The Bars in Portland
Measuring Up Against a Standard
My retirement hobby – Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs started in August 2011. The original intent was to restrict my visits and review of watering holes to Portland venues (after all, there are over 750 establishments and more breweries per capita than any other city in the world) but retirement travel opened new options.
The hobby is successful, in part, because of my wonderful and supportive spouse, Janet, especially when we have traveled. Posts on Thebeerchaser include saloons in Europe, Alaska and Hawaii and many other states within the Continental US and, of course, some great bars in Central and Eastern Oregon plus those on the Oregon Coast.
After five years, the count of Portland bars is 78 and those outside of Portland number 97 for a grand total of 175.
The annual Willamette Week Bar Guide has been an invaluable resource and to demonstrate the potential future grist for this blog, I have compared the Portland venues in the 2016 WW Bar Guide to those I have reviewed in the last five years. Keep in mind that each review requires at least two visits in addition to my on-line research before the blog posts (150 to this point) are published.
The 2016 Bar Guide has brief descriptions of the reporters’ 167 favorite Portland bars. I adjusted downward to eliminate strip clubs, wine and cider bars, and restaurants that have bars such as Higgins – none of which I include when I select bars (exceptions were made for two of the McMenamin establishments with historic bars – the White Eagle Saloon and the St. John’s Pub and the memorable Buffalo Gap Saloon) Thus, the 2016 net figure of potential Beerchaser options in the Bar Guide was 135.
Of the 78 Portland area bars I have reviewed, there are very few I did not like or wouldn’t recommend e.g. The Yardhouse in Pioneer Place (for a host of reasons, it didn’t ‘measure up….”) and the Pearl District’s Low Brow Lounge, which had a surly staff. Yet only 57.7% of my bars made the Willamette Week list.
Perhaps I need to accelerate my visits in the second five years. It is obvious that there are still plenty of opportunities for Beerchasing without return visits to those seen from 2011 to 2016!
To see the list of bars featured both in Portland and outside the Rose City, check out the tab entitled “List of Bars” in the header at the top of this page. There is one post for bars outside of Portland and another for those in the Portland metro area.
Are Dive Bars Disappearing?
In an April 15, 2016 article in the Seattle Times, reporter, Bob Young, asserts: “Seattle’s dive bars are becoming an endangered species.” He justifies his premise by citing the fact that, “Thirty-one of the 100 in Mike Seely’s ‘Seattle’s Best Dive Bars’ have shuttered since the book’s 2009 publication.”
Some have expressed the same sentiment about Portland. For example, a December 2014 article in Willamette Week entitled, “Closing Time” with a subheading, “2014 Was Barmageddon in Portland.” The article maintained that the closing of the historic bars such as Slab Town, Tiga, the Matador and others is the “canary in the coal mine.” It quoted one bartender as stating, “Every good bar, everything you see is going under. Everything is going straight to shi%#.”
The Portland Mercury also did an article on March 9, 2016 entitled “The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society.” on the same theme and summarized brilliantly with this excerpt:
“Portland’s lost a bunch of dive bars recently. A few were absolute shitholes that deserved to disappear, but most were victims of circumstance and change. A number of other bars have changed ownership and been fancied up to suit the modern market. Dive bars, if not endangered, are at the very least under threat.”
The article lists thirty-eight bar 2014 closures including institutions such as Slab Town, the Grand Café (Frank Peters’ former establishment), the East Bank Saloon, Tiga, Pal’s Shanty and the Matador. Although it was more of a restaurant than a bar, the picture below shows what is left of the long-term establishment the Macadam Bar and Grill which closed last year and was razed last week.
(I mention this one only because it used to be a Mazzi’s Restaurant and my wife and I went there for our first dinner date in 1979!)
However, I would suggest that the concern is not as dire as it appears. In Portland, we are fortunate to have entrepreneur’s such as Marcus Archambault and Warren Boothby who have totally renovated the historic Sandy Hut (or Handy Slut if you are a regular) and the Double Barrel.
There was concern that the wonderful Skyline Tavern would be razed and replaced by condos, but fortunately the owner invested additional capital and it was Willamette Week’s 2016 Bar of the Year.
Produce Row closed for about a year, but reopened and is thriving in the Eastside Industrial District. Joe’s Cellar, one of my favorite NW dive bars, closed and like the proverbial Phoenix, rose again the next year and is pumping out draft PBRs like there is no tomorrow. Both the Grand Café and Eastbank Saloon reopened as new bars (Pour Sports and the Bit House Saloon, respectively.)
But consider the recent loss of the venerable New Copper Penny in Lents, which after many years is closing as part of the Portland Development Commission’s ambitious goal to make Lents into a thriving mixed-use community.
What can you do? Continue to patronize the many establishments which are truly bars and avoid the “fashionable” trend to get a beer at Starbucks or retail establishments ranging from ski shops to bicycle stores which put in a tap or two and attempt to reinvent themselves as a watering hole —-They’re Not!
Similarly, if you fly on one of the airlines now offering microbrews such as Virgin America (San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery) Delta (Sam Adams) or Southwest (New Belgium’s Fat Tire) and have a beer, you don’t have to tell your spouse that you stopped at a bar on your way home.
