My first step inside John’s Marketplace – a Multnomah Village institution took me back to youthful days and the old hobby shops. One would step inside and see Lionel Trains, baseball cards, model airplanes and every conceivable diversion a young kid could imagine. Or perhaps a better analogy by one reviewer on Facebook: “This place makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.”
And this deli/market/bar/beer shop and seller of wines is similar. At the Deli, try an excellent “Killer Turkey” sandwich or their $2.99 Single Deluxe Burger (yeah, that price is correct and the Double Deluxe with Bacon is only $5.39). Kids can also get a grilled-cheese sandwich.
Or you can go a few aisles over and get a frozen pizza or a dozen eggs or candy bars, a broom and dust pan or a Portland Timber’s extra-large sweatshirt.
Of course, Thebeerchaser was primarily attracted by the beer. While there is no irrefutable statistic, there were multiple comments on social media – many by beer geeks – that John’s is the bottle shop in Oregon with the largest inventory of bottled and canned beer and cider — an estimated combined total of approximately 6,000.
Reviewing the inventory of beer labels reminded me of the Saturday Night Live skit where a guy would go into a hardware store and ask for a “left-handed flange adherence tool.” The clerk would immediately state, “That’s aisle 2D on the third shelf on the right.”
“Take the first aisle and then go left where the shark with the beer bottle in his mouth sticking his head through the inner tube is hanging down.
Then continue until you see the Schneider Weisse banner. It’s on the lower right shelf. If you hit the Budweiser poster with the girl in the bikini, you’ve gone too far…..”
Some people might think this kind of dive-bar brick-a-brick is tacky. Paul states, “We try to assault your senses. Be cool and everything will be okay.”
For example, while walking up the beer aisles – arranged geographically – you could pull the Instinctive Travels – a straw-hued saison, from nearby Wolves and People Farmhouse Brewery in Newberg.
Or take a global perspective and pick up a six-pack of Skull Splitter from England’s Orkney Brewing. (This one almost begs for more research as the name and logo seem a little incongruent with the description.
Skull Splitter is one of their strongest beers named after a Viking, but described as: “A (beer with a) rich fruity wine-like complexity on the palate…….warm exotic spice…. Sophisticated, satiny smooth with a deceptively light character.” (Emphasis supplied).
Then again, you might just want to go long but stay within the confines of the US, which might make Pennsylvania’s Victory Brewing’s Golden Monkey a good option to take home and luxuriate while drinking a bottle of this beer (“Banana, clove, isoamyl”). I said “take home” because it has an ABV of 9.5%.
I could go on about the beer, but before I tell you about the deli and the wine, a little about Paul Petros and his brother, Rob. (Rob was on a trip to Mexico, so I didn’t get to meet him.) They started managing for owner, Dave Percival with eventual plans to become co-owners.
Paul is a charismatic guy with a history and interest in beer. He went to high school in Medford where he was an “aggressive” offensive lineman on the St. Mary’s of Medford Single A football team.
St. Mary’s is a 153 year-old independent, co-ed, college prep school, now with slightly over 400 students and 70% of them participate in athletics. (The 2017 football team – now 3A) had a good record, but missed the State playoffs when they were thrashed 70 to 14 by eventual State Champion and Medford cross-town rival Cascade Christian.
He graduated from the University of Portland and worked in landscaping and then the grocery business – Zupan’s on Burnside and Fred Meyer. Beer came into the picture in the early ’90’s when he started work at Columbia Distributing.
He spent fourteen years at Columbia, the last half of which was with their Specialty Beer Team and John’s Marketplace was his primary account.
“I’m a beer nerd. Beer is personal to me,” stated Paul who is a Certified Cicerone – solid evidence. It requires paying the fee and passing a four-hour exam including written, tasting, and demonstration portions.
John’s has a very popular and reasonably priced Kegs-2-Go program, where you can order on-line from an extensive list (400 beers on 21 pages ) but don’t do crowlers or growlers because Paul feels that every time you change the environment or beer container, it degrades the product.
It’s easy to see why Paul says of his job, “I love being here.” On my two visits, he received ongoing inquires from his eleven employees about merchandise, but spent a lot of his time mingling with customers – primarily in the Deli area.
And observing the deli and small beer bar, is like viewing a community meeting place. There were high-school kids eating burgers at a table next to a road crew scarfing down Killer Turkeys and the $6.00 Dirty Cheesesteak Sandwich.
A couple of people were seated at the adjacent bar downing one of the eight $5 drafts which to my delight, included Pliny the Elder and Corvallis brewer, Block 15’s Cosmic Cold Brew Maple Cream.
And I was kind of curious about one guy who sat at the bar eating lunch and then lingering over his beer . He was in work clothes and absorbed in a book that had an interesting cover.
