“There are so few of these elusive establishments, the everyday-worthy ones that time and time again just hit the spot with reliable food and atmosphere. I suppose you could find that at a super $$$ place with staff wearing coattails if you’re the 1%, but this is real life, and I don’t know how to use silverware properly.
Produce Row is one of my special oases of goodness in a world full of soggy fries and loud bars with sports on TV. I had only been to the Row about 3 times in the year before it was shut down so abruptly, to my dismay.” (Yelp 8/21/15)
The Mock Crest Tavern, the White Eagle Saloon, Kelly’s Olympian and the Lutz, to name a few, are joined by the original Produce Row Café down in the Industrial District on Portland’s East Side. (See the links above for prior Beerchaser reviews on these bars.)
It opened in 1974 and according to a 9/2/14 Oregon Live article “One of the first owned by Mike McMenamin (yes, that McMenamin) – one of Portland’s first bars devoted to ‘good’ beer — i.e. quality imports and craft beer.” Produce Row was sold by the McMenamins to the bar’s employees in 1978 because the McMenamins could not brew beer at that location.
Alan Davis, who now owns the Multnomah Whiskey Bar, purchased and remodeled the café in 2008. He closed it suddenly in the fall of 2014 only for the bar to be resurrected in 2015 by Josh Johnston and James Hall, the owner of Paddy’s Bar and Grill and several other Portland bars. Produce Row Café is now thriving and a bar worth visiting.
While we were dating in the late 1970’s, my wife and I used to hit the original establishment for a good draft beer and buy a few of the many bottled beers they sold, followed by a stop at Corno’s Market to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables.
The Produce Row District served farmers and industry well because it was accessible both by truck and the Willamette River besides having economical real estate.
Now, a resurrected Produce Row Café (see details below) joins other popular eateries such as Olympic Provisions, Bunk Bar and Clark Lewis, to name just a few, in an Urban Renewal District formed in 2012.
The area is now:
“….home to a vibrant mix of more than 1,100 creative and industrial businesses, spanning such industries as athletic and outdoor, software, clean tech, advanced manufacturing, design, professional services, and food and beverage…….
‘More than any other neighborhood in Portland, Produce Row embodies a mindset of resourcefulness, creativity, and, above all, visionary innovation that inspires business growth,’ said (former) Portland Mayor Sam Adams. ” (Portland Development Commission newsletter 3/2/12)
What has become a walking group of Beerchaser Regulars (David and Kate Dickson, Roy Lambert and his spouse, Mary Maxwell and Dave and Nita McAdams) had drinks and dinner at Produce Row after a stimulating several mile walk.
Starting at the east side of the Tilikum Crossing Bridge, we walked through Tom McCall Waterfront Park and across the Steel Bridge. Then south along the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade before our final destination – Produce Row Café. The scenery reaffirmed how scenic Portland can be.
We ordered off a reasonably priced menu and all of us were pleased with our selections of appetizers (a plus for the fried Cauliflower, salads (the Chicken and Apple got an A+), sandwiches (the Row Burger) and entrees which included outstanding Beer Cheese Mac and Meat Loaf.
The draft beer selection was robust with 23 beers and 2 ciders on tap.
A bonus was a conversation with Produce Row’s Manager, Marcus Chase, a product of Pleasant Hill High School, whose parents farmed hazel nuts in the same area in Washington County as Dave and Nita, both of whom have other careers (Dave, a tax attorney and Nita, an educator).
The patio in the rear part of the bar has not changed much. It is spacious and was filled with patrons: “The back patio, a snug oasis of sunshine and wood tables hidden amidst neighborhood warehouses and train tracks, was among the city’s best.” Oregon Live 9/2/14
One of the most enjoyable parts of Thebeerchaser Tour, initiated in 2011, is the stimulating people I have met in every bar ranging from the regulars, the bartenders and the managers. This was reaffirmed when I returned to the bar and had an extended conversation with Marcus, who was joined by Nick Guest, the Bar Manager, who came to Produce Row in April, 2015.
Both were very knowledgeable about beer. Marcus started his journey while being “hungry for knowledge” and living in Australia.
When asked about those who made social media comments about yearning for the original Produce Row, he responded that they want to hold on to the nostalgia but add energy through good food, creativity in their beer selection and an atmosphere that makes people want to return. Nick stated, “Our goal is to stay relevant in Portland’s burgeoning beer culture.”
The Beer and Whiskey Pairings are a good example. A concept initiated by Alan Davis that Marcus expanded and refined when he came to the bar. “The beer and whiskey are chosen to complement each other.”
The eight pairings are interesting and diverse ranging from $8 (“The Departed” – Guinness Stout and Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey) to $19 (“Werewolves and Vampires” – Silver Moon Voodoo Dog ISR and Blood Oath Whiskey – a blend of three (6 yr old wheat whiskey, 7yr old rye and 12 yr old rye).
It appears that Marcus and Nick are succeeding based on my two visits which generated the same reaction as this review Yelp review on 6/18/15:
“Traveled from the east coast and met a local couple here for dinner recently. Very eclectic atmosphere. Great staff, very helpful and friendly. Each of us had something different, and no one was disappointed. Great stop in a really nice town.”
And if you visit Produce Row or one of the other good eateries or bars in the Produce Row Industrial District, consider exploring the Esplanade and learning more about this vibrant area of the Portland landscape:
“More recently, that combination of access and affordability has attracted the city’s savviest entrepreneurs and forward-thinking creative professionals. These businesses have benefited from Produce Row’s adaptable urban landscape, potential for repurposing buildings, and proximity to the scenic views of the Willamette River from the Eastbank Esplanade.”
And as an aside, having two tax lawyers (Dave and Roy – now retired) added to the conversation on the hike. I am now well-versed in the nuances of the Trade Priorities and Accountability Act as well as the IRS repair regulations project for the widely discussed and closely related Modified Accelerated Cost Recovery System. Both made me thirsty!