As was the case with The Tugboat Brewery, (reviewed in March, 2013), Thebeerchaser was embarrassed that he worked downtown – right on the Portland Transit Mall for many years and had never visited – or even known about Bailey’s Tap Room. For five straight years, it has made Draft Magazine’s Top 100 USA Beer Bars. It even got special recognition in the preface to the list with the following quote:
“We want you to go to Bailey’s Taproom in Portland, Ore., which cares so much about beer freshness, the digital menu says when each keg was tapped and how much is left. We want you to go to all 100 of these places, because they really are a cut above the rest.” (Actually, part of this statement is incorrect – the digital display shows how much of the keg is left, but does not give the date it was tapped, although it does have the designation, “Just Tapped” for a few selections. )
Accompanying me were Oregon appellate lawyer, Jack Faust, – who before retiring, made it on a number of list for many years – that of Oregon’s and America’s best lawyers. Jack, who was also the award-winning moderator of KATU’s Town Hall program, was joined by his son, Charlie.
Bailey’s has also made Willamette Week’s Annual Bar Guide, featuring the paper’s favorite Portland bars every year since its opening in 2007, but let’s examine the rationale for Bailey’s – BEER!!! (not that there’s anything wrong with that….)
The twenty-four rotating taps of West-coast beers – according to Scott, the friendly and knowledgeable bartender – they tap about five new ones each day – are an eclectic and impressive list supplemented by spotless showcases featuring over fifty bottled beers from all over the USA.
But the title of 100 Best Beer Bars begs the question, “How come?” The Beerchaser Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs is not primarily about the beer. It’s about the ambiance and distinguishing characteristics that make you want to return to an establishment with your friend(s).
And that’s lacking at Bailey’s as evidenced by the following excerpts from the Willamette Week guide:
2009 – “What it lacks in atmosphere (white walls, bright lights and sparse decorations give off the vibe of an operating room) Bailey’s makes up in suds.”
2012 – “Simplicity is the name of the game at this busy downtown beer bar. No liquor, no wine, no food, no games – just 20 taps of craft beers and a dozen tables filled with mostly male computer programmers, loan officers and other assorted cubicle drones.”
2014 – “Really, the people are the only problem at Baileys. First, there are always far too many of them crammed into the SW Broadway space, bird-dogging tables even when somebody just gets up to go the restroom.”
Now it’s certainly true, that we had an excellent sampling of esoteric beers – and it helps that they have both large and small glasses (4 ounces) for a number of brews, so you can get a good sampling and maintain your equilibrium and your wallet.
And Scott and Janelle, the bartenders, were extremely helpful and patient in explaining each one – but the overall atmosphere was more like that of a cafeteria (without the food…) than a bar or pub.
Between the four ounce glasses and sharing some pints, we tasted the following beers:
Green Flash White IPA (Belgian) Oakshire Overcast Espresso Stout
Ninkasi Critical Hit Kermit the Hop IPA Stillwater French Farm Ale
Heater Allen Pilsner (McMinnville) Ballast Point Navigator Doppelbock
New Belgian Gruitt (horehound, bog myrtlle, yarrow, wormwood and elderflower)
All of them were great except the Espresso Stout, which would have been better at Starbucks.
Fortunately, Charlie Faust had the foresight to bring some pretzels we could munch on and a number of reviews talk favorably about Santeria, the Mexican restaurant across the street that will deliver orders to go to the bar, and evidently has great food.
The lack of atmosphere and food means you focus the conversation on the beer and your compatriots – that’s not a bad thing given the background of the Fausts:
For example, I learned that Charlie, after graduation from U of O, traveled for a year in Europe and SE Asia, then worked as a staffer for Senator Bob Packwood. That prepared him to weather the storms when he worked for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and had the experience of being on the crew in a NOAA hurricane research plane during Gloria in 1985 – peak winds of 155 mph.
And drinking beer with Jack Faust, means chatting with a very interesting and intelligent guy – after all, for years he had a hobby of brewing beer in his garage. (once brewed a raspberry ale that was the color of sweat…)
He graduated first in his class at U of O Law School, was editor of the Law Review and still stimulates conversation with queries such as, “When will all the rhetorical questions end…?”
I shifted the conversation to past cases before the Oregon Court of Appeals and Supreme Court after he told me that he would have to kill me if I asked any more questions about his service as a Special Agent in the Far East Command of the Army Counterintelligence Corps during the Korean War.
I will have to admit, however, that Charlie and I were both fascinated by his recounting the details of his arguments in the 1986 Oregon Supreme case Oregon Republican Party v. State of Oregon. Did the Party violate the Oregon Corrupt Practices Act provision that “[n]o person * * * shall directly or indirectly subject any person to undue influence?”
And finally,Thebeerchaser’s standard practice of visiting each bar reviewed twice, paid off because Scott the bartender, casually mentioned that I should visit “Bailey’s Upper Lip.” My response was to ask whether I needed a secret code word or a note from the bartender, but that wasn’t the case.
And walking part way down Ankeny Street to an inauspicious doorway with only a bottle on the door, and then up a dark, narrow stairway heightened the anticipation of what awaited.
There’s a short bar, a long table for groups, a digital tap list, a bartender, a few high-top tables set on barrels…..”
There were less than ten people, while the Taproom below was very crowded and Luke, the bartender, told me that the group was typical – evidently a lot of people are just not aware of the speakeasy-type addition to the main floor bar. I decided to be bold and had a small glass of Nebraska Brewing’s Sexy Betty Imperial Stout. (Betty was, in fact, hot….)
If you want a to sample a wide variety of draft or bottled beers from all over the world and receive expert guidance and advice from the staff, Bailey’s is your place.
If you want the ambiance of a neighborhood bar with good food and interesting regulars, Thebeerchaser suggests going Off Broadway…..
If you want to view all a map with all the establishments previously reviewed by Thebeerchaser, click the link which states, “View Larger Map” below.