looking at the menu with items such as Guinness Braised Beef, Bacon and Cabbage, Shepherds Pie and Haddock Chowder made my mouth water and made me come close to addressing Chuck as “Paddy…”

Besides those mentioned above, Tom talked about the compliments they receive on their bread roll and baked beans.  Their Saturday and Sunday brunch (Irish breakfast) is a neighborhood favorite with pork sausage and black pudding (pig) as favorite menu items.  They also have a good Happy Hour menu from 4:00 to 6:00  and all food items are $5, including a new offering of a half order of fish and chips and the “new O’Leary’s hot dog.”

A smiling Trinity coed

Adding to the Irish authenticity on my second visit was our server, a wonderful young woman named Caoiimhe (that’s the Gaelic spelling for Quiva) who is a third-year Trinity College student visiting and working in the US for three months before her final year in college.  Trinity is the oldest (1592) and most prestigious university in Ireland.

Besides Guinness, the bar has nine other beers on tap, (I tried my first Feckin Bewing beer – a tasty “Top of the Feckin Mornin”) several wines, a cider and numerous specialty and classic cocktails plus an amazing selection of liquor – try a shot of Whistle Pig Farm’s 2012 Boss Hog Rye for $48, which will allow you to see if you want to invest in an entire bottle which runs between $100 and $200…..

Kevin – Amys better half..

Our group on the second visit, besides my wife, Janet, comprised a number of Beerchasing regulars including the Faust clan (Jack and Alice, daughter Amy and her husband, Kevin) Jim and Janet Westwood (the combination of Faust and Westwood meant that we had two of the most respected appellate lawyers in Oregon on our side in the event of post-visit litigation….) and intellectual property lawyer, John Mansfield.

Mansfield, preoccupied with establishing his new practice at Harris Bricken, had not accompanied me to a watering hole for some time although he had made his mark at three noted dive bars – The Ship in Multnomah Village, the Slammer in SE Portland and Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive Bar.  (click on the names for a link to the posts)

He also Beerchased at  the classic Mock Crest Tavern and finally at Church – a great SE bar where he tried to emulate Martin Luther by posting 95 patents on the entrance to commemorate the renowned theologian’s 95 Theses at Wittenburg.

A clowning Westwood with Mansfield – the Ivy Leagues finest..??

Westwood and Mansfield, both Ivy League law graduates (Columbia and Cornell respectively), obviously did not talk about their law schools’ undergraduate sports teams, but we all harkened back to Mansfield’s more creative undergraduate days at the University of Oregon where he played in a rock band and majored in music composition and theory. He is a talented musician.

The picture below (I think taken by one of his clients) shows he is not a traditional, staid member of the Bar.

Kiss My Patent…

It also is evidence that Amy Faust, who is a co-host on the Mike and Amy Show on 99.5 The Wolf, will not be spinning any of the tunes on his Pandora playlist on her stint at the crack of dawn each weekday morning.  (She and Mike just received the 2017 Country Music Association 2017 Broadcast Personality of the Year for a Major Market.) Interestingly enough, Amy and John played together in a band for their respective daughters’ school event where Amy dusted off her mandolin and they both sang.

It should also be noted that both Jack and Amy Faust and Westwood have been prior Beechaser-of-the-Quarter “honorees.”  To see their stories, click on the licks here.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2014/09/02/john-r-jack-faust-fall-2014-beerchaser-of-the-quarter/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/04/11/amy-faust-beerchaser-of-the-quarter-and-mandolinist/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/03/28/portland-attorney-jim-westwood-beerchaser-of-the-quarter-for-january-march-2013/

Call ahead to reserve….

Tom had kindly reserved one of the distinctive features of his bar for us – The Snug – a comfortable and fabulously quirky little alcove at the front of the bar which is a tradition in Irish pubs.  It  accommodates about twelve people and provides a wonderful small-group nook that allows a modicum of privacy while still facilitating enjoyment of the T.C. O’Leary ambiance. (Call ahead to reserve it)

The Snug observed from the street.

 

 

 

 

A great patio

 

Although the bar with its fifteen authentic whiskey-barrel tables, historic family pictures and memorabilia is a cool place to sit, another good place to congregate is on the patio at the back, which T.C.’s essentially shares with the adjoining bistros on either side.

Family pictures add to the character of the bar

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of décor, I noted the red athletic tool that looked a little like a hockey stick hanging above the bar.  Tom said it was a “hurling stick”  and I didn’t hear him, so naively asked if he said it was a Curling broom,” to which he replied, “God no!”  Probably the reason for the vehemence of the response was that the pace and action of the sports are total contradictions.  Hurling is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin and is the fastest field sport in the world. It is administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association. The game has prehistoric origins, and has been played for 3,000 years.”  Wikipedia     

The antithesis of curling…

Of course, the theme of this bar begs the question, “What is it like on St. Paddy’s Day?”  Tom said they had about seven times the number of patrons on the first celebration of this “sacred” event since their opening, and it was kind of a three-day celebration.   They also moved a separate bar out to the patio and there was a line down Alberta Street.

And Tom, like many of the owners or bartenders I have met so far on this six-year journey, has a great story.  Of course, the most unusual aspect of it was the notoriety he accrued in his six years starring as Dr. Brendan Daly on Ireland’s most popular soap opera, Fair City. 

Dr. Brendan Daly…..

Tom grew up in Killeny.  “During years working as an actor in Dublin – from small theatres to six years playing Dr. Brendan Daly on Ireland’s most popular soap opera, Fair City, Tom and fellow performers communed at local pubs, drinking pints like they would never age.

For his wedding reception, a magical pub in the West of Ireland suited him and his new wife better than any hotel.”  (T.C. O’Leary’s website)

Fair City is the most watched drama in Ireland, with average viewing figures of 550,000….. tackling many controversial and taboo issues previously unseen on Irish television, such as rape.”  Wikipedia 

Siobhan, his wife of ten years, first met Tom in Ireland when she spent nine months at Trinity College.  Tom knew her sister, Catie, and agreed to show Siobhan around Dublin.  Tom had a girlfriend at the time, but he and Siobhan had an “instant connection.”   Tom lived in a big house with extra rooms and offered (partly as a gesture to her sister) to let Siobhan be a boarder.  Her sister told Siobhan somewhat jokingly, “You will fall in love with Tom.”

Catie was correct .  Tom broke up with his current girlfriend.  Siobhan in the subsequent term, got her lowest grades at Trinity.  They decided to pull a practical joke and Siobhan told Catie that she detested her landlord (Tom) and couldn’t wait to leave.  For the next month, the fiction gained momentum until her mom, Anne, insisted that she was going to fly over to Dublin to rescue her “baby.”  As with many practical jokes, after Siobhan  revealed the truth, the family was not amused although fortunately, they approved of the relationship.

Tom came to New York and he and his future wife drove across America while camping along the way.  Fast forward and Siobhan moved to Ireland for a year where they were married on December 29, 2007

They moved to New York City where Tom had some acting gigs and worked in bars on the Lower East Side.  That’s where the dream of owning an Irish pub first crept into his consciousness.

With family on the west coast, they moved to LA for three years, where Tom worked in high-end bars, working two jobs six nights per week with the goal of building collateral to own his own Irish Pub.  And now they had a little girl in the family……

Moving to Portland in the summer of 2014, Siobhan labored at an office job while Tom worked construction.  (Contrary to the popular belief, good bartending jobs are not that easy to get in the Rose City.)

