My favorite was The Standard – you can read the post and see why and lament with me that the only major change is that the renowned “Hamm’s for a Buck” – special on Wednesday is gone but not forgotten.
And while The Standard is still thriving, an alarming number of the great bars and breweries which have disappeared from the scene in the last few years including the legendary Slabtown – which poured its last PBR in 2017 and was right down the street from Yur’s.
(In the Standard’s case, it was their insurance coverage which mandated the change in the Hamm’s special. And it is probable it was due to an overly cautious insurance company lawyer – one I would suggest may not have bothered to review the Standard’s history and lack of problems with this arrangement for many years.)
The other three on my list – not in any order are below. Click on the names to see the full Beerchaser review:
And it wasn’t The Ship’s memorable exterior, the fact that Gil’s owner asserts that “We’re the nicest assholes in town,” or remembering my visit to the historic Mock Crest with one of my favorite Intellectual Property lawyers (and musicians) John Mansfield.
In each case, as with Yur’s, it’s the overall character of the bar, the people and the side stories.
Now had I visited Yurs’ in Northwest Portland (Slabtown), it would have been added to the list of favorites above. And while Yur’s has some true dive bar characteristics, it was clean, did not smell of stale beer, has a wide variety of good food and even some interesting and worthy art.
About fifteen of my friends including former colleagues from the Schwabe Williamson law firm gathered on a late Tuesday afternoon at this bar and our group was not disappointed for a variety of reasons.
These ranged from the cheerful hospitality shown by Bartender Eric Zoeller, to the regulars who populated the bar, to the distinctive art (see below) to the nooks and crannies in the expansive space, the signs, the free popcorn, the old-fashioned pinball machines, the free pool tables, the unique alleyway with street art and the general ambiance that made us unanimously concur with WW’s assertion.
The Slabtown area of Portland is a working class neighborhood and the bar in the space Yur’s now occupies has served the cabbies, longshoreman and neighbors in that area for at least sixty years – since 1968 – it was called the 16th Street Tavern before Yur’s. One characteristic of urban dive bars – they are rarely in strip malls and many such as the outstanding historic dives I wrote about in Pueblo, Colorado are in interesting old buildings which have served other purposes through the years.
Unfortunately, these usually expansive spaces are also prime fodder for developers for condos or commercial purposes which is one reason so many have disappeared. Yur’s is housed in a structure built in 1884 – it was originally was a cellar and stables. (For an interesting side story on the building, see *1 below)
The bar has been owned for about the last twenty-five years by former NFL lineman, Terry Hermeling – an offensive tackle (weighed in at 255 and is 6’5” tall) for the Washington Redskins during the 1970’s after starring at the University of Nevada at Reno). According to Wikipedia, “He helped the Redskins win the 1972 NFC Championship and (the team) lead the NFC in yards passing in 1975.” He played under Hall of Fame Coach, George Allen.
Although he was undrafted in 1970, Terry Hermeling had an impressive NFL career, playing 120 games – starting in 103 and being listed on the Redskins official website as one of the “80 Greatest Redskins”.
And joining him on the list above are some NFL Hall of Famers such as Sonny Jurgensen (QB), Sam Huff (LB), Charley Taylor (WR) and other guys with notable gridiron fame such as Chris Hanberger (LB), John Riggins (RB), Art Monk (WR) and quarterbacks Sammy Baugh, Mark Rypien and Joe Theismann.
In fact, a guy who has a website called “Hogs Heaven” and evidently travels the country to find Redskin fans wrote in 2014 about plans to meet at Yur’s:
“With that in mind, it is my pleasure to announce that Hogs Haven is traveling to Portland! I happen to know that there is a very solid representation of Redskins fans out there and I am hoping to meet as many of them as I can.”
Terry’s son, Cody, is now the co-owner and his father trained him in the business aspects of the bar as he grew up. The elder Hermeling evidently now resides in Palm Springs and Bend.
As an aside, former NFL players going into the bar business in Oregon is not unique to Hermerling. Former Oregon Duck quarterback, Joey Harrington, who was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2002 and played seven years in the pros tried it. His partner was Ryan Magarian – the cofounder of Aviation Gin, an internationally known hospitality industry consultant and entrepreneur – in 2016 with his Portland establishment the Pearl Tavern which closed after only three years and is now the Portland brewpub of Backwoods Brewing in Carson, Washington.
