Thebeerchaser goes to Market – John’s Marketplace

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.”

One-half of a delicious Killer Turkey

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.”  

At John’s, the equivalent might be asking manager, Paul Petros where you can get a six-pack of Bavarian Weizen Bock beer?  He might respond:

“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.

Turn right by the inflatable Samuel Adams mug.

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.”

 

 

From Wolves and Farmhouse Brewing in Newberg

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 – satiny smooth with light character??

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).

That right – 9.5 ABV!

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.

Paul, on the left with friends from the beer community – Keenan Delehanty and Michelle Faubion

“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.

Winston at the lower right, draws an admiring crowd

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.

The picture shows Winston, one of the regular canine visitors to John’s.  “There are a number of dogs we call by name, but haven’t learned the name of the owners yet,” he stated half jokingly. 

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.

A hard to find Pliny the Elder from Russian River

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.

Author Anthony Trollope

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

Engrossed in his novel and Total Domination

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

The deli at noon

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.

Beer guy – Paul and Wine guy – Dave

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.”  

Dave educating Janet on a bottle of ______ – she bought it!

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.

Dont think you won’t like a bottle of wine because of its labe….

How does he manage an inventory of that magnitude?  Paul stated that it’s mostly by instinct although they are installing a computerized system.

Extensive inventory

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.”

And like two of the other iconic Multnomah Village bars reviewed previously, the Ship Tavern and Renners, the building and site of John’s has an interesting history. 

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.

Beer Mongers – okay, but no comparison….

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

John’s Marketplace   –  3535 SW Multnomah Blvd.    Portland

 

The Benedictine Brewery – “Beam” Me Up

The slab at the start of the day

On Saturday morning, November 11th, the future Benedictine Brewery and Taproom started as a concrete slab adjacent to the Mount Angel Abbey Hilltop, which is also the home of the Mount Angel Seminary.

By the end of the day, there was a structural frame with six bents ( two-dimensional transverse rigid frames and the building blocks that define the overall shape and character of a structure) using 14,000 board feet of Douglas Fir timber harvested from the Abbey tree farm.  And the next monumental step for this project – in the planning stages since 2012 – was taken.

Project Manager and Director of Enterprises, Chris Jones

Chris Jones, on the Abbey staff and a key player in the planning and construction, arrived at the site before the sun rose at 5:00 A.M. to contemplate what lay ahead for the almost one hundred volunteers.  They worked under the direction of the professionals from New Energy Works and participated in the modern-day equivalent of an old-fashioned barn raising. As Chris stated that day:

“This raising is a ton of right in a wrong-way world. Yeah, it fits right in with the mission of the brewery (support the Abbey, local charities and local economics), but it’s a lot more than that. It feels like making a change for good and right – one community step at a time.”  

A little over one-half mile away, the monks were participating in their first of five prayer services that day, before many of them would join the seminarians and residents of the City of Mt. Angel when the work started at 9:00 AM.  (The monks have “divine office” five times per day plus the Eucharist).

The beautiful chapel on the Abbey Hilltop

 

 

 

As inspiration, workers could see the impressive spire of the beautiful St. Mary’s Catholic Church visible through the Abbey’s adjacent hop fields.  (And Fr. Philip Waibel, OSB, pastor of the church was among those at the Timber Raising that day.)  The 350 acres of hops owned by the Abbey will be a source of the ingredients used in brewing Benedictine beer.

The steeple at St. Marys Catholic Church

 

The timber was milled through Hull-Oakes Lumber Company from Monroe – a family business founded in 1937 that specializes in cutting big timbers.

Another important firm which made the structure possible is Withers Lumber from Brooks – a family owned full service local lumber company with ties to Woodburn, Silverton and Mount Angel among other Oregon communities.

John Gooley, represented Withers (he’s worked there for forty-two years) that day and was a wealth of information.

A team effort by volunteers

To see the first bent raised by the group, check out the video I took below.  Remarkable!

John told me that there were 305 pieces of wood that were joined for the structure.  Besides the 14,000 for the structural components, another 11,000 board feet of lumber was used for the siding  and the tongue and grove boards for the top of the structure.  It will also be used for the actual bar in the Taproom.  It took seven truckloads of logs for the Brewery and Taproom and additional load that went in exchange to the plywood mill.  

Besides the source of the wood, there was another unusual aspect of the construction process:

“The timber was harvested, cut, dried, milled using mortise and tenon joinery, which is secured with wooden pegs — an age-old traditional craft — and prepared for a seamless, no-hammer, no-saw construction.”  http://www.capitalpress.com/Orchards/20171113/unique-brewery-raising-at-abbey

Mallets rather than hammers and nails….

