(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser. If you are seeing this through an e-mail, please visit the blog to see all of the photos and read the story by clicking on the title above so the post is not clipped or shortened.)
As I’ve mentioned in my last few posts – probably self-evident – visits to new watering holes whether bars or breweries are temporarily on hold for Thebeerchaser. That said, I have a lot of old memories and thoughts about my favorite topic which can still provide grist to loyal followers – at least for awhile.
That was true reminiscing about our road trip through Montana last year in the recent post (see link below) and that narrative was about just five of the 49 new establishments we visited on that 3,700 mile trip — like the historic New Atlas Bar in Columbus, Montana.
Joan Melcher, who wrote two books on Montana bars described the New Atlas – one of her favorites below – and the second paragraph is a little curious. The New Atlas, indeed, was one of the most curious of the forty-nine bars we hit on the trip:
“Hulking throughout the room are bald eagles, an albino mule deer fawn, a coyote howling to the moon, young bobcats fighting an Audak (African mountain sheep), a Canadian lynx, raccoon or two, a fox, a snow owl. moose heads, elk heads – buffalo, antelope, mountain sheep – all kinds of heads…
…..There’s a queer sensation that goes with drinking sur-rounded by dead, stuffed animals. The first reaction is one of nonchalance – ah some nice stuffed animals.
After a few drinks, you feel countless pairs of eyes bearing down. You have another beer to relax under their scrutiny, look around again, and you’re among friends, the animals’ glares having softened to amused acceptance.”
The last post with the five other Montana bar descriptions (Trapper’s Saloon in Eureka, the Saw Mill Saloon in Darby – a town with a legendary Town Marshal, the Wise River Club in Wise River, the Antler Saloon in Wisdom and the Dewey Tavern also in Wise River – all Montana classics is at the link below:
A Return to the Central Oregon Coast
Right now, however, I’m coming back to Oregon – some of my favorite spots – dive bars on the Oregon Coast. These institutions are in jeopardy especially since the pandemic and be protected as should any endangered species such as the Washington golden mantel ground squirrel…..
One of the great resources in the earlier days of this blog (2011-14) was a similar blog I came upon in doing research for my posts. Matt Love, a prolific and talented author and now owner of a small Astoria publishing house he founded in 2003 – The Nestucca Spit Press –
His blog, “Let it Pour”, originated as a popular column in Hipfish Monthly, an alternative magazine in Astoria. He no longer maintains the site and unfortunately a number of the watering holes are no longer in business..
Matt is a keen observer of both the ambiance of dive bars and the interactions that take place among the patrons – and is an expert in describing those in entertaining style. Take this one from LetItPour.net that made me check out the Old Oregon as one of my first Coast dives.
“(It’s) a damn fine gritty place to drink beer – a lot of beer….The regulars call it The Old O and after spending time there over the years, I feel it is not too outrageous to suggest the nickname stands not only for The Old Oregon Tavern in Lincoln City — which it does — but really some of the patrons’ last long ago orgasm. Maybe in the Johnson Administration.”
The interior of the Old O reflects the taste of the owners and its rich history as a tavern. According to one patron who smoked cigarettes (Matt wrote this before the 2009 law banning smoking) and drank beer while attached to a portable oxygen tank, the joint dates to World War II, but maybe earlier.”
So with some curiosity, but no expectations, I hunkered into the Old O – right on Highway 101 in the heart of Lincoln City with my brother-in-law, Dave Booher and our friend, Steve Larson for a few beers and to observe.
As per my usual Beerchaser process, I was sitting at the bar drinking draft PBR’s, asking the bartender questions and taking photos around the quaint place. As per Matt’s observation about the family character of Coast dives, we noted there was going to be a wake for a recently deceased regular – “Rod.” We did not take the sign literally and assumed that when it stated, “Have a drink on Rod,” that his casket was not going to be in the Old O for the celebration.
Then, in walks a very stocky middle-aged guy in a motorcycle jacket and hat and purposefully strides towards a seat at the back of the bar where he could observe everything going on. The bartender said softly, “That’s Irish Mike – our local ambassador.” I took a few more pictures and rejoined my companions at the bar.