Anne Feeney knew the manager of Branch Whiskey, and with his extensive experience in bars, he hired Tom immediately which began a two-year stint until the owner announced he was closing.

Tom got good advice from his investors and negotiated successfully.  After only a three-week interim closure, they were back in business with some new trappings thanks to a great work by their general contractor Megan Beaver of Eight Penny Nail, and T.C. O’Leary’s “Little Irish Pub,” has become a neighborhood fixture ever since.

I was somewhat critical of the last bar visited on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs i.e. Slow Bar on Grand Avenue.  While it is known for its great hamburger, I questioned whether the bar lived up to its potential by simply relying on its notorious burger and a juke box known for its collection of Heavy Metal selections.

Let’s examine some of the activity Tom has orchestrated at TC’s compared with Slow Bar’s “hot” juke box as a comparison:

The James Joyce book club – a bunch of serious dudes…..

On Tuesday nights, TC’s hosts a James Joyce book club in the Snug and they plow through about fifteen pages reading Joyce’s classic Ulysses with each participant reading his or her selection until the egg-timer rings for the next reader to start.  (Maybe it takes longer because James Joyce, according to one recent article I read, is an “exclamation point fanatic.”)

Of the ten authors with the most prolific use of exclamation points ranging from Elmore Leonard – 10th place to Virginia Wolf – sixth place to F. Scott Fitzgerald – 4th place, Joyce came in first with 1,105 exclamation points per 100,000 words in his three novels!!!  — What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt, published March, 2017.  (Read the book and you will also learn stuff like Nabokov’s favorite word was “mauve.”)

Every second Monday night, they have Irish music with a fiddler with the other Mondays devoted to other local musicians.  On Thursday evenings patrons see a specialty act – Michael Sheridan, a unique and nationally recognized singer-songwriter who has packed them in according to Tom. https://www.facebook.com/events/1917437525206189/           

If my two visits are typical, you should definitely drop by TC O’Leary’s where Tom will greet you as he does every patron at the door.   This personable Irishman, entrepreneur and former actor can give you advice on which draft beer or one of their specialty cocktails will enhance your visit.

But if he approaches you with a scalpel in his hand, you can be assured, it’s to carve some of the high-quality beef they use and he is not reenacting  his days as Dr. Brendan Daly.

 

T.C. O’Leary’s     2926 NE Alberta

 

Take a Fast Trip to Slow Bar

Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars,Taverns and Pubs focuses on the bars themselves – the beer and the grub is incidental.  The grist of these reviews is the bar’s history, the regulars, the bartenders and the ambiance.  What distinguishes this saloon or brewery from others?

In the case of Slow Bar, however, the emphasis will be on the food – to wit: it’s notable “Slow Burger,” which makes numerous lists as one of the best or in the case of Willamette Week’s 2017 Best Burger competition, the best in Portland.

And the focus here is on the food, because otherwise the bar at the corner of Grand Ave and SE Washington is not particularly noteworthy.  The exterior has several small picnic tables with umbrellas.  The entrance is unremarkable with a glass door over which is a dark green awning with scarlet letters bearing the bar’s name. Two beer barrels with flowers are placed on the sidewalk.

And the interior is essentially a large rectangular space with five large red booths – described by one Portland Barfly reviewer as “private bedroom style booths.”

Secluded and/or horizontal dining possible….

There is a long twelve-seat bar with hanging red lights and elk antlers over the selection of whiskeys and drafts — also one large poster on the far wall.   The high ceilings and exposed brick for the south wall are appealing.

There is none of the historical ambiance, idiosyncratic cubbyholes or illustrious symbols or tokens which characterize a good neighborhood or dive bar.  But maybe that’s intentional because the bar is evidently named after the “Slow Club” in the 1986 cult classic movie “Blue Velvet” starring Isabella Rosellini and Dennis Hopper.  Based on its homage to Pabst, the movie was described by the Portland Mercury as “one of the great beer movies.”  

The current bar was opened in 2003 by Michael Barnash and Rob Hemmerling, two veteran Portland bartenders.  It was previously a bar named Caswell’s and in my conversation with Hemmerling, he said that it was once owned by Frank Peters of Portland Maverick fame.  It evidently was also the site of one of the only known “failed” Starbucks locations.

Note: Notwithstanding considerable research effort, I could find no reference to Frank Peters owning Caswell’s.  He is well known for his other bars – the Grand Cafe (on the same street), Peters’ Habit and Satan’s Disco.  However, one reference in Portland Barfly to the bar having a “very attractive all-chick staff….” and Peters’ affinities seemed to warrant additional investigation, so I contacted the source.

Frank Peters – Known for his memorable and spirited bars

Frank stated that “………during Grand Cafe days we had Caswells for about 2 years. my gal partners got married so we sold it to Slow Bar people. We did ok and they took it to another level.”  He also confirmed that the space had been a Starbucks so “it had great air conditioning.”

To see the 2013 review of Thebeerchaser’s visit to the Grand Cafe and some more about Frank Peters see:   https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/01/23/a-frank-conversation-about-the-grand-cafe/

The Notable Slowburger

The famous Slow Burger. Notice that the top part of the bun is off to the left side and that’s the two onion rings at the top.

So let’s talk about the food.   Virtually all of the social media reviews ranging from Trip Advisor to Yelp are very positive. The Southern Fry, pastrami sandwich and the steak frites all rate favorably; however, the Slow Burger, as their flagship menu item, draws close to universal raves (except for one factor which concerned a few of the experts as will be seen below)

“This is a solid burger.  Satisfying, juicy, and extremely filling.” Yelp 9/7/17

“HOLY COW!  This is an amazing burger.  Place looks like a hole in the wall, but don’t let that fool you.   This place has AMAZING food and drinks.”   Yelp 9/6/17

Even back in February and April of 2006, the burger drew plaudits as evidenced by these reviewers in Portland Barfly: Additionally, Slow Bar has the best burger in Portland and serves the best Manhattan”  and “….the food is always excellent. One of the 3 best burgers in town.”

And the papers and food review websites echo the compliments:

Willamette Week in its 2017 “16 Best Bar Burgers:”  “No other burger is more deserving of the top seed in our rankings.  It is the unholy monster of Portland bar burgers, the behemoth that made even fancy-restaurant burger-makers take note.”  The paper in a May 23, 2017 follow-up article even went on to assert, “Haven’t Had the Slow Burger at Slow Bar? Then You Don’t Really Even Live Here.”

SeriousEats.com in a March, 2012 article entitled “The Towering Triumph of Slow Bar’s Slowburger,” describes it this way:

“The beef is quite tender, arriving with a lovely crust on the top and bottom and a semi-loose grind that keeps most of the juice inside the meat and off your plate (or hands). The thick slice of nutty Gruyère melting on top of the patty is a good match for the simple beef.”

However, notwithstanding these laudatory comments, it goes on to add a caveat:

“The mighty Slowburger is simply to heavy for bread this dainty and the pickle relish alone, eats through the bottom bun halfway before you finish……As it stands, expect to get a lot of that relish all over your hands.”