Another former NFL star – Boston Patriot starting quarterback, Drew Bledsoe has owned a successful winery – first in Walla Walla. The Bledsoe Family Winery expanded into Bend, Oregon where Bledsoe and his wife reside with vineyards and a tasting room in 2019 as reported in the Oregon Wine Press.
(Interestingly enough, there appears to be no explanation on why the Pearl Tavern closed. Media reviews in 2017 were positive and the Backwoods Brewpub appears to be doing very well in the same location.)
But I digress….Yur’s bartender/assistant kitchen manager is now Eric Zoeller, who was a great and helpful resource in giving me background information and reflects the warm personality of the bar itself. He is a Kentucky native who moved to Portland from California and has worked there for four and one-half years.
Eric wrote in an e-mail to me:
“What makes us different is that we are more than just a bar to our customers. As one of the last old school bars of old Portland, we provide a haven for those who remember what this neighborhood used top be and those who are just now learning about the area. We have customers who have been coming here for 50 years and those who’ve found out about us.”
We strive to provide a safe place where friends and family gather to meet, where everyone can be themselves. If it’s a holiday, a sporting event or just a normal day, our customers always feel at home here at Yur’s and we feel very much at home in our neighborhood.”
And our group was welcomed by the regulars sitting at the bar who chatted with us and Eric and he tended bar. Six of us were sitting in one of their big booths drinking beer and chatting and one got up to hit the restroom. A middle-aged guy promptly and without hesitation sits down in the booth next to me and started looking at the beers on tap.
I didn’t recognize the guy (and I was the one who invited everyone to Beerchase) so I casually stuck out my hand and asked if he was a regular at Yur’s. He said, “No,” aren’t you guys part of the motorcycle club that meets here?” (We felt complimented that he would think a bunch of old guys looked like Harley people.) I told him we weren’t and he got up and when I saw him an hour later, he said that he never found the group, but liked the bar and decided to have a few beers and skip his meeting.
There is a cool room around the corner from the kitchen with couches and a table which houses about twenty people that is used to watch sporting events or just for groups (such as motorcycle clubs….). They call it the “Front Room” or “The Alcove.”
A Dive Bar with Distinctive Art!!
One of the distinguishing factors at Yur’s was the art work – displayed over the booths which are located along a narrow hall, of sorts, in front of the long bar. It is distinctive and attractive and I noted the artist’s name and website on one of her paintings. And as I have found with the individuals involved with a lot of watering holes visited, the side stories are fascinating. And Anna Duvall, is no exception.
I traded a few phone calls with her and eventually had a wonderful and interesting phone chat with this talented Berlin native whose mother is German and who moved with her parents to Maui when she was two. After graduation from high school, she went to the California College of Arts and Crafts.
A move to Eugene in 2001 gave her the chance to pursue her passion at the U of O and she studied multi-media design, while working part time at a Dairy Queen. After moving to Portland, she started showing her art while working as a server at Jake’s Grill.
Mo Mo Bar is next to Jakes in downtown Portland (see Thebeerchaser review) and she would sketch while having a brew after work. In 2006, Thomas McLouglin, the owner, gave her the opportunity to display some of her paintings (they’ve never been taken down) which were then also displayed at the Low Brow Lounge. She also has a mural inside Sizzle Pie on the east side. Yur’s then provided another venue where she could show her talent.
She was “discovered” by Tony Lawrence – the owner of Boneyard Brewing, who asked her to design a tap handle with his image on it for one of his beers Pabo Pilsner in 2016. (Her college friend, Dana, who also worked at the Dairy Queen, was working at Boneyard in Bend and when Lawrence had a tap handle designed, she said, “My friend, Anna, could do a much better job than that.“)
Lawrence evidently agreed and she has also done designs for Boneyard’s Incredible Pulp and Brewjeria American Lager. When Boneyard celebrates its tenth anniversary in Bend next year, you will see Anna Duvall’s painting displayed in the Brewpub.
You can find this cheerful and talented artist working as a full-time server at Jake’s Grill and view her creations at Mo Mo’s, Yur’s or on her Facebook page under “Killallartists” or on her Instagram account (@annadeeznutz). Yur’s is the first dive bar I know to have an “art curator” but Patrick Zahn, the owner at Steel Door Gallery has been recently tasked with this function according to Anna.
