There are a number of classic dive bars in Portland’s noted Barmuda Triangle in southeast Portland. Thebeerchaser has enjoyed a number of these including the Bar of the Gods and Tanker Bar (see posts on 10/3/12 and 4/29/13). It was therefore a nice surprise to discover a relatively new neighborhood bar at 42nd and SE Hawthorne.
The Ranger Station has only been around for a little over two years and its previous incarnations during the last ten years were also bars – Vertigo (closed in 2012) and then the Thorne Lounge.
My first of two visits to the Ranger Station was with San Franciscan, Dave Hicks. “West Coast Dave” gets to Portland regularly on consulting trips and besides being my favorite Princeton graduate, is a Beerchaser regular, having visited the Double Barrel, Sloans’ Tavern and Crackerjacks among others on prior Beerchasing ventures.
The Ranger Station is a quaint a low-key bar, but has some limitations – the primary one being space. “There’s probably at least one snow-bound Alaskan ranger with a larger liquor cabinet than this pub..” (2015 Willamette Week Bar Guide) It’s essentially a one-room rectangle with a small patio area adjoining and this may be one of the reasons that the duration of the prior two bars in this space is comparable to the half-life of a college education.
The room fills up quickly, especially since they have live entertainment most evenings and there are only a limited number of booths and tables.
The weeknight we were there, people were standing in rows between tables waiting for seats to open since the entry area is also pretty small.
Given acoustical and space limitations, it’s almost too small to have live music – the night we were there, a four- piece blue grass group played and in addition to not being overly talented, they eliminated the ability to have any ongoing conversation.
That said, the food at the Ranger Station is a strength – particularly the elk burger ($12), which I devoured and the venison stew ($8) with meat purchased at Nicky USA Farms in Aurora and the Bucker’s Brussels ($7) – deep fried and slow seared with bacon, carmelized onion and a mustard vinaigrette sauce.
I chatted with Colton, an amiable part-time chef, and he expressed pride in the menu and their skill with the grill. Reviews of the food on social media are generally positive including this one from Dude on Yelp last November, which might be a tad over-stated:
“The food here is so good it makes me wanna climb the highest peak and punch the face of God.” Perhaps this guy had too many Campfire Coffees (coffee with Makers Mark bourbon and cream and sugar)!
And the prices are pretty reasonable: for example you can get a happy-hour Ranger Burger for $6.50 or Tacos for $5 and try the chef’s choice of flavored pop-corn for only a buck. Colton emphasized the reliance on local vendors such as Sheridan Fruit, Grand Central Bakery and Newman’s Fish Market.
Another limitation, however, appears to be lack of staffing especially given the bar’s popularity. You order both your drinks and food at the bar and the night we were there the only individual taking orders and making drinks was quite harried and spent a lot of time in the kitchen which created a line waiting to order.
Servers bring the food, but the expectation appears to be that you bus your own dishes after your finish. “There is also a dish bin conveniently located for customers to bus their own tables and a tipping option – before the food is prepared.” (Yelp 6/6/16)
The décor is cool and understated. According to TJ, the bartender I talked to on my second visit and who has worked there since the opening, the owner did all the work on the knotty-pine bar and booths, himself.
There are items such as shovels, axes, lanterns, cross country skis, etc. hanging on the wall to convey a forest-type environment.
“If you somehow woke up inside the Ranger Station, it would be easy to believe you were actually inside a ranger station. The tiny and rustic Hawthorne District bar looks very much like a Roosevelt-era public works cabin, from the picnic-table-style wooden benches to slatted lawn chairs.
Framed topographic maps and acoustic guitars hang from the walls, and a malfunctioning stove hood provides a cool draft from the kitchen. It’s a decidedly simple place.” (2015 Willamette Week Bar Guide)
Hicks raved over the Hug Point (Hornitos tequila, grapefruit and cranberry) one of five cocktails they serve, and on my first visit, I downed a strong Czech Pilsner from Bouy Beer Company in Astoria (6.2 ABV – 35 IBU), one of the seven draft beers and one cider available. My next visit, I attacked a good Hood River beer – a Double Mountain Kolisch (5.2 ABV – 40 IBU)
And perhaps I digress, but as long as the subject is ranger stations and a forest-type environment, it provides an opportunity to praise an absolutely marvelous book by New York Times columnist and author, Timothy Egan – The Big Burn – which weaves a fascinating narrative on two topics:
- Teddy Roosevelt’s and Gifford Pinchot’s efforts to fight the robber barons of the timber and mining companies and the railroads to preserve the public lands as a national treasure for every citizen.