And Thrillist in its 2016 expose on the “Eleven Best Burgers Ranked by our National Burger Critic,” after rating the Slowburger Number 8 finished its review by stating:

“For me, the thick patty was flavorful but a giant meaty mouthful, and the even temperature throughout gave it a little bit of a meatloaf flavor. On top of that, the lead lettuce and onion ring slid off as you’d try and bite down, causing most of the toppings to drop out of the back, like a cargo plane opening up its bay door.”

Tiny hands interfere with eating the Slow Burger and governing…..

Willamette Week chided the Thrillist critic for his trifling gripe and petty whining stating, “Thrillist’s national burger critic, Kevin Alexander, declared it too unwieldy for his presumably tiny hands. But Portland is not a welcome place for short-fingered vulgarians.”  (We can therefore assume that the paper would also not approve of a visit by the current President……)

I returned to Slow Bar on a Wednesday evening with my wife and we split a Slowburger and a green salad.  (The salad with goat cheese and an assortment of nuts was very good.) We had no beer and were both stuffed after we finished and our tab was a very reasonable $20 plus tip.

But we ended up eating a lot of the burger with forks because the bottom bun had soaked through.  (Not an overwhelming conundrum given a lot of society’s contemporary problems.)

Okay, enough on the burger routine with one more aside.  These articles on great Portland burgers made me realize that I need to expand my horizons.  Although I have visited 85+ bars in Portland, aside from the one at MadSon’s Pub (RIP) and Stanich’s, I have not been to any of the venues where the great burgers listed by the experts come off the grill.

The Thrillist comment about their #1 pick – Stanich’s Nick’s Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions – is worth repeating:  “This burger is a national treasure that I’d like to keep discovering over and over again.”

The jukebox is located close to the bathrooms for those who get overly excited about Heavy Metal

So what else distinguishes this bar from others?   The juke box get repeated mention for its excellent selection of heavy metal selections.  “A jukebox that will make you piss yourself with joy.”  (Portland Mercury 7/15/04)

The night we were there, selections included Metallica,  Portland’s Poison Idea and Red Fang (their single “Blood Like Cream” while eating the burger seemed a little bit out of harmony…..) and Acid Wash.  The juke played loudly and aggressively which seemed somewhat incongruent with the dimly crimson-lighted environment.

With ten draft beers, their tap list is not expansive but adequate with micros from $5 to $7 and includes a traditional Rainier at $3.    They have a decent selection of wines with about ten interesting cocktails including their popular Manhattan – “our own Slow Bar single barrel Woodford Reserve Bourbon.”

Given the non-descript interior, perhaps one of the draws to Slow Bar is the diverse and interesting crowd that frequents the bar. The following gives an idea of the eclectic group:

Portland Barfly“….a steady stream of Portland’s most beautiful trickle through the narrow corridor between the stainless-steel bar and large custom booths….”

Willamette Week (8/3/2004) “….a bizarre Southeast Grand Avenue homage to ‘seedy bliss,’ where business suits, Burnside skate punks and Milwaukie suburbanites all collide.  In Portland, were every club boasts its own culture and devotees, Slow Bar is a prime candidate for the swing voters of the nightlife world.”

I was also a little bit amused and surprised by co-owner Barnash’s reactions on Yelp to two critical reviews, especially since the overwhelming majority of the comments were very positive.  Before responding, one should also remember that some people on social media have the judgement and discretion of former Secretary of Health and Human Service, Thomas Price…..

Yelp   4/23/17 – “I’m amazed you could give us such a horrible review when the food critics and writers and other Yelpers all disagree with you.”

Yelp 2/27/17 – “I know all my servers well as they have all worked with me for years (because it’s a rad place to work and they kick ass) so if you have had bad service both times you have been to my establishment, then I firmly believe that it’s you not them.  I see you left the review at 2:30 A,M.”

On my first visit, I intended to have lunch with my former Oregon State Bar colleague in the early ’80’s, Bernie Stea.

After many years, we had recently reconnected at a great lunch in Camas, where he and his wife, former Portland radio personality, Deb Jaynes, are managing brokers at the Carl Group, a real estate investment and development firm.  We subsequently had a memorable lunch experience at Northeast Portland establishment NEPO 42.   https://thebeerchaser.com/tag/nepo-42/  

A good bar in NE Portland

Bernie had a meeting in downtown Portland and our plan was to meet at 12:15 at Slow Bar.  He called me at 12:30 to tell me that he was stuck in a traffic jam on the Fremont Bridge.  I wondered why he chose that route rather than just coming across the Hawthorne which is more direct.

However, from our years working together, I learned not to question a guy who graduated from the University of Maryland Law School as a member of the prestigious Order of the Coif honorary and who also did budgetary manipulations on his Osborne computer that were both esoteric and somewhat terrifying……

Bernie and NEPO 42 burger – the Slowburger will have to wait

Bernie called again at 12:45 asking where I was, to which I replied, “Slow Bar.”  He then somewhat sheepishly informed me that he was sitting in Low Bar in downtown Vancouver.  In order to salvage his pride, I did not remind him that I sent him a link to Slow Bar the day before confirming our lunch appointment.  

We agreed that we would try Low Bar next time which looks interesting and consistent with venues visited on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs.

You should check out Slow Bar.  While it may not have the distinctiveness of some other SE watering holes – most notably in the Barmuda Triangle, it has some features warranting a visit.   And as Frank Peters said, “They have done a really, really ‘Tip of the Cap’ job in a very difficult business during a very competitive time in a marginal area. ‘Many are called—–Few are chosen.'” FJP

The “Flake” at Thebeerchaser visit to the Grand Cafe in 2013

Although Frank’s bars are not operating any longer, they were always colorful and oozed character.  Perhaps Michael Barnash and Rob Hemmerling should hire the former OSU Beav and Maverick as a consultant…….

 

Slow Bar         533 SE Grand Avenue, PDX

 

Beerchasing in Wisconsin Part III – Water Street Bars and Lakefront Brewery

Impressive Milwaukee skyline along the shores of Lake Michigan

After a week of diverse natural sights, good restaurants, great beer at cool bars and breweries, our week in Wisconsin was drawing to a close.  We left Sister Bay in Door County on Lake Michigan and headed back for a final day in Milwaukee before catching a flight back to Portland out of O’Hare Airport.

A 90-minute boat tour on the Milwaukee River and Lake Michigan was touristy, but a good way to see the some of the city and the shoreline.  The River is bordered by old industrial buildings which have either been converted or torn down to make way for toney condominiums in a city which is a great place for millennials.

A view overlooking the river for a cool $300 million….!

Our tour guide on the boat was a young graduate student from the University of Wisconsin campus near the city who read a script.  Janet asked her the average market price of a condo in one of the buildings lining the river.  Without hesitation, she responded, “$300 million,” which resulted in no additional questions and her sticking to the prepared script.  (I checked and one of units in a  newer condo building ranged from $175,000 to $1.1 million for the penthouse!)

The Milwaukee Brewers were in town that weekend and the city was just rocking.   We “Sought Asylum” for dinner with a good view of the river at the Ale Asylum River House, where we each enjoyed a great burger and one of their own beers – the Velveteen Habit-India Pale Ale, (7.5% ABV) and the Demento-Session Pale Ale (4.7% ABV).

Since we were on foot, we dropped into several nearby bars all on the same block of N. Water Street that were jammed with people enjoying the weekend.