The volunteers that day know that there labor will be “captured” in the structure for its duration based on the fact that all were encouraged by John Gooley to sign the pegs that secured the bents before they were put in place.  Thebeerchaser eagerly participated.

Thebeerchaser signing a peg

When completed in the spring of 2018, the 3,000 square foot Brewery and Taproom will house a five-barrel brewing system including boil kettles, burners, a heat exchanger, fermenters, chillers, bottle conditioners and related equipment such as siphons, pumps and hoses.

The building’s architect is Henry Fitzgibbon of Soderstrom, a leading Portland firm founded in 1984 and which has done work for many faith-based communities and educational institutions.  Henry donated many hours on the Brewery project and is one of the many skilled professionals without whose contributions this venture would not have been possible.  https://sdra.com/henry-fitzgibbon-2/

Henry Fitizgibbon

Conceptual drawing of finished Brewery and Taproom

In fact, Fitzgibbon’s most recent project has been designing a basilica for the tiny village of Kibeho, in southern Rwanda, after being approached by author Immaculee Ilibagiza; who saw work he had performed in Mount Angel at the Abbey.  http://sdra.com/interview-with-henry-fitzgibbon/

This blog has previously featured the remarkable story of Father Martin Grassel, O.S.B., the Head Brewer at Benedictine and under whose vision this project has come to fruition.  Father Martin, who is also Procurator (essentially the Chief Financial Officer) at the Abbey was featured as the most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

Father Martin with his current on-site brewing equipment at the historic Abbey “fort.”

He is a remarkable man with a unique story and background as a software engineer before his journey of faith and service brought him to the Mount Angel Abbey

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/07/26/father-martin-grassel

Notwithstanding the almost continuous showers during the previous week the sun shone brightly in the morning as the work started.  And the video below shows the remarkable process for raising each bent.  (It may also be one of the few times you see monks wearing hard hats and jeans rather than their traditional black habits,) 

New Energy Works, which has offices or shops in McMinnville, Portland and two locations in New York, conducts these public raisings all over the country – from private residences to barns to larger commercial buildings and they usually draw a crowd. And what a dynamic and environmentally conscious company it is.

They co-designed the building and designed the first layout and timber frame.

Father Martin – right – with the Jonathan Orpin from New Energy

As you will see from the video below in which the largest timber section – 80 feet in length, requiring forty workers  was raised, Jonathan Orpin, the President of New Energy was the equivalent of land-based coxswain for his “crew” team.  His enthusiasm and energy was inspiring to all present.

 

New Energy even supplied a drone to memorialize the action that day.  You should check out the video below for a “start-to-finish aerial view. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psEJsPahTfM&t=130s

Cab Construction of Mt. Angel was the general contractor and Chris Bischoff, the owner, was at the raising all day working both on the ground and in the rafters…..

Cab Construction – the general contractor

That day was also the occasion of the first prayer in the Benedictine Brewery and Taproom – held at noon before we ate and in lieu of the standard noon-day prayer in the wonderful Abbey chapel.  Fr. Vincent Trujillo, O.S.B., the Prior of the Abbey,  led the service which was “uplifting” – very consistent with the theme that day!   The monks sang and were joined by the other participants.  See the video below:

 

At noon, in the tradition of historic barn raisings, there was a feast for the workers and attendees, prepared under the direction of the Abbey’s Chef Paul Lieggi.  His spread of delicious barbecued chicken, baked beans, potato salad and green salad boosted the energy and spirits of the workers.

Chef Paul prepares…but not pig stomach…..

Research on the menu for historic barn raisings revealed that the traditional menu was often slightly different than ours that day, most notably for the main course.  In Amish and Mennonite communities Pig Stomach was often the main course at these events.  In case you want to try this yourself: 

“Remove the inner lining of the stomach and discard. Wash stomach well and than soak in salt water several hours. Drain and fill stomach with stuffing. Sew securely.

Use recipe for filling……Place stuffed stomach in a large roasting pan and bake at 350 for 3 hours. Serve with gravy made by adding flour and water to drippings in roasting pan.”  http://oldfashionedliving.com/barnraising.html

Although there are goats and sheep raised on Abbey property, fortunately pigs are not part of the livestock……

Beer expert and volunteer, Jeff Alworth

There were a number of print and social media reps and there covering the event.  One of them is a well-known Northwest beer expert and writer, Portland’s Jeff Alworth, who first wrote about plans for the Benedictine Brewery back in 2014 in his excellent blog – Beervana.  Jeff was there for the entire day with a hard hat on and actively participating.