I got curious and edged over so I could see the title. It was Sir Harry Hotspur of Humblethwaite by Anthony Trollope. Subsequent research (usually required by any visit to one of my bars or breweries…) revealed that Trollope was an English novelist of the Victorian Era.
The book according to one literature website is an “Incisive, unconventional psychological study of a conflict between a wealthy baronet, his idealistic daughter and their scapegrace cousin. A compelling story that discloses how an individual destiny is as unpredictable as life itself.”
And more fascinating is its main character, the indomitable Sir Harry, who according to my trusty Wikipedia reference is based on Sir Harry Percy a fourteenth century “……English nobleman. He was a significant captain during the Anglo-Scottish Wars. He later led successive rebellions against Henry the IV of England.
Not to dwell, but my research gave some insight on why the guy was so engrossed in the book. You see Percy was slain at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403:
“When rumors circulated that Percy was still alive, the king ‘had the corpse exhumed and displayed it’……That done, the king dispatched Percy’s head to York, where it was impaled on Micklegate Bar, whereas his four quarters were sent to…his widow. (She buried him and he was posthumously declared a traitor and his lands forfeited to the crown.)”
Neither Hemingway’s protagonist, Jake Barnes or Steinbeck’s, Tom Joad, had such an ignominious end and it may explain why the guy was drinking a bottle of Ninkasi Total Domination.
Now even though this blog is more about the character of the bar than focusing on beer, we digress. John’s also has an excellent selection of ciders, but also about 1,300 wine labels, managed by Dave Kaplan.
Dave has been in the wine business for just shy of forty years as a sommelier, bartender and in retail and wholesale. He has a great philosophy on wine which my wife, Janet, found out talking to him for twenty minutes before she bought two bottles of wine.
Dave states, “No matter how many wine publications people read, nothing is better than tasting it yourself. Let your taste buds do the talking. Don’t think you won’t like a wine because of its label or words you don’t understand. My goal is to find a wine you don’t think you like and you’re surprised how good it is.”
And you have your chance to find this out every Friday from 5:00 until 7:00 and most Saturdays when they have two wine tastings from 2:00 to 5:00 for a $5 fee. The one this week was on Friday and featured six different labels. They also have beer tastings on most Fridays, the next one featuring Old Town Brewing and Boulevard Brewing.
How does he manage an inventory of that magnitude? Paul stated that it’s mostly by instinct although they are installing a computerized system.
Each beer has a different pull-date depending on the hop profile and other factors, and I tell my staff, “Turn the bottle on the shelf and look at the date.” He also works closely with his distributors to arrive at a fair arrangement when inventory gets overstocked.
Most of the comments on social media were very positive. The only negative one I saw was reviewer complained about the dust when he picked up the bottle. Paul stated that when they first took over, the main complaint on social media was that there was old beer. “We have remedied that by taking a lot of old product off the shelves and cleaning ductwork and shelves. We took about 40 pounds of dust and dirt out of here.”
The site was a substation on the old Union Pacific Electric rail line and the original owner, John Feuz (the John of John’s Marketplace) had a butcher shop and meat market (You can still see meat hooks and rails for sliding meat in their cooler.)
Dave Percival, who took over the store in the mid-90’s was fascinated by what used to be the beer and wine selection at the old Burlingame Grocery (before it was destroyed in what investigators thought was an arson fire) and saw the trend coming with the growing Oregon micro-brew industry.
He started the deli when there was roadwork through Multnomah Village and began selling the construction workers burgers. Now, I have reviewed several excellent bottle shops previously including Beer Goddess Lisa Morrison’s wonderful Belmont Station (2013), 1856 (2012) and Bottles (2012), Beer Mongers (2014) and most recently Bandon’s Beverage Barn.
There is a good chance you can find the beer you want in any of them. But none compares with the idiosyncratic charm, the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the rich history of John’s Marketplace. I will finish with two recent Yelp reviews which are typical and also explain why Thebeerchaser will return to what they self-describe as “Portland’s Beer Mecca” – and justifiably.
“If there’s a better beer selection anywhere, I haven’t seen it. And believe me, I’ve looked all over the country. The amount and variety of beer on the shelves here is simply breathtaking.
Tons of Oregon beer, sure, but also plenty of other regions and even rare stuff. They also have a handful of rotating beers in tap and serve food. The people here are extremely friendly and helpful as well. If you can’t find some beer here that you love, you don’t really love beer. “ 3/23/17
“I love this place! Such a gem, totally unassuming. Just good food and great selection of beer and wine. I always grab a killer turkey sandwich if I’m in the area. For $5.50 it’s a steal I’ve had all their sandwiches- which are all tasty and great, but a classic turkey sandwich done well is my go to order.” 9/21/17
How does he manage an inventory of beer and wine of that magnitude.