The Yard House (hereafter “YH”) in downtown Portland is one of sixty-six establishments (mostly west of the Mississippi) in this national chain. Thebeerchaser’s affinity for dive bars and neighborhood taverns would keep him a distance from this type of bar, but it provided a convenient gathering place for several Beerchaser regulars to hoist a mug, so we gave it a try.
The company included lawyers Jack Faust and Jim Westwood, in addition to local radio icon, Amy Faust and her husband of twenty-four years, Kevin – more about this interesting couple below.
And while YH had an impressive selection of beers, I will not be hitting this or another YH again for the reasons set forth below.
Now when I step into what is usually the dim and cluttered entry to a bar, a quick scan of the environment will reveal some regulars who look interesting, a few alcoves with some old Schlitz or Olympia signs above them to elicit good memories. Also expect either a stuffed animal head or a sign that says something like, “Our beer is colder than your exe’s heart.”
Don’t expect that at the Yard House. As you enter the sterile, corporate-like lobby area, you will be greeted by what one Trip Advisor reviewer aptly described as a “…..snooty, ‘I’m too sexy for this podium host.'”
The host(s) – there were actually three when I entered – probably recent Portland State University Communications majors, aggressively steer you to a table in the massive basement-level space. They don’t want to hear that you just want to sit at the bar or seat yourself.
The large bars are impressive and the overhead tubes trans-porting one of the approximately 100 beers on tap (shown on an illuminated digital display) from the overhead kegs are visually stimulating and kind of cool:
“Our glass-enclosed keg room is the pulse of the operation. Each keg room houses as much as 4,000 gallons of beer kept at an ideal 36-38 degrees, and delivered to our island bar through five miles of individual beer lines stretching overhead. Every draught is fresh and perfectly chilled.”
But the YH has the ambiance of an Applebee’s or a suburban branch of Citibank. In fact, since the YH bars are owned and operated by the Darden Restaurant chain, I should change the named restaurant comparison to The Olive Garden – the chain’s flagship brand!
Perhaps a Yelp reviewer on a visit from Seattle, in an effort to be positive, made my case more succinctly than anyone when he stated, “This place is like Red Robin but an upscale, classier and better version. I really enjoyed this.” Really!!??
Now I will admit that Jason, our server, was a very personable and helpful young man, who knew the beer list well even though he had only worked there two months. He suggested a Six-Pack Sampler with six different beers which was great – although we traded in the Anderson Valley Wild Turkey Bourban Barrel Stout for a second sample of the excellent Fort George 1811 Lager from Astoria. I had a pint of the Green Flash West Coast IPA – a very nice beer.
One of the distinguishing highlights at the YH is the option to buy a half-yard of beer – delivered in a very tall and impressive glass (see the picture below). And you can see why the recipients of that mug are smiling……
It was no surprise to us that Jim Westwood volunteered to be our half-yard participant. You may remember from prior posts on this blog that both Westwood and Faust are past Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter. (see posts of 3/28/13 and 9/2/14)
Westwood was the captain of the legendary Portland State College team that captured the hearts of the nation when it went undefeated in the 1964-65 GE College Bowl television quiz in what NBC producers labeled as, “the most outstanding team performance in College Bowl history.”
He’s so smart that he converted the half-yard height of the mug into the metric system while taking the first gulp – 42.75 centimeters…!
Despite the somewhat sterile atmosphere, one does have to applaud the variety of not only beers (over 100 drafts in nine broad categories ranging from “hoppy/floral” to “strong/spiced”) at the YH, but they also have an impressive list of cocktails (21), house martinis (10) and even five different sake drinks for those who are adventurous. (Try the Snow Maiden which is tozai, junmai and nigori.)
We drank rather than ate at the YH. Given the Dresden Inc. ownership of the Olive Garden along with the YH, I expected to see a menu which included unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks, but the YH does appear to offer a good selection of edibles ranging from appetizers, soups and salads to steaks, burgers and ribs to seafood and deserts.
The tacos drew good comments in the reviews such as this one on Trip Advisor in November, 2014:
“(the taco was amazing…..with rice and beans on the side and the rice is the best Mexican rice I have had in a long time. It’s spicy, but not what I expected from a bar food joint. They also had a long list of desserts, I think we tried most of them. Very tasty.”
Drinking beer while hearing Westwood and Jack Faust debate the implications of the 1783 Treaty of Paris (negotiated by John Adams, John Jay and Benjamin Franklin in which the British agreed that the thirteen US Colonies were free, sovereign, and independent states) was stimulating.
And it grew more animated when they theorized that these statesman could have achieved more favorable terms than Secretary of State, John Kerry, in his negotiations with Mohammad Javad Zarif in the US/Iran Nuclear Deal of 2016.
However, I was more interested in chatting with Amy and her spouse, since this was Kevin’s first Beerchasing adventure. Amy is the female half of the popular Mike and Amy Show on KWJJ – The Wolf (see Beerchaser post on 8/14/2015). Kevin is a fascinating and transplanted East Coaster who met Amy when they were living in New York.
August will see their 24th wedding anniversary after they originally met in Brooklyn at a party in a loft in what was once an Ex Lax factory. As Amy recalls, “It was called the Ex Lax building and things have been going smoothly ever since……”
Kevin taught architecture in Ireland after teaching on Long Island and worked for architects in NYC and in Dublin as well. He graduated from Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, established in New York City in 1859 and which is among the nation’s oldest and most distinguished institutions of higher education.
At his graduation, our fellow Beerchaser gave the valedictory speech from the same stage on which Abe Lincoln delivered what has become known as his “right makes might” address” in 1859.
And there is a connection with Westwood, who is also a long-time coach of the former National Championship, Grant High School Constitution Team. Kevin and Amy’s daughter, Alice, was selected for the team and will participate in the competition this coming year.
Notwithstanding my outstanding drinking companions, the aseptic ambiance of the YH was as pervasive and cloying as Jan in the Toyota commercials. It made Thebeerchaser yearn for a dive or neighborhood bar environment.
For example, the YH highlights its art collection:
“The stunning, original art featured on our walls is a major contributor to the very special vibe of every Yard House. The Yard House Original Art Gallery Collection has been created by artist Jerome Gastaldi.
Each piece is uniquely handcrafted to reflect the regional environment, the energy within the Yard House restaurants, and the core values of the company.”
Now, while neither the wonderful Nest Tavern in SE Portland nor the Low Brow Lounge in the Pearl have famous artists on retainer, their “works” reflect an underlying character and personality that will keep yours truly seeking this type of establishment on Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars, Pubs and Taverns.
So while the ambiance of the Yard House was like being buried three-feet under, you might check it out the YH for its beers or cocktails if you want a convenient place in downtown Portland. But I would harken back to the Sandy Hut, the Ship Tavern or Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage or another dive bar for a fulfilling experience. (All reviewed on Thebeerchaser.com)
While these classic bars don’t have a “glass-enclosed keg room that keeps the beer at an ideal 36-38 degrees,” you can get an ice-cold draft $2.50 PBR to die for!