BarNone is a very small bar which advertises, “Slip into the tightest hole in Milwaukee.” According to its website, “It opened  for business October 30, 2009. With an entirely remodeled interior and soon to be exterior, BarNone attracts an attractive young college crowd. Located on the corner of Water Street and Juneau Avenue, we are close to campus and the beat of everything that is happening nearby.”   It was so crowded and with two other options next door, we passed on having a beer.

The second bar in which we did have a beer was Pourman’s which is in a 125-year-old building and opened in 2012.  It has great old photos and impressive woodwork for the bar and tables and the top of the bar is filled with pennies.  Evidently they don’t have an equivalent to Oregon’s OLCC (Liquor Control) because at Pourman’s you could also pour your own beer if you sat in one of the booths.  Janet said that she would not tip me so we sat at the bar and our friendly bartender, John, poured the draft we split:

PourMans – Be your own bartender…..

“……..there are four tappers on each of three tables. Customers give the bartender an ID in exchange for a glass – one customer per group must provide a credit card – and can tap up to 32 ounces of beer per person right from their table.

If he or she wants to drink more after the 32 ounces, they check in with the bartender who assesses the patron’s sobriety and, if they’re not drunk, will program the tappers to dispense more beer.”   https://onmilwaukee.com/bars/articles/pourmansmilwaukee.html

Janet in front of McGillycuddys

Right next door was McGillycuddy’s Bar & Grill.  It is spacious and impressive and according to Thrill List “is an East Town watering hole that’s popular with Milwaukians for its cheap brews, generous pours, and low-key, locals-only attitude. The space features a long, oak bar and outdoor beer garden.”

More impressive than the interior of this bar was the patio or beer garden which was overflowing with suds and Saturday night revelers and had a long line waiting to get in.

The Beer Garden line at McGillycuddy’s

Lakefront Brewery “Thirty Years of Blood, Sweat and Beers!”

On Sunday morning, we had time for one more brewery tour before the flight and rather than try the big ones such as the historic Pabst or Miller-Coors, we headed to the Lakefront Brewery, which receives great social media reviews on brewery tours.  It’s  nationally recognized.

According to a 2015 ThrillList post, it’s:

“The tour by which all other tours are measured. Guides are informative and genuinely funny — though anyone talking about bungholes probably would be, especially after a few beers.” 

A brewery with history and personality….

We joined about twenty other people from all over the country who paid their $10 for the tour – it also includes tickets for four six-ounce pours and a Lakefront Brewery glass – the price for the tour is great even without the ancillary items.

Lakefront is another of the many stories of entrepreneurs who enjoy beer and are willing to devote their capital and time to building an organization.   Like a number of similar enterprises in Milwaukee, Portland, Denver and other major cities, the brewery is housed in historic trappings:

Justin, our erstwhile tour guide in historic setting

“……..the City of Milwaukee had a building to sell. In 1908, Lakefront Brewery’s current building housed the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company’s coal-fired power plant.

It was later sold to the City to house Milwaukee’s Forestry Department. But in 1998, the City was considering tearing down the old power plant to uphold a contract with a nearby apartment complex unless a local business was interested in the location.”

Justin was our tour guide – he could have been a stand-up comic given the humorous one-liners he worked into a nice educational briefing on the history of the brewery and some of its operations.   Justin would appreciate the stand-up comic comparison although he would assert that he wouldn’t qualify based on the amount of time he spends in a prone position after drinking free beer.

He did a great job covering the history of the brewery and briefly got into the mechanics of making beer and Lakefront’s approach to brewing and being an important member of the community.

We stopped strategically to see different brewery equipment which, of course, also provided the opportunity to sample another one of Lakefront’s good beers.  Of course, with his comedic wit, Justin placed special emphasis on the kegging function and exactly what was meant by the term “Bunghole.” 

The final part of the tour was viewing the bottling machine, which was an opportunity for Justin to work in a bit about Laverne and Shirley, the situation comedy legends from Happy Days (aired from 1976 to 1983) who lived and worked in Milwaukee.   He asked for two volunteers and Janet raised her hand.

“Laverne and Shirley” at the bottling machine

What followed was an old rendition of the “Happy Days” theme played on Justin’s cassette player while Janet and the other volunteer went through the bottling routine.

The brewery also offers a weekly 90-minute technical tour geared toward any home brewer or beer drinking aficionado led by one of their experts.  It concludes with a 90 minute food pairing featuring specific Lakefront beers which complement their chef’s selection of local and national cheese, meat, fruit, chocolate and coffee. (Although participants would miss Justin’s act…)

Lakefront is known for its innovative beers which  includes Organkica: “From the country’s first organic beer to the country’s first Gluten Free beer to be granted label approval by the U.S. Government, we have the perfect brew to fit your lifestyle.” 

After the tour we went into the spacious brew-pub and had the beers although I should have known better than to experiment by ordering a tea beer (Don’t remember the name….but I didn’t finish it).  That said, I really enjoyed their Imperial IPA/Red Ale which won an honorable mention at the United States Beer Tasting Championship and Janet loved the Riverwest Stein an excellent American Amber Ale.

I was disappointed that as with the case with the bars in Door County, we missed their traditional Friday Fish Fry, which at Lakefront includes a live polka-band and dancing…

The spacious tap room

We had a wonderful time during our eight days in Wisconsin and the Beerchasing stops which included those listed below were enjoyable and let us  enjoy new microbrews and a $1.00 Miller Genuine Draft (on tap)……We also liked the Goose Island beer:

Milwaukie:  Water Street Brewing, Scooters PubBar, Dukes on the Water, Pourman’s Bar, McGillycuddy’s and Bar None

Green Bay: Hinterland Brewing and Badger State Brewery

Door CountyDoor County Brewing, the Cornerstone Pub, AC Tap, Coyote Road House

You can see the reviews of these at the other two posts on Beerchasing in Wisconsin at the links below:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/07/07/beerchasing-in-wisconsin-part-i/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/08/10/beerchasing-in-wisconsin-part-ii-door-county/

 

 

 

 

 

Beerchaser Miscellany – Fall of 2017

The Brooklyn Park Pub – Revisiting the First Stop on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs and One of My Favorite Bartenders

Seven years ago, when I decided to implement my crazy idea as a retirement hobby, I was concerned about how it would be perceived by the bartenders I would interview.  For it to be successful, I needed them to answer my questions about what makes their bar different, comment on the tavern’s regulars and offer info on their own background.

Would they dismiss these inquiries as some old guy with idiosyncratic tendencies or support the idea that highlighting the history and distinguishing factors of Portland’s many watering holes was a cool idea?

Phoebe in August 2011

Well, my trepidation was unnecessary when the first bartender I interviewed became one of the most memorable.  Phoebe Newcomb was behind the bar at the Brooklyn, a great little Southeast neighborhood pub – and still one of my favorites after seven years.

She told me about the Whiskey Club, talked about the tradition of serving their draft beers in Mason jars and to check out the woodchuck posters…..

Phoebe’s gift at my first stop on the Tour….

When I told her that the Brooklyn was my first of what I hoped would be many bars on the tour, she gave me a Brooklyn Park Pub cap and signed it.   I still remembered her charming and distinctive laugh that echoed through the bar as she was interacting with her customers.

In July, I was reviewing Willamette Week’s Best of Portland issue and discovered that third place for Best Portland Bartender was none other than Phoebe, who now works at the Landmark Saloon besides the Brooklyn.