- The fire which started in August 20, 1910 that moved through the parched forests of Oregon, Idaho and Montana in a raging inferno, killing many and devouring towns:
“Forest rangers had assembled nearly 10,000 men – college boys, day-workers, immigrants from the mining camps – to fight the fire. But no living person had seen anything like those flames, and neither the rangers or anyone else knew how to subdue them……
….The Big Burn saved the forests even as it destroyed them: the heroism shown by the rangers turned public opinion permanently in their favor and became the creation myth that droved the Forest Service….”
And since I opened the door with a small side trip about Tim Egan’s book, to give you another sample of his colorful writing, check out his New York Times opinion piece on 6/9/16 entitled, “Lord of Lies.” While Thebeerchaser does not usually venture into the political realm, this one is too relevant and noteworthy to ignore:
I no more expect CNN to set Wolf Blitzer’s beard on fire than to instantly call out the Mount Everest of liars. Trump lies about big things (there is no drought in California) and small things (his hair spray could not affect the ozone layer because it’s sealed within Trump Tower). He lies about himself, and the fake self he invented to talk about himself. He’s been shown to lie more than 70 times in a single event.
Professional truth-seekers have never seen anything like Trump, surely the most compulsive liar to seek high office. To date, the nonpartisan PolitiFact has rated 76 percent of his statements lies — 57 percent false or mostly false, and another 19 percent ‘Pants on Fire’ fabrications. Only 2 percent — 2 percent! — of his assertions were rated true, and another 6 percent mostly true. Hillary Clinton, who is not exactly known for fealty to the facts, had a 28 percent total lie score including a mere 1 percent Pants on Fire.
But back to the Ranger Station bar……..
There are a slew of good bars in the Barmuda Triangle – sometimes known as the Stumble Zone in southeast Portland.
While the Ranger Station space has limitations which may ultimately have led to the demise of its forerunners, it still has a good vibe and some loyal regulars who enjoy the music and the opportunity to have a drink and some good food close to home.
But you may want to get there early, so you can then move on to some other watering holes that are more expansive in both their space and their vision.
Of course, if the owners have a strong perspective and want to promote their venture, they would be smart to negotiate with the owner of the adjacent space which is even connected to the Ranger Station by a hallway – they also use common restrooms.
While some of the neighbors in the area might not want to lose the Fat Straw, (coffee, bubble tea and sandwiches), it could provide the room for the Ranger Station to adequately fit the bands, bar regulars and even some mountain men from the forest that might amble in searching for a good mug!
The Ranger Station 4260 SE Hawthorne
The “not overly talented band” mentioned in the article happen’s to be Portland’s own Wooden Sleepers. Check them out on http://www.woodensleepersband.com. They regularly pack the Ranger Station with friends and regulars during their shows and it’s always a good time.
If you’re going to call out a band for “not being overly talented” at least take a moment to look up who they are. Wooden Sleepers is a Portland folk and bluegrass band and you can find them over at http://www.woodensleeperband.com. They are regulars at The Ranger Station and make the most of the space “too small to have live music” by bringing great energy and connecting with the audience. Stop by for another show sometime.
I appreciate the comment and will try to get another show – perhaps at Laurelthirst or another venue where the space and the acoustics are more accommodating. I will certainly admit that I did not really listen to their music and since I had not seen my colleague from San Francisco in some time, I was somewhat miffed that I could not converse with him. Thanks for the comment Phil.
You’re right – on show nights at the Ranger Station it can be hard to have a long conversation with someone, but that can be the nature of live music at a small venue. Listen to the tunes next time and you might even enjoy them. Speaking of LaurelThirst (agreed, great venue), you can catch Wooden Sleepers with Rory Van James (Seattle) there on Saturday, Oct 28th 2017. Not to be missed!
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