At that point Irish Mike pointed and motioned me to come to his chair. With some trepidation, but also curiosity, I headed back to him and as I approached, he reached into his wallet and pulled out two one-dollar bills. He stared at me and said:
“It’s your turn to plug the juke box. Don’t screw it up!”
Fortunately, he liked my selections of Van Morrison and the Eagles. We had a great chat and I found out that he is a retired exec from San Francisco and rides his Harley up to Oregon a few times a year and the Old O is always one of his stops.
That stop after three years of Beerchasing, affirmed that there were many more yarns in the future. My stories, however, pale to Matt’s Love’s. So take a look at his newspaper-tabloid publication Oregon Tavern Age – a bargain at $10 or three copies for $20 at his Nestucca Spit Press website where you will also find other wonderful books on Oregon he has written.
Before we get to OTA, the picture above gives me reason to momentarily digress. I asked Matt what spurred his fascination with beavers – pervasive and tactically placed throughout the almost eighty different bar tails… (sorry – I couldn’t resist) tales throughout the 58-page OTA publication.
I thought it might be because he, like I, was an OSU grad but he got his degrees at Portland State and Lewis and Clark. His captivation with the flat-tailed, semi-aquatic rodent was a product of observing them in the woods during his walks on the Oregon coast and his collection of beaver wood – an obsession, of sorts, for the last ten years – and an amazing sight adjacent to his RV.
The topic of Beavers then provides a convenient segue to my next topic – Oregon State Football and whether the Beavs under Coach Jonathan Smith will exceed expectations this fall.
However, not only will the Beaver quarterbacks, lineman and defensive backs, etc. be occupied otherwise on Saturday afternoons, but so will the midfielders on the soccer team and the setter and outside hitter on the volleyball team.
The Pac 12, as did some of the other NCAA conferences made the wise decision to protect athletes and fans by either suspending or delaying fall and winter sports.
So instead of being on the gridiron, the Beaver football players will have a chance to spend time in the library until at least next spring and help bolster the academic standing of OSU – possibly to a scholastic peak that the football team can be proud of. Thus, any current discussion of football would be strictly academic……
Oregon Tavern Age
Matt describes how the phrase was coined based on an experience thirty-four years ago when he and some friends were sitting in Seaside’s The Beach Club, drinking 50-cent drafts:
“A man blasted through the door and obliterated the tavern’s somnolent mood. His hair was feathered….and perfect. He appeared anywhere from 40 to 70 years old. Many years later, I coined the phrase ‘Oregon Tavern Age’ or ‘OTA’ to describe the condition….*1
The man’s name was Larry or Wayne, both solid OTA names. He sat down with us at the bar. He was loud. I struck up a conversation with him and learned he had $10,000 in cash stuffed into his pants pocket…..*2
He had cashed a check the previous afternoon – a settlement from an injury suffered in an automobile accident and was ready to party down – hard. He bought the house a round, screamed an encouraging profanity, and then bolted out the door.”
*1 I am appalled now that I’m 72, Matt doesn’t consider me part of OTA. Through my lawyer, I will consider notifying federal and state agencies (such as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission) and WCTU (?) on possible sanctions for age discrimination.
*2 Wayne or Larry probably only had about 70% of that amount of cash on him as his lawyer would have taken the other 30% as his or her contingency fee.
This was clearly not the last or even a tiny slice of the stories and observations Love makes in this treatise that was so interesting and enjoyable to me that I used a yellow highlighter so I could come back and savor parts of it again later.
Matt published OTA in 2019, but these stories go back years to:
“…the halcyon days of Oregon tavern life: no liquor, no craft beers, no meth, no video poker or slots, smoke-filled and the classic cheap Pacific Northwest lagers brewing in the Pacific Northwest by union men reigned supreme.”
Now based on the 375 watering holes I have visited, I have a lot of stories, but Matt is a master of observation not only of the human interaction, but the trappings and character of these dives. He converts the notes he took “jotting down observations with a pencil on a golf score card” and his conversations with the regulars into a captivating collection of stories and anecdotes with great graphic illustrations – courtesy of his ex-wife.