This motivated me to return to the first of what has become 85 Portland bars and another 125 in Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, a slew of places in the continental US and all over Oregon on Thebeerchaser’s tour of Bars, Tavern and Pubs.  https://thebeerchaser.com/2011/08/07/the-first-establisment-on-the-chase/

A reunion six years later. And the beer is still served in Mason jars

I was not disappointed in Phoebe’s reaction when I again told her my story and that I had returned to thank her for the positive kickstart to Thebeerchaser’s Tour.  I donned the treasured BPP hat and one of the regulars took our picture.

Brian Doyle – His Legacy Lives On – As followers of Thebeerchaser blog and those who appreciate good literature know, we lost a great human being in May with the passing of Brian Doyle who succumbed to brain cancer.   Brian was prolific, authoring about thirty books including novels, collections of short stories and penetrating essays, was the editor of the award-winning Portland magazine published by the University of Portland and a gifted speaker.

Having a brewski in the St. Johns Pub with University of Portland colleague, Dr. Sam Holloway

I met Brian in 2013 when I informed him by letter that I had named him my eleventh Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter and all it required for him to receive the “award” (a pint of beer) was to meet me for an interview at the saloon of his choice.  He chose the Fulton Pub.

We had drinks after that on a number of occasions and corresponded by e-mail in which he never failed to demonstrate his positive view of humanity, his religious faith and his imaginative and fanciful sense of humor.

I was therefore pleased when in July I received an e-mail  request from the Design Editor of Melbourne Catholic Magazine in Australia requesting permission to use one of the pictures posted in a tribute to Brian in the blog shortly after his passing.    I laughed when I found out that they selected the one I took at the Fulton Pub the first time we raised a mug.

In the Fulton Pub

The article entitled, “Minor Prophets – A Tribute to a Favourite Author” will be published in September.  Ann Rennie, the author, states in part:

“(Minor prophets) remind us of the universal and eternal.  They remind us of God and of good, and the everyday revelation of the glory in life in all its weariness and work and woe; in its humdrum, ordinary decency and its scintillating, soul stirring wonder.   One such profit (was) the American writer, Brian Doyle, whose beautiful words, written with candour and joy and lyricism, help us to find again the simple and larger truths.””

The picture of the main character on the cover has a strong resemblance to ……

I recently finished Chicago the second to the last novel which Brian wrote in 2016 and it’s my favorite – it’s a perfect example of his keen observations of nature, people and events, some of which many would view as trite or inconsequential.   I’m sure that Brian could have ridden the #33 Tri-Met bus (McLoughlin Blvd…..) from Oregon City into Portland and have written a lengthy and entertaining essay (with very long sentences…..) on what he observed that would have been a good read.

As with another one of my favorite Doyle novels, Martin Marten, I fold back pages as I read so I can go back and write down phrases or paragraphs I want to ponder and remember.  (The book ends up having more pages with folds than those that are not.)

Author, poet and hero of Edward

You should read Brian’s account of Chicago – his descriptions of Chicago White Sox games and players and the Chicago Bulls, gyros, meeting former NBA great Artis Gilmore on a walk, street basketball, Lake Michigan and dribbling his “worn and shiny basketball” through miles and miles of the urban landscape.   And as in Martin Marten, one of his main characters is an intriguing, erudite and marvelously resourceful animal – this one, a talking dog named Edward who had a strong and enduring admiration for both Abe Lincoln and Walt Whitman.  

“But to say of Edward merely that he was a dog and leave the description at that, would be a grave disservice not only to him but to you, for he was one of the most subtle and gracious beings I ever met, and the litany of his adventures alone would fill a shelf of books, before getting to his influence on other beings, for example, which was both considerable and renowned, so much so that creatures of various species would come to Edward for consultation and counsel, from birds to people of all manners and modes of life.”  (Chicago page 2)

The following is a description of his main character’s daily walks in Chicago as he ambled (dribbled…) through countless blocks of the urban landscape.  I offer this as one of many examples why Ann Rennie ended her article with the words, “Thank you Brian, for words that warmed our hearts, enlarged our minds and touched our souls.”  

“….So I walked; and there were days when I thought it likely that I had walked farther and deeper in Chicago that day than anyone else in the whole city, and this was a city of three million souls…

..I met a roan horse….I met buskers by the score, a hundred street basketball players, dozens of people fishing the lake.  I met librarians and bookshop owners and probably every gyro vendor north and west of the Loop.  I met train conductors and bus drivers and taxi drivers….I met teachers and policemen (curiously, never a police woman) and many mayoral candidates – it seemed like every other person in the city that year was running for mayor – and bartenders. (Chicago – page 188)

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/06/09/brian-doyle-beerchaser-eternal/

Pondering Those that Come and Go – I am saddened to report that one of Portland’s  most iconic breweries has “chugged” into the sunset.  The Tugboat Brewery, which I visited with former Portland Mayor, Sam Adams in March 2013 and was downtown Portland’s oldest craft brewery,  was severely water-damaged when the ceiling of the apartment above it in the Stewart Hotel collapsed.  While initially, the plan was to open after repairs, the damage was evidently too extensive.

They posted a sign which stated, “The flea bag hotel above us had an arson fire…..that caused water damage to our pub.”  https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/03/08/say-tug-boat-brewery-ten-times-really-fast/

Sam Adams at the Tugboat in 2013

Similarly, MadSon’s Pub closed in August although no reason was supplied other than rumors of electrical and HVAC issues which would have required extensive repairs.  MadSon’s was a cool and spacious neighborhood-type bar on the near Eastside which had a nice ambiance and a superb brunch.  My first visit was with Portland lawyer, Jack Faust and his clan.  

Add the Hop & Vine on North Killingsworth to the list of closures after eight years of serving beer and wine to its loyal customers.   And, of course, the historic and famous Lotus Cardroom, in downtown Portland is also gone in the name of development.

Fortunately, some other rumored closings did not occur including Tony’s Tavern, a noted dive bar for twenty-one years on West Burnside.   Like Joe’s Cellar, Tony’s reportedly closed because of lease issues, but reopened and is back in business.   This is fortunate.  As one of Tony’s bartenders stated in the Willamette Week clip “It’s where people are friendly.  Some of our customers are assholes, but they’re friendly.”

Other rumors of closings which fortunately did not become a reality were the Laurelthirst Public House and the Dockside, which will see a multi-story office building built immediately adjacent to it.  The Dockside is “best known locally as the place Tonya Harding’s then husband, Jeff Gillooly, tried to dispose of evidence in the kneecapping of (Olympic figure skater) Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.”  (Willamette Week)

And Some That Thrive….! – I am happy to report that on a recent and one of many return visits to what has become one of my favorite brewpubs – FlyBoy Brewing in Tigard, Mark Becker and Michelle Faubion report that their expectations have been exceeded since the opening earlier this year. The City of Tigard has been very helpful in the permit process and they will be opening a new patio in front of the pub in several weeks.

The Flyboy Management Team

The newest of the Flyboy Brews Pilot’s Peach Ale (ABV: 5.50%) has been well received (It had sold out on my visit) and Michelle stated that some patrons are mixing it with Flyboy’s White Cloud Imperial IPA (5.80% ABV).  My first pint of the Peach Ale is one – not the only reason – I keep returning.  https://thebeerchaser.com/tag/flyboy-brewing/

A remarkable beer

Drop by and try some of the thirty beers on tap and the great food on their menu.  Happy Hour is from 3:00 to 6:00 each weekday.

