Since the commencement of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs in 2011, I have visited many watering holes not only in Oregon, but all over the US and a few in Europe. While I tend to search out dive bars, my last review was on a wonderful upscale SE Portland Cuban bar specializing in daiquiris. Indeed, Palomar, was designated Oregon Live’s Bar-of-the-Year for 2018.
But in trying to maintain equilibrium in this hobby, I decided it had been too long since I featured a neighborhood bar in the Portland area.
So I contacted two friends and we decided to hit the Salty Rhino Pub – a relatively new neighborhood bar just a few miles from our houses in West Linn. Steve Oltman and Michael Lammers joined me for my first visit to this pub which opened in April, 2018.
John Lyons and Alan Blackwell are the co-owners and it is a delightful neighborhood establishment with great ambiance, friendly staff, good beer selection and what should be a bright future.
I did not have the chance to meet Alan, but John is the epitome of a good bar manager – outgoing, helpful and a wonderful deadpan sense of humor – also a native Bostonian and New England Patriot fan.
The pub space has good roots, having been the former Cask and Keg Public House, which moved to larger quarters – also on Highway 43 in West Linn to a former Starbucks. Before that, what is now the Rhino, was an OLCC liquor outlet.
The co-owners, both of whom have construction backgrounds, worked together for years building condos for Pulte Homes in San Diego.
They did the remodel work on the pub themselves and the walls, tables, beautiful dark bar and game rooms are a great blend which furthers the ambiance of the place. And John also pointed out with a straight face that “We have the best women’s bathroom in West Linn.”
John, whose wife is from West Linn, moved to Oregon before his partner and went to work tending bar at the predecessor pub. Alan moved up when the opportunity to partner in the new bar arose.
Their good relationship is evidenced by the fact that Alan and his wife and have lived for the last year in the basement of the Lyons’ house. That will continue until the Blackwell’s new house being constructed on Nixon Ave. in West Linn is completed.
That street name took me back and long-time Portland Trailblazer fans may remember that Nixon Avenue housed the A-frame where legendary center, Bill Walton, lived when he first joined the Portland NBA team in 1974.
Given the former President’s recent demise and asked why he chose that street, Walton said something to the effect of “Well, they didn’t try to impeach the street!”
Note: I thought the A-frame might have been scraped as it was somewhat unorthodox and in a nice section of West Linn by the Willamette River. If you look on Google Earth , however, and do a search on Nixon Ave., it appears that you can still see the house.
Of course, my curiosity got to me and I had to return to see if the house was still where I remembered it from years ago. It appears to be with some additions to the original structure.
“That’s what makes it so fun to be on a team. You’re sitting at your house, thinking up this wild, crazy stuff as to how it’s going to go, and the other guys are sitting at their houses doing the same thing.” Bill Walton – Brainy Quote.com
But I digress….
The Beer Selection
Besides a good selection of red and white wines, the Salty Rhino has fourteen rotating beers and two ciders on tap. When asked how they select their sixteen offerings, John replied that based on his bartending in the prior pub and his ongoing interactions with customers, he has a good feel for what they like and what gives the Rhino a diversified and popular tap list.
Steve Oltman is a Coors Light guy. and I experimented with two new micro-brews – at least they were for me.
On the first visit I had the Night Owl Pumpkin Ale by Elysian (6.7 ABV):
“Ale brewed with pumpkin & pumpkin seeds & fermented with spices. Our original pumpkin ale is brewed with over 7 lbs. of pumpkin per barrel and spiced in conditioning with nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, ginger and allspice.”
And on the next day’s return visit, I enjoyed a spectacular Snow Cave Wintertime Ale (10 ABV) by Crux Fermentation Project in Bend.
“Boasting an alluring spice character from Belgian yeast and suggestions of seasonal dark fruit, Snow Cave is a nuanced sipper you can cozy up with around the fire pit.”
Both had nice aromas and great spicy tastes which made the cold night/day warmer with the color of the Snow Cave a rich mahogany that made it even more inviting.
Now to be fair to Steve, I should also provide a comparable rating from RateBeer.com on Coors Light 4.2 ABV – to wit: “Draft. Very light, golden straw, snow-what foam. Light aroma: corn, pilsner malt, a little apple. Taste: light, very watery, a little malt, corn and yeast, very tasteless.”