That said, don’t make the mistake of one Luke Thomas Watts (27) who on an Alaska Airlines flight from Sacramento to Seattle, locked himself in the bathroom and threatened to become violent if the flight attendants did not serve him a beer. The plane landed in Portland and Luke was removed. He was indicted and went to trial in July!) http://koin.com/2016/05/11/feds-man-locks-himself-in-airplane-bathroom-after-he-wasnt-served-alcohol/
These Brews Made the Cut….
While this blog, notwithstanding the name, is primarily about bars rather than trying to articulate the subtle taste differences between the hundreds of IPAs or analyze how hoppy a microbrew with an IBU (international bittering unit) of 60 is compared to a similar beer ten units lower, I do periodically mention beers.
My youngest daughter, Laura, and her fiancé’, Ryan Keene, are tying the knot on September 17th at Vista Hills Winery, right outside of Dundee. (My suggestion that the reception be held at one of my favorite Dundee dives – Lumpy’s Landing – was understandably rejected.)
While Vista Hills has wonderful wine, there will be a few canned beers available and some family members recently got together for dinner and a blind tasting test to determine which brews would be offered during that celebration. We tasted about ten beers that night and the following made the cut:
There will also be one cider – that being Portland Cider Co.’s “Hop’rageous.”
I told Ryan that his favorite professor at the University of Portland (where both of them graduated), Dr. Sam Holloway would be pleased since he sits on the Board of Eugene’s Oakshire Brewery. Sam is also an internationally known expert on the business of brewing as documented when he was named Beerchaser of the Quarter for this blog – see link)
What Would George Washington Think?
Thebeerchaser generally stays away from politics although the 2016 election cycle has made that more difficult. Suffice to say that because of Beerchasing in Europe, at least unlike the Republican Presidential Nominee, I know that Belgium is a country and not “a beautiful city…..“
But regardless of how tiresome the political rhetoric becomes, nothing will irritate me more than the opinion piece in Oregon Live on 2/26/16 written by the Executive Directors of the Oregon Student Association and the Bus Project entitled, “Buying Postage is a Burden for Many Would-be Voters.” (click on link to see the narrative)
Mario Parker-Milligan and Nikki Fisher, in their youthful wisdom and with righteous indignity, assert that voting by mail, “……assumes ample free time and a drawer full of stamps to get that ballot turned in….But there is a real – sometimes prohibitive (emphasis supplied) cost getting to a post office during regular business hours….the last thing you should have to do is sacrifice needed income or time with your children to vote.”
Well Mario and Nikki, Thebeerchaser also doesn’t accept the premise that this situation is tantamount to a poll tax and suggests that rather than having urged the 2016 Oregon Legislature to enact Senate Bill 1586 to provide return postage for your ballots, that you just take your completed ballot and WALK to your nearest library or City Hall where you can return it without charge.
And while you are in the Library, you might want to check out a book (it’s free unless you don’t have time to return it before the due date) and read about the sacrifices that George Washington and his Revolutionary Army made when they were fighting the British from 1775 – 1783. I’m not sure they would have agreed with you on the definition of “burden.”
(It appears that SB 1586 was enacted on 4/4/2016 with an emergency clause, although according to the Secretary of State’s Election Division, the provision for postage was deleted from the final bill.) Since the financial impact was estimated at $1.2 million annually if every registered voter took advantage (would obviously not be the case) that is fortunate. Perhaps these funds can be diverted to civics education in the high schools!
And Finally Since we are Talking About Elections….
Thebeerchaser’s first full-time job in 1974 after naval service was as a clerk in the Clackamas County Elections Department, where we administered and conducted both the Primary and General elections in addition to numerous school and special district elections for bond issues, levies and board-of-director contests.
Although Mario and Nikki would be appalled at how onerous the burden, that was before Vote-by-Mail and each voter, unless they cast an absentee ballot, would vote at one of the approximately 120 polling places throughout the county.
Each location was staffed from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM by four very dedicated and hardworking poll workers and one lead person who collectively reviewed the voter’s eligibility, had them sign the poll book and handed them the appropriate ballot.
They were generally retired ladies who worked for less than minimum wage and these great citizens were also responsible for ballot security since they returned the ballots and supplies to the Data Center in Oregon City after the polls closed.
In reviewing (and recycling based on the mandate by my spouse to “get rid of some of those outdated and unnecessary documents you have in multiple file cabinets in our garage,”) I came across one that also showed how conscientious these ladies were.
The letter below was written by Alta Bluhm, lead poll worker, at Clackamas High School during the Special School District Election on July 27, 1976 and signed by her co-workers: Dora Burnwalt, Priscilla Coffa, Barbara Aldrich and Betty Jo Partridge:
“Opal L. Johnson (not her real name) entered Clackamas High School, became antagonistic toward the board, signed poll book #1409, looked through poll book, received ballot #73, asked how to vote but was told we didn’t give out that information. She hesitated a minute and then tried to leave building with (the) ballot in hand.
Our fourth clerk tried to stop her from taking the ballot from the building. Opal Johnson then attacked her by striking her with her purse and transistor radio. Ballot was retrieved and marked spoiled or void.”
I have a feeling that George Washington and other Founding Fathers would be justifiably proud of these five ladies and perhaps even Mario and Nikki would also share that sentiment….