Anna’s art isn’t the only creative attraction at Yur’s. If you take the exit by the pinball machines into what is used as a smokers’ lounge, of sorts, you will enter an alleyway that has some distinctive murals along the walls of this narrow passage-way which has to be about at least 100 feet long.
The only similar type of passage I have seen in my travels was adjacent to Renners’ Bar – another classic dive in Multnomah Village which I reviewed in 2017 before the disastrous fire which put it out of operation since – although they are trying to reopen.
Food and Beer
The social media reviews emphasize the cheap prices and the stiff drinks – a good combination. I liked this one from an October, 2017 Yelp review:
“Great neighborhood bar with affordable drinks and free popcorn…. I’m still not sure why extra shots kept being poured into my drink (by friends not bartenders) and be prepared that the ladies’ room stalls have shower curtains rather than doors.”
I could not verify the shower curtain assertion, but possibly empathize with one of the only other really negative Yelp reviews. – (Yelp 11/25/18):
“This bar allows soccer fans from out of the city to come in and take over there (sic) restaurant. For that reason, and for only that reason, they get one star.”
Yur’s gets great reviews for the quality and price of their food menu. And they have specials every day. We didn’t have a chance to partake other than the popcorn, but I’m going back for either the Prime Rib Thursday (Prime Rib served with Seasonal Vegetable, Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Au Jus $12.95) or Taco Tuesday (3 for $4). And where else on Saturday morning can you get a two-egg breakfast and PBR Tall Boy for $6!
This comment from Yelp on 7/25/19 from a guy who had just moved from San Francisco:
“Had their prime rib steak. The prime rib is less than $11. It’s a nice portion size. It’s tender and juicy. The steak is served with mashed potatoes and asparagus. The potatoes were good; cooked to perfection and had a nice seasoning of salt and pepper. The steak is also served with horseradish…..A wonderful compliment to the prime rib steak. Enjoyable experience at this dive bar in my first day in Portland.”
And the burgers…….
“We went in for the $5 Burger-Week burger. Friendly bartender, clean table, fantastic hamburger. It is, without a doubt, the best burger I have ever had.” (Yelp – 8/10/19)
Now to be objective, one reviewer stated that the bratwurst was “simply shameful. It was quite possibly the teeniest tiniest bratwurst I’ve ever seen, the texture was pretty gross, and it tasted nothing like a bratwurst.
The fries were pretty good though.” (Yelp 2/19/16)
Our group would have liked Yur’s even if the guy hadn’t asked us if we were motorcycle club members. The environment is one that is all too rare and not found in almost any of the newer and more polished quarters which house brewpubs and cocktail bars.
These suave, sleek establishments have great and varied beer, but not the authentic ambiance (or distinctive art work…..) which, at Yur’s is a magnet for Slabtown neighborhood. (And try getting free popcorn at one of these brewpubs….)
If you want to gain that experience and drink beer in a friendly and comfortable enviorment try Yur’s.
*1 One more interesting sidelight on Yur’s and historic buildings. My talented and interesting friend and former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Amy Faust, brought this issue to light because she was traveling and could not be at the Yur’s Beerchasing event.
Amy did a search on-line for Yur’s and came across the picture below. She asked if I knew what the “U” on the building meant to which I responded in the negative.
Since she is blessed with a significant amount of intellectual curiosity, she had previously researched the symbol after seeing it on another Portland building and sent me the following link to an article in Oregon Live entitled “Fire Warning Signs Mark 21 Buildings in Portland Metro.”
The good news is that the article was first written in 2010, but updated in 2019 and the pictures I took of Yur’s and those on current social media show no “U” remains on the building. In addition, the article, which shows the addresses of all twenty-one of the current structures, does not list any with Yur’s address.
I concluded that this means they have addressed the deficiencies (although based on how well I like the bar, that designation wouldn’t have stopped me – just made me more cautious about where I was drinking my beer in the large space…..).
Quoting the article:
“The signs aren’t meant for the public; they’re for firefighters…..The signs, placed on at least 21 Portland buildings since the bureau introduced its Unsafe Building Alerts Program in December 2009, tell firefighters that if a fire were to break out in the building, it would be unsafe to battle from inside. Firefighters will still enter to rescue people, though.”
Thanks Amy, for the interesting sidelight.