While the alcohol content was much lower than my beers, so was the price of the Coors at $3 – 100% less than my micro-brews…..Steve also enjoys an IPA “from time to time.”)
John and Alan are wise in being very generous at letting people have a taste to ensure they get a brew they like. He said that one of their most popular drafts is Astoria’s Fort George Fields of Green – a limited batch “evolutionary” IPA at 7.6 ABV. (Michael got there late and opted for a small glass of this beer.)
Now, while Steve’s Coors Light is one of the taps, he did not try what is advertised as John’s Super Secret Beer – “A beer combo you’ve got to love although you may be asked to face the wall while he pours.” (John revealed that it’s one-half Coors Light and the other half their rotating cider.)
What Gives with the Name Salty Rhino?
While John initially tried to convince us that the name was derived from a wound he received from the horn of a wild rhino he was photographing on safari, he admitted that they spent hours trying to come up with a name, but had trademark issues that precluded many options they wanted.
His wife designed the logo and they got a “go” with “Salty Rhino.” And unlike most bars, a Google search reveals no similarly named watering hole – not the case for many that I have been to.
Michael joined us a little later in the evening and a crowd was watching the Trailblazers lose to Houston Rockets on one of the large-screen TVs. It was fun to watch the interaction between John and the regulars who lined the twelve or so stools at the long bar.
And Beerchasing with Michael and Steve was enjoyable. Michael, a Michigan State alum who got his MPA at Cal State – East Bay, was Vice President of Finance and Facilities and worked with my wife in the days when Marylhurst University was thriving under late President Dr. Nancy Wilgenbusch.
He now works for the Oregon Department of Education. He and his wife, Pat, are good friends and have been Beerchasing previously, but this was Steve’s first “expedition.”
Steve, is a very affable guy who is always smiling and grew up in a small town in southern Minnesota. (“I am a die-hard Viking fan, by the way and they are killing me right now..!”)
He has excellent training for Beerchasing having worked at establishments ranging from a dive college bar to the best high-end restaurant in town and also tended bar both in his home town and while attending college at Moorhead State University in Minnesota, a school with roots going back to 1888.
He and his wife, Lorrie, have been married thirty-six years and have two grandkids. And besides talking about football, the Blazers and a little politics, Steve and I advised Michael on the joy of having grandchildren (Janet and I also have two). This also allowed me to show them pictures of the cardboard box fort I built with our two, the last time they were in West Linn.
Steve has worked for Sealy Mattress Co. for thirty years describes himself as a “simple peddler,” but is an excellent salesman.
But I digress…….
At this point, the food choices are not robust, but there are options ranging from their own “munchies” to a partnership with two neighboring restaurants which will deliver to you at the bar – Round Table Pizza and the Asian Kitchen.
Their own faire ranges from popcorns, nuts, hummus, chips and salsa (good review on social media) to a cheese plate. All are reasonably priced.
The Salty Rhino as a Community
John and Alan are trying (and evidently showing signs of success) to make the pub a community gathering place.
The game rooms have shuffleboard and darts and they are on the verge (January, 2019) of establishing various leagues.
The night of my second visit they had an “Ugly Sweater Contest,” and besides the prospective leagues – bunco, bingo, trivia and darts the pub is planning Tap Takeovers and other events where neighbors can come and practice the Salty Rhino’s motto: “Keep Calm and Drink Beer!”
Like many neighborhood bars I have visited, I was also impressed with their charitable spirit. Prominently displayed was this sign to support Fort Kennedy and they had a barrel to accept donations.
The Salty Rhino is a great addition to what is a paucity of neighborhood pubs in the West Linn area. And although it is not as big as some of the others, the attractive space, friendly owners and good selection of beer and wine make it one where you should join the hunt.
Given the short time in operation, there have been few social media reviews, but all I saw were positive. This one from a gent who visited from Lake Oswego sums it up quite well:
“Great owners, great furnishings, great beer list, darts and shuffleboard – need I say more?” (Yelp 9/30/18)
19335 Willamette Dr. West Linn