Thebeerchaser Goes Civic –  I was pleased to be able to make a repeat performance relating the story of Thebeerchaser blog and why it has become a wonderful retirement hobby – this time in August at the Lincoln City Rotary Club.   I made the same presentation to the West Linn Rotary Club in 2016.

They appeared to enjoy the stories on the dive bars, especially since one of my favorites is Lincoln City’s venerable Old Oregon Saloon.   And it was gratifying when the principal of one of the local schools came up afterwards and said, “I loved the dive bar stories and descriptions.  I grew up in one.  My parents owned a dive bar in Washington.”

Farewell to a Portland Legend – Born in Hot Springs, South Dakota, Jack Stutzman died in Portland last week at the age of 77.  He graduated from Oregon’s West Linn High School and found his niche in the bar and restaurant business after Army service.  His first tavern, the Green Spot was followed by The Local Gentry, Gassy Jack’s and he then purchased the Hoot Owl in John’s Landing in 1973.

It became the legendary Buffalo Gap Saloon & Eatery, named after one of his favorite towns in South Dakota:

“The Gap grew from a seating capacity of 25 to 250……Became a neighborhood tavern, a home away from home.  It sheltered a diverse crowd from all walks of life, the neighbors, the  young and old party goers, the students from Lewis and Clark, the medical community from OHSU, the commuters between PDX and Lake Oswego, the occasional celebrity and everyone in between.”  From obituary in Oregon Live 

Holly Eldridge, our server, and Jack Faust at the Buffalo Gap in 2011

The Gap was one of Thebeerchaser’s first watering holes visited when this blog started in 2011 with Beerchaser regular, Jack Faust.  Drop by this great saloon which still thrives on SW Macadam and toastJack Stutzman’s  memory.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2011/12/14/the-buffalo-gap-saloon/

Renners – “Generous Cocktails, Cold Beer and Good Food Since 1939”

Multnomah Village is a small community with a bustling, albeit small business district about five and one-half miles south of downtown Portland.   It was annexed by the City of Portland in the 1950’s.  “The community developed in the 1910’s around a depot of the Oregon Electric Railway.” (Wikipedia)  For many years, it’s been relatively off-the-radar except for those who like to visit the Annie Bloom’s Books or O’Connor’s Restaurant – a nice little bistro owned by Montana natives who have been serving good food for the last twenty years.

The Ship – just around the corner in the Village….

It is also home to one of Thebeerchaser’s favorite dive bars – The Ship Tavern – reviewed in 2012. https://thebeerchaser.com/2012/12/10/all-hands-on-deck-at-the-ship-tavern/.

Based on my two recent visits, I have added another memorable dive bar to my list of favorites – Renner’s Grill and Suburban Room, a well-known watering hole that’s been around since 1939.

Don’t be misled by the title and most notably the words “Suburban Room”  – the “Room” is a small, dark chamber in the back of the bar to which many of the regulars gravitate.

The Inner Sanctum..

And Renner’s for years had a reputation for being a tough place with stiff drinks and regulars who don’t welcome strangers.  In fact, one person told me that it was the hangout for those who were too tough or unrefined for The Ship.

Photo courtesy of Keith Watkins, Religious Historian *1

The Village has changed, however.  It’s becoming gentrified and a great location given its proximity to Portland yet largely retaining its small-town ambiance.  Property values have soared, there are new stores and restaurants e.g. a Lucky Labs Pub, in an old building that used to be a Masonic Temple. It’s now a challenge to find a parking place even on a weekday evening.

Renner’s has also changed, as you will see below, however, it has definitely retained it’s character and ambiance.  This excerpt from a May 23, 2017 Willamette Week review describes it well:

“…..This little hole-in-the-wall tucked among the century-old buildings of Multnomah Village is the epitome of a dive bar, minus any of the pretension about being a dive bar you’d get closer to the center of the city.

It’s dark, it’s a little gritty, it takes forever to get a drink, Fleetwood Mac is somehow always playing and the food is greasy in the best way possible……The wells are a dollar instead of the drafts, and as every night, they’re the strongest you’ll get west of the river.”

The  Multnomah Villager blog quoting the Portland Tribune in October 2005 stated, in part,:

“Renner’s is built into the side of a hill. It feels like the dining car on a Depression-era train, and it’s about that big. A lunch counter and a few raised booths fill the front.

….. Art deco lamps hang from the uneven  …….The back wall is lined with photos, like the signed celebrity photos in many historic dining rooms. But here they are all pictures of loyal customers.”

Renners regulars from years past

Even the sometimes cynical  Portland Barfly opines:   ”With some sixty-odd years under its belt, Renner’s vintage charms beckon a surprisingly diverse array of regulars. It’s a shining example of the endangered neighborhood bar.”

A distinctive and historic sign

As one approaches Renner’s, the sign, which looks similar to an old Rexall Drug Store sign, beckons you into what is a very tight and intimate space – very different than some of the spacious classic dive bars reviewed previously on Thebeerchaser such as Gil’s Speakeasy or Bar of the Gods.

But Emmie, the cordial bartender, who is a McMinnville girl like Thebeerchaser’s spouse of 37 years, gives a friendly “hello” and expertly goes through the list of eight drafts and six bottled beers available in addition to three Tall Boys – Ranier, PBR and Rolling Rock.

A good selection of beers

There are about eight or nine seats at the semi-circular bar and three booths with black vinyl seats in the front part of the bar with historic photos or newspaper articles on the walls of each.  The first time there, I was accompanied by Beerchaser regular Walt Duddington

Walt is a veteran of such bars such as the Lutz Tavern and more recently, Ancestry Brewing.  Walt had a draft Total Domination IPA from Ninkasi Brewing and I couldn’t resist a PBR Tall Boy.

Walt Duddington on the first Renner’s visit

We talked to a nice guy named Steve Potter, an insurance adjuster and also chatted with two personable chaps who were in their coveralls and had just finished the day installing and maintaining HVAC systems.  Their customer base includes a number of bars in Southeast Portland – nice fellows and typical of dive bar regulars.

On one of the two big screen TV’s, we watched part of the first round of the NBA draft wondering if General Manager, Neil Olshey, would pull off some kind of miracle to allow the Blazers to exceed the fifty-win threshold in 2018 and garner another trip to the playoffs.

Or alternatively, draft a tall, skinny kid from the WCC who wasn’t a starter the entire year before he turned pro…. maybe he should have opted for a Migration Brewing’s Terry’s Porter for his first draft choice (ABV: 6.7% IBU:42: Roasted chocolate malts with hints of herbs and coffee)

A draft while watching the Draft – NBA style…

The next trip to Renner’s was for both beer and dinner with another veteran Beerchaser, my brother-in-law, Dave Booher.  He has also accompanied me on two three-and one-half day Beerchasing fieldtrips  through Central and Eastern Oregon in 2013 and the Central Oregon Coast in 2014.

Dave, the Tapman on the Oregon Coast

Dave and I started with a beer at the bar and  then moved into the Suburban Room for dinner which I was anticipating with additional salivary gland adrenalin after talking for twenty minutes on my first trip with Josh, the co-owner, who also bears the moniker, “Uncle Stumpy.”