It will make you want to drive down to Pacific City and have a draft Budweiser at the Sportsman Pub and Grub where for years, Matt served as the bar’s Writer in Residence (Thebeerchaser reviewed this great dive in October 2014.)
For example, his observation upon getting a recommendation to check out the Crow’s Nest Lounge in Gold Beach – although being warned it’s regulars were an older crowd:
“’Good,’ I thought. I like old.” That’s where the real OTA action unfolds like so much frozen molasses locked inside a glacier. I hate fast bars with loud, dumb kids throwing down jello shots while fiddiling on their fancy phones. They need a little Black Velvet to calm then down…..We all do.”
And I can just visualize Matt, sitting at a dark red booth with cracked vinyl, enveloped in second-hand smoke and nursing a cheap Hamm’s – this as he observed a guy drinking white wine:
“The white wine hailed from a black box. The man sat next to another OTA man drinking Budweiser from a tall can. In the wings, a female bartender fiddled on her phone. The Stanley Cup Final highlights played quietly on a flatscreen.
At a nearby table, an OTA woman drank coffee and ate clam chowder and dunked a peanut butter bar, in both, while reading a firearms magazine. She hacked an ex-smoker’s hack between dunks and turning the pages.”
Now there have been about eight dives on the coast that have either closed permanently or indefinitely suspended operations It’s not possible for someone to open a new dive bar – it’s somewhat of a contradiction of terms. And Matt is the cerebral vault in which many of the stories are maintained and only unlocked on special occasions. For example:
“One day, many years ago, a woman sat in Pitch’s Tavern in Port Orford. She saw a horse drinking beer from a saucer on the counter. On another visit, she saw a live boxer crab holding an unlit cigarette in one claw and a glass of beer in the other.”
The author is sometimes maudlin and philosophical in his musings and I will leave you with his rhetorical question and the recommendation that you order the Oregon Tavern Age and join Thebeerchaser in reveling at the stories of a gifted writer:
“Could all the bartenders in OTA country be replaced by Alexa-like robot devices? Can you imagine Alexa responding to a question like: “Alexa, can I have the bear tacos and Hamm’s special?’
There will never be an algorithm for that. There will never be an algorithm for OTA country. Everything is utterly random, except for the consistency of the regulars and their stories and the utter unpredictability of the bartenders. If I want an algorithm, I’ll go to a brewpub.”
Savor the story of the Deep Fried Miller High Life at the Mad Dog Country Tavern just out of Newport (that and The Triangle Tavern under the Megler Bridge in Astoria are two of his favorites )
Or check out the one on the blue parrot playing video poker (and winning) at the historic Bay Haven Inn in the heart of Newport, by ordering Matt’s OTA. And take a look at some of the other great offerings at the Nestucca Spit Press while you’re at it.
With two daughters who are both nurses, I’ve stated before, my plea for everyone to wear masks. And here’s a great place to get one plus a bonus from Patty Voldbaeck – a former excellent legal secretary at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm.
Patty’s masks are made of 100%cotton fabric with ultralight fusible interfacing (if requested) and a pocket insert protector of your personal preference. She also has a piece of N-95 fabric available with instructions for care.
When we moved my daughter into the dorms recently, another parent was wearing a mask that said, “This mask is as useless as my governor “ Insert eye roll here, but at least she was wearing one…
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The reasoning of those who fail to believe the scientists is befuddling. But, unlike some, at least she is complying. I hope your daughter does well at school. Thanks for the comment.
I love “Sportys” and I hope we can keep our masks on long enough to see this through. The two things I really enjoy and miss right now are having a beer with friends and driving my dogs over the “turn around”, down to the mouth of the river.
Any thoughts on the potential permanent closure of driving on the beaches in Pacific City/Tierra Del Mar?
Thanks for the comment. The Sportsman is a true classic and a lot of the historic dive bars on the Coast are struggling.
I haven’t heard about the closure for vehicles. Happy Thanksgiving.