His books include The Secret of Master Brewers and his award-winning comprehensive guide to beer, The Beer Bible. Jeff also writes a weekly column for All About Beer Magazine and co-hosts the Beervana Podcast, where he and Oregon State University economics professor Patrick Emerson discuss beer and the economics of beer.

The Benedictine saints Bonifatius, Gregorius the Great, Adelbertus of Egmond and priest Jeroen van Noordwijk (Circa 1529-30)

The legacy of Benedictine beer goes back to the Middle Ages:

““….when local water supplies were rife with disease, monks brewed beer as a way to sanitize the water and also produce a libation to serve guests who sought refuge….Beer was an important part of their diets, particularly because it could be consumed as a source of nourishment during Lenten feasts.”  (Catholic Sentinel 2/21/14)

The Benedictine Brewery at Mount Angel will be the first monastery west of the Mississippi, and one of only two or three in the US, that does its development, major production, and taproom service on-site, with monks doing the brewing and running their own operation.

And the vision for this venture transcends the goal of making quality beer.  As Father Martin eloquently wrote in a recent missive:

” To say it should be a place of hospitality and welcome and family-friendliness would be too shallow.  I want it to be a place where people are more than just welcome:  I want a place where they will feel blessed, where they will feel the peace of the Abbey, where they will encounter faith in an inviting and non-threatening way, where they will want to come back because of the spiritual atmosphere.” 

Although the on-site brewery will not be completed until March, the Benedictine Brewery already has a record of producing great beer although much of it is done on a contract basis through nearby Seven Brides Brewery in Silverton.  (Some of us chuckle at the irony of monks brewing at Seven Brides)!

The flagship beer is appropriately named “Black Habit”, and has sold out multiple times at the Mount Angel Octoberfest.  Another of the beers garnering good reviews is the St. Benedictine Farmhouse Ale.  Black Habit was first brewed with the help of the Oregon State University Fermentation Program.  (Go Beavs!)

It is hoped that people traveling to the Taproom to taste the Benedictine Beer will also visit the Abbey Hilltop – a place of beauty and hospitality founded in 1882 and with a noted museum, expansive library and great bookstore.  

And for a memorial experience, attend Vespers – almost every day of the year at 5:15 where you will be inspired by hearing the monks sing.  Thebeerchaser is not of the Catholic faith, but has valued each time I sit in the beautiful chapel for this service.

And until the Taproom opens next spring, don’t hesitate to stop by the Bookstore and pick up a case of Black Habit or one of the other Benedictine beers on sale.  It will bring new meaning to the Brewery’s slogan –  “Taste and Believe.”

Thebeerchaser’s Note:   As followers of this blog know, I started Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs in August 2011, (with the blessing of my spouse of 38 years, Janet) after retiring as the Chief Operating Officer at the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt firm where I worked for twenty-five years of my career.

 

 

 

 

I became involved with the Benedictine Brewery about eighteen months ago as a member of the Brewery Advisory Committee at the invitation of its chair, Stephen Zimmer.

After getting to know the people in the Abbey and its Foundation and given the unique story and mission of the Brewery, I decided to take a more active volunteer role in helping to set up the business operations until a general manager is hired in four to six months.   This project is the epitome of a collaborative effort of individuals, companies and the Mt. Angel community.I chuckle at some of the similarities between the law firm and the monastery.   Both are wonderful organizations, filled with intelligent, passionate individuals devoted to their profession and both organizations are consensus-based in making decisions.   The primary difference is that lawyers do not wear habits and don’t get up at 5:00 AM and pray in church six times each day!

 

Take a Fast Trip to Slow Bar

Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars,Taverns and Pubs focuses on the bars themselves – the beer and the grub is incidental.  The grist of these reviews is the bar’s history, the regulars, the bartenders and the ambiance.  What distinguishes this saloon or brewery from others?

In the case of Slow Bar, however, the emphasis will be on the food – to wit: it’s notable “Slow Burger,” which makes numerous lists as one of the best or in the case of Willamette Week’s 2017 Best Burger competition, the best in Portland.

And the focus here is on the food, because otherwise the bar at the corner of Grand Ave and SE Washington is not particularly noteworthy.  The exterior has several small picnic tables with umbrellas.  The entrance is unremarkable with a glass door over which is a dark green awning with scarlet letters bearing the bar’s name. Two beer barrels with flowers are placed on the sidewalk.

And the interior is essentially a large rectangular space with five large red booths – described by one Portland Barfly reviewer as “private bedroom style booths.”

