The beerchaser was drawn to explore Joe’s Cellar because it reminded him of a similarly named Portland pub – Don’s Dugout – a source of comfort and beer while attending graduate school at Portland State in the early ’70’s. Davy Jones, lead singer for the Monkees, observed a decade earlier, “You can (have me sing) in the basement or the penthouse; it doesn’t matter to me.” The same can be asserted about drinking beer; however, it made me wonder if Joe’s was, in fact, a subterranean bar.
The entrance appeared to answer this question in the affirmative…..but
although as dark as an underground venue, it was at street level in the northern industrial section of NW 21st Avenue.
Willamette Week in an old Bar Guide stated, “(Joe’s) has a Happy Hour at 7-friggin AM! Supposedly it’s for the industrial types who work the overnight shift, though the characters here look like they’re ready for another type of graveyard.” And at one end of the immense U-shaped bar for my two-hour visit was a very elderly woman on oxygen who came in on a motorized wheelchair and drank Bloody Mary’s the entire time.
In the spacious bar area there are 3 pool tables, 6 flat screen TVs and at least 7 video poker machines. The booths in the bar area showed real signs of wear with a lot of holes in the vinyl covering, some of which were repaired with duct tape. More contemporary was an electronic juke box. Just as one can glean a lot about the character of an individual by viewing the titles in his or her library, the same might be said about the music in a bar. So I pressed the “Top Plays” which showed the following most popular selections:
- “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show (2004)
- “She’s Gone” by Hall and Oates (1976)
- “Reflections of My Life” by Marmalade (1969)
Indeed, “Reflections” came on while we were eating lunch and moved to the # 2 spot on Top Plays, which may have validated W-Week’s premise…
Joe’s also has a small restaurant section, which looks like an old ’50’s malt shop with booths and metal stools at a long counter. The special that day was “Pork Delite” – a pork chop, two eggs, cottage cheese and tomato slices for $7.50 – the label “lite” was questionable. My reuben sandwich was great as were the BLTs by the two friends with me. An added benefit — they serve breakfast all day!
Although definitely a dive bar, I liked Joe’s. W-Week stated, “Joe’s Cellar is a redoubtable institution of old-timer sadness, ” but before we jump to conclusions we should listen to Teddy Roosevelt:
“Some men can live up to their loftiest ideals without ever going higher than a basement.”