Emmie and Josh make you feel at home…..

 

Josh, has been the co-owner for  2.5 years although he has worked at the bar since 2010.  He is also a partner in another bar with great atmosphere in the Barmuda Triangle in Southeast Portland – the Hawthorne Hideaway which Thebeerchaser reviewed in the first full year of the journey. 

https://thebeerchaser.com/2012/03/26/the-hawthorne-hideaway-amiable-alliteration/

Now one of the characteristics of many dive bars is cheap but not succulent food.  One doesn’t expect a Steak Diane with your $2.00 PBR.  For example, given the cost, I was happy with my Friday Special of Sloppy Joes and Chips for $1.50 at Gil’s Speakeasy, but it didn’t rank up there with the faire at some of Portland’s fine restaurants.

Gils Speakeasy Sloppy Joe is typical of dive bar grub

However, Uncle Stumpy has aggressively worked to make Renner’s menu attractive and the food one orders from that extensive document is superior and something that makes his clientele want to return.  (I have not used the word “clientele” previously in a blog post about dive bars…..).  Josh speaks with pride about his bar and stated

“Renner’s is 5.5 miles from downtown Portland, but it might as well be 100,” Josh asserts. 

His goal is to “maintain the dive bar experience, but offer superior food from scratch and a neighborhood bar charm.”  So far, he is succeeding.  As evidence I offer our dinner experience and these recent reviews from social media:

Cozy bar with INCREDIBLE food. Seriously, Renners has managed to elevate pub food to a whole new level. Their buffalo chicken thighs are so good (yes thighs not wings). I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like!”  Yelp 5/7/17

They even have started a quality breakfast which is worth a trip:

This historical bar serves a whoppin’ size breakfast that’s really good! Old menus and photos adorn the walls and good old village folks like the happy hour too!”  Trip Advisor 8/12/15

This is just the specials……

Take a look at the five entree’s available during BBQ Month the night we were there, a number of which rotated during the week.   These are supplemented on the regular menu by thirteen burgers including an elk burger and a peanut butter bacon burger which should probably be avoided unless your nickname is “Skippy.” 

Outstanding onion rings

There’s also seven hot dogs and eight sammies from which to choose including “Connor’s Cardiac Arrest” which should come with its own defibrillator given the ingredients including brisket, pulled pork, bacon and barbecue sauce on a ciabatta bun.  And if you’re not up for dinner, there are seven Happy-Hour items ranging from fries to tacos, cheeseburgers and sliders.

The Taman pleased with his Hangar Steak dinner

The Tapman opted for the Hangar Steak with corn-on-the-cob, fries and cole slaw ($15.75) and I honed in on the Bison Meatloaf Sandwich ($14.75) and upgraded to some wonderful onion rings.  Dave said it was the best hangar steak he had eaten in Portland and my sandwich was excellent and large enough that it made a good follow-up lunch.

There were a few scattered and minor complaints about the bar on social media including the music being too loud and the pace of service:  “….the music is way too loud. It’s excessively annoying. I can’t have a conversation with the people I’m with. If I wanted to listen to music, I’d put some headphones on at home. It’s terrible. Everyone around us is yelling because the music is so loud. Bad ambiance.“ Yelp 4/15/17

However, both of us and a number of others at the bar who were over sixty, can’t hear most conversation anyway and don’t try when any kind of music is playing.

Looking out from the Suburban Room

Renner’s was filled the night we were there and Emmie did a wonderful job with our drink and dinner orders.  No complaints on what was excellent and friendly service on both visits when the bar was very busy.

This alley is grandfathered in the zoning ordinance

Overall, it was a great experience and Josh appreciates the historic ambiance provided by the turn of the 1900’s building including the small alley-walkway in between the bar and the next building.

He’s also being creative with specials and events.  Up until July, 2017, you could get a draft OR a well-drink for a buck from 9:00 PM to close.  Based on insurance issues, that was changed to $2 – still a good deal.  Or you can visit on Wednesday, which is Bingo Night and gets great comments.

And on August 21st – during the celestial event:  “All you can eat and drink during the eclipse.$25.00.”  (I didn’t check to see whether this was during the two minutes and forty seconds of totality or for the two hours and thirty-five from start to finish in which case, it could be a good deal…..)   

Start drinking and eating…..(Courtesy of R.W. Hap Ziegler)

You should take the succinct but accurate advice of this couple and hit Renner’s:

“Quaint little neighborhood dive bar.  The place looks well worn, but loved by the regulars.  Stopped in for breakfast at 7:30 AM, there were about a dozen or so other patrons scattered around.  Most were drinking and seemed to know everyone else.  So a friendly place to meet and plan your day or your mischief.“ Yelp /23/17

And perhaps your “mischief’ should include a walk around the corner with a stop at The Ship for a beer chaser after your tasty breakfast at Renner’s.

Renner’s Grill and Suburban Room

7819 SW Capitol Hwy

Multnomah Village

The bar in the Suburban Room

 

 

 

 

 

 

*1 Keith Watkins blog:  https://keithwatkinshistorian.wordpress.com/tag/james-david-duncan/  3/4/14

 

Beerchasing in Wisconsin – Part II – Door County

We drove north from our first night in Wisconsin – in downtown Milwaukee – up the peninsula separating Lake Michigan and Green Bay into Door County.   What a beautiful drive – rolling farmland with historic barns, small communities and all one identifies with rural America.

And Door County – surrounded by water and with over 300 miles of shoreline has a Cape Cod-type ambiance in the heart of the Midwest.   We stayed with my sister-in-law, Pam, in Sister Bay, and toured nearby towns , the names and heritage which could be portrayed in Mark Twain’s or any novelist’s work who wrote about small-town values and culture.

Janet and Pam at sunset in the heart of Sister Bay

Bailey’s Harbor, Turtle Bay, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Gill’s Rock, Sturgeon Bay, Ephraim, etc.all of which beckon vacationers who want to relax in a scenic, welcoming environment – and oh yes, one in which there are some great bars and breweries.

There are also some small wineries, but based on our limited sampling, the grapes are such that the wines tend to be pretty sweet and make an IPA a much better bet.  We visited four watering holes on our Beerchasing tour.

Door County Brewery – this establishment was recommended by multiple parties as having great beer. Located in a small building outside the wonderful village of Bailey’s Harbor (“BH is…..truly a place where everyone knows your name—and then some. We like cool breezes, water sports and parades with a drumming rabbit who thinks he’s a chicken. And beer.  Lots of beer!”)

A cool logo

The enterprise was established in 2012 by four family members.  Brady, the bartender told us that the brewery specializes in Belgian beers although they have some other nice options available with the ten on tap.  We tried their Pallet Jack Cruiser which is a good Session IPA.

Kyle, the brewer, was in and we had a nice conversation and learned that they will expand this summer to new quarters in the heart of Bailey’s Harbor.  We felt like we were regulars and met a wonderful guy named Buzz a high school coach who regularly vacations in Door County.

Janet with our new friend and coach, Buzz.

Besides having a great logo, the attitude reflected on their website is evidence of why they have won the hearts of their community:

We value family, friendships and community above all else and create one-of-a-kind craft beers to bring these all together…..The root of our brand is the authentic story of a small community who cares about the passion, hard work and significance of every day.….So welcome. We are glad you came and hope that you enjoy our community of friends, family and beers. Now let’s have some fun!”

Now in expanded space although this was quaint….

They moved to a larger building on July1st which will have a nice beer garden and more room for the crowds attending their Saturday night entertainment. Typical of the reviews was this one on Yelp – a couple visiting a little over a month after we did:

“We stopped in during a walk……The staff was very friendly.  A great atmosphere and vibe makes the patrons happy.  Might have something to do with excellent, easy flowing craft beer also. “

What better place for a dive bar???

AC Tap this was my personal favorite and a great dive bar.  Half way between Sister Bay and Bailey’s Harbor in the middle of some farmland on Hgwy 57, the setting of this bar drew me like a magnet and we were not disappointed.

Now one typically does not hit a dive for the food – it’s the cheap beer, the signs on the wall, the crusty regulars and pool (darts also at AC Tap).

And what a great sign!!!

Well, AC Tap has all of these and food that could shame some of the established bistros – in a kitchen that could fit in a closet.   Because of limited time, we did not have a chance to partake of the food, but let’s look at the reviews starting with this summary from a 9/9/15 Yelp reviewer:

“The Tap is an amazing place because they serve food all day everyday until bar close! The kitchen is always open until last call and the Tap does bar food the right way. They have a two-page menu along with a homemade special and soup each day. Mondays they do 50 cent wings and a beer special.

Tuesdays they do homemade sushi rolls. In the winter, Thursday nights are usually all you can eat homemade spaghetti. Friday of course they have fish fry specials– perch or shrimp (sometimes lawyer or blue gill) and Sunday nights they do 1/4 baked chicken and dumplings.”

And almost every review raved about a different food item:

“……you can’t go wrong with anything on their menu (and) great wimpy burgers,” “a juicy hamburger and delicious homemade French fries,” “tastiest fried perch ever,” “The fish and chips were good, the fish cakes were great,” “Best bar food around.”

There was a friendly group of guys who the bartender said were visitors from Illinois on a male-bonding golf trip who were totally immersed in a dice game which I later found out after a little research, is a staple at Wisconsin Bars – “Shake of the Day.”  No, it’s not an ice cream drink, but a fun opportunity to slam a cup with five dice down on the bar and take a chance on either winning a free drink or having to buy the entire bar a drink.  The following description is apt:

Who buys the drinks in Shake of the Day?

“This game can get pricey. The loser has to buy a round of shots for everyone playing, and if any player gets five aces, they’re buying a round for the bar. Them’s the rules…

..Of course, the rules tend to shift slightly from bar to bar. But one thing remains consistent — when the bartender loses, the bar buys all. It’s a big part of why people play; the odds of scoring a free drink are pretty high.” (On Milwaukee.com 2/12/09 by Julie Lawrence)  

Dive bar ambiance…

About the only complaints about AC Tap was that it was cash only, but get a clue.  If you cannot afford to throw down a twenty for several $2 PBRs (they have five beers on tap) and your dinner plus a nice tip for the bartender, you shouldn’t be frequenting dive bars.

By the way, the guys from Illinois, who had been there for quite awhile, left and said to the bartender, “We’ll be back in 90 minutes.  Keep the tab open.”   She did without hesitation.    We will definitely be back to AC Tap the next time we are in Door County – and for sure on a Wednesday night when we can taste what our bartender described as the owners personal  sauce he cooks for spaghetti night:  “Thick, spicey meat sauce with mushrooms.”

And the staff and owners are very nice people.

Coyote Road HouseI loved the name of this watering hole on the shore of Kangaroo Lake on County Road E. a few miles outside Baily’s Harbor.   (We should have asked how the lake got its name….)  It was another quaint building and more of a neighborhood-type establishment than a dive bar:

 “We offer one of those everybody-knows-your-name atmospheres. Friendly service and tasty twists on traditional fare will win you over inside. 

We offer over 30 different bottled beer and about 10 on tap, from Guinness to Fat Tire, and a martini is not an unusual order here. If you like onion rings, check out our ‘heaping loaf’ of thin, delicately french-fried strands that practically melt in your mouth.” 

Outstanding and plentiful onion rings

Their claim on the onion rings is accurate and unfortunately, we did not get a chance to taste their specialty – the Kanga Reuben, which has corned beef cooked for six hours and the following mouth-watering ingredients:

2 Slices of Dark Pumpernickel Rye Bread,

2 to 4 Slices of Swiss cheese,

4 oz. of 1/8 inch Cut Slices of Corned Beef,

2 oz. of Sauerkraut,

1 oz. of Thousand Island Dressing.

And I celebrated our visit with a rare Hamms on tap while Janet and Pam had a Summer Shandy from Jacob Leinenkugal Brewing.  The Coyote has a great patio adjacent to the lake with a volleyball court and would be a great place to hang out any afternoon. 

The view from the patio

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornerstone Pubour final venue in Door County was this neighborhood-type bar right in the heart of Bailey’s Harbor on the shore of Lake Michigan, which also gave Janet a chance to dunk her feet in this famous body of water for the first time. 

The Cornerstone in Baileys Harbor

A nice selection of beer included Spotted Cow a cloudy farmhouse ale from New Glarus Brewing which is only sold in Wisconsin according to Matt our bartender – a nice guy.   Reviews of this place are good as typified by this 2/27/17 Yelp submission:

“The Cornerstone is solid as a rock.  Happy folks serving really good quality pub fare. Clean and cozy. Partial views of Lake Michigan – outdoor summer seating. Locals and visitors love it. Can’t go wrong.”

And while you are in Door County, you have to experience a fish fry, for which almost every bar or restaurant takes pride and asserts that theirs is the best.   People liked the Cornerstone’s:

Matt talks about Spotted Cow beer

“Perch on the porch – look at Lake Michigan.” – “Man oh man… tonight I had the Whitefish Basket and it was great.  I never saw so much of the fish I love on one order.” 

“There were several fish fry options to choose from, including perch, haddock, whitefish, shrimp, or the Door County Fry which include a piece of perch, haddock, and whitefish…..The fish was all cooked perfectly and appropriately seasoned. “  

And by the way, you should also add fried cheese curds to your list of consumables – maybe not the same night as the fish fry, but while you’re in the Badger State.

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

The next day it was a hike in Peninsula State Park to work off the beer and onion rings – a nice jaunt through wooded splendor, a stop at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and then a meal at the “famous”  Al Jonhson’s Swedish Restaurant in downtown Sister Bay, which was okay but when we return will be far behind AC Tap on our preferred list.

As we were walking down the main street of Sister Bay to the restaurant, we turned a corner and there was former Portland Trailblazer, Joe Pryzbylla and his wife walking by.  Pam is a season ticket holder and Blazer Ambassador and she and I immediately recognized him (hard to miss at 7 feet one inch).   She said “Hi” and thanked him for being the enforcer during his seven seasons with the Blazers.

Former Portland Trailblazer, Joe Pryzbylla

The one thing that was interesting about Earl Anderson’s  was their sod roof, which had a goat chomping on it.  (There was an explanation of how they get the creatures up there in the restaurant.)

Cheap labor for lawn maintenance at Al Johnson’s

Our week in Door County was superb and we headed back for a final night in Milwaukee before returned to O’Hare for the flight home.  Next up –“Beerchasing in Wisconsin – Part III.”

Americana at its best…