Secluded and/or horizontal dining possible….

There is a long twelve-seat bar with hanging red lights and elk antlers over the selection of whiskeys and drafts — also one large poster on the far wall.   The high ceilings and exposed brick for the south wall are appealing.

There is none of the historical ambiance, idiosyncratic cubbyholes or illustrious symbols or tokens which characterize a good neighborhood or dive bar.  But maybe that’s intentional because the bar is evidently named after the “Slow Club” in the 1986 cult classic movie “Blue Velvet” starring Isabella Rosellini and Dennis Hopper.  Based on its homage to Pabst, the movie was described by the Portland Mercury as “one of the great beer movies.”  

The current bar was opened in 2003 by Michael Barnash and Rob Hemmerling, two veteran Portland bartenders.  It was previously a bar named Caswell’s and in my conversation with Hemmerling, he said that it was once owned by Frank Peters of Portland Maverick fame.  It evidently was also the site of one of the only known “failed” Starbucks locations.

Note: Notwithstanding considerable research effort, I could find no reference to Frank Peters owning Caswell’s.  He is well known for his other bars – the Grand Cafe (on the same street), Peters’ Habit and Satan’s Disco.  However, one reference in Portland Barfly to the bar having a “very attractive all-chick staff….” and Peters’ affinities seemed to warrant additional investigation, so I contacted the source.

Frank Peters – Known for his memorable and spirited bars

Frank stated that “………during Grand Cafe days we had Caswells for about 2 years. my gal partners got married so we sold it to Slow Bar people. We did ok and they took it to another level.”  He also confirmed that the space had been a Starbucks so “it had great air conditioning.”

To see the 2013 review of Thebeerchaser’s visit to the Grand Cafe and some more about Frank Peters see:   https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/01/23/a-frank-conversation-about-the-grand-cafe/

The Notable Slowburger

The famous Slow Burger. Notice that the top part of the bun is off to the left side and that’s the two onion rings at the top.

So let’s talk about the food.   Virtually all of the social media reviews ranging from Trip Advisor to Yelp are very positive. The Southern Fry, pastrami sandwich and the steak frites all rate favorably; however, the Slow Burger, as their flagship menu item, draws close to universal raves (except for one factor which concerned a few of the experts as will be seen below)

“This is a solid burger.  Satisfying, juicy, and extremely filling.” Yelp 9/7/17

“HOLY COW!  This is an amazing burger.  Place looks like a hole in the wall, but don’t let that fool you.   This place has AMAZING food and drinks.”   Yelp 9/6/17

Even back in February and April of 2006, the burger drew plaudits as evidenced by these reviewers in Portland Barfly: Additionally, Slow Bar has the best burger in Portland and serves the best Manhattan”  and “….the food is always excellent. One of the 3 best burgers in town.”

And the papers and food review websites echo the compliments:

Willamette Week in its 2017 “16 Best Bar Burgers:”  “No other burger is more deserving of the top seed in our rankings.  It is the unholy monster of Portland bar burgers, the behemoth that made even fancy-restaurant burger-makers take note.”  The paper in a May 23, 2017 follow-up article even went on to assert, “Haven’t Had the Slow Burger at Slow Bar? Then You Don’t Really Even Live Here.”

SeriousEats.com in a March, 2012 article entitled “The Towering Triumph of Slow Bar’s Slowburger,” describes it this way:

“The beef is quite tender, arriving with a lovely crust on the top and bottom and a semi-loose grind that keeps most of the juice inside the meat and off your plate (or hands). The thick slice of nutty Gruyère melting on top of the patty is a good match for the simple beef.”

However, notwithstanding these laudatory comments, it goes on to add a caveat:

“The mighty Slowburger is simply to heavy for bread this dainty and the pickle relish alone, eats through the bottom bun halfway before you finish……As it stands, expect to get a lot of that relish all over your hands.”

And Thrillist in its 2016 expose on the “Eleven Best Burgers Ranked by our National Burger Critic,” after rating the Slowburger Number 8 finished its review by stating:

“For me, the thick patty was flavorful but a giant meaty mouthful, and the even temperature throughout gave it a little bit of a meatloaf flavor. On top of that, the lead lettuce and onion ring slid off as you’d try and bite down, causing most of the toppings to drop out of the back, like a cargo plane opening up its bay door.”

Tiny hands interfere with eating the Slow Burger and governing…..

Willamette Week chided the Thrillist critic for his trifling gripe and petty whining stating, “Thrillist’s national burger critic, Kevin Alexander, declared it too unwieldy for his presumably tiny hands. But Portland is not a welcome place for short-fingered vulgarians.”  (We can therefore assume that the paper would also not approve of a visit by the current President……)

I returned to Slow Bar on a Wednesday evening with my wife and we split a Slowburger and a green salad.  (The salad with goat cheese and an assortment of nuts was very good.) We had no beer and were both stuffed after we finished and our tab was a very reasonable $20 plus tip.

But we ended up eating a lot of the burger with forks because the bottom bun had soaked through.  (Not an overwhelming conundrum given a lot of society’s contemporary problems.)

Okay, enough on the burger routine with one more aside.  These articles on great Portland burgers made me realize that I need to expand my horizons.  Although I have visited 85+ bars in Portland, aside from the one at MadSon’s Pub (RIP) and Stanich’s, I have not been to any of the venues where the great burgers listed by the experts come off the grill.

The Thrillist comment about their #1 pick – Stanich’s Nick’s Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions – is worth repeating:  “This burger is a national treasure that I’d like to keep discovering over and over again.”

The jukebox is located close to the bathrooms for those who get overly excited about Heavy Metal

So what else distinguishes this bar from others?   The juke box get repeated mention for its excellent selection of heavy metal selections.  “A jukebox that will make you piss yourself with joy.”  (Portland Mercury 7/15/04)

The night we were there, selections included Metallica,  Portland’s Poison Idea and Red Fang (their single “Blood Like Cream” while eating the burger seemed a little bit out of harmony…..) and Acid Wash.  The juke played loudly and aggressively which seemed somewhat incongruent with the dimly crimson-lighted environment.

With ten draft beers, their tap list is not expansive but adequate with micros from $5 to $7 and includes a traditional Rainier at $3.    They have a decent selection of wines with about ten interesting cocktails including their popular Manhattan – “our own Slow Bar single barrel Woodford Reserve Bourbon.”

Given the non-descript interior, perhaps one of the draws to Slow Bar is the diverse and interesting crowd that frequents the bar. The following gives an idea of the eclectic group:

Portland Barfly“….a steady stream of Portland’s most beautiful trickle through the narrow corridor between the stainless-steel bar and large custom booths….”

Willamette Week (8/3/2004) “….a bizarre Southeast Grand Avenue homage to ‘seedy bliss,’ where business suits, Burnside skate punks and Milwaukie suburbanites all collide.  In Portland, were every club boasts its own culture and devotees, Slow Bar is a prime candidate for the swing voters of the nightlife world.”

I was also a little bit amused and surprised by co-owner Barnash’s reactions on Yelp to two critical reviews, especially since the overwhelming majority of the comments were very positive.  Before responding, one should also remember that some people on social media have the judgement and discretion of former Secretary of Health and Human Service, Thomas Price…..

Yelp   4/23/17 – “I’m amazed you could give us such a horrible review when the food critics and writers and other Yelpers all disagree with you.”

Yelp 2/27/17 – “I know all my servers well as they have all worked with me for years (because it’s a rad place to work and they kick ass) so if you have had bad service both times you have been to my establishment, then I firmly believe that it’s you not them.  I see you left the review at 2:30 A,M.”

On my first visit, I intended to have lunch with my former Oregon State Bar colleague in the early ’80’s, Bernie Stea.

After many years, we had recently reconnected at a great lunch in Camas, where he and his wife, former Portland radio personality, Deb Jaynes, are managing brokers at the Carl Group, a real estate investment and development firm.  We subsequently had a memorable lunch experience at Northeast Portland establishment NEPO 42.   https://thebeerchaser.com/tag/nepo-42/  

A good bar in NE Portland

Bernie had a meeting in downtown Portland and our plan was to meet at 12:15 at Slow Bar.  He called me at 12:30 to tell me that he was stuck in a traffic jam on the Fremont Bridge.  I wondered why he chose that route rather than just coming across the Hawthorne which is more direct.

However, from our years working together, I learned not to question a guy who graduated from the University of Maryland Law School as a member of the prestigious Order of the Coif honorary and who also did budgetary manipulations on his Osborne computer that were both esoteric and somewhat terrifying……

Bernie and NEPO 42 burger – the Slowburger will have to wait

Bernie called again at 12:45 asking where I was, to which I replied, “Slow Bar.”  He then somewhat sheepishly informed me that he was sitting in Low Bar in downtown Vancouver.  In order to salvage his pride, I did not remind him that I sent him a link to Slow Bar the day before confirming our lunch appointment.  

We agreed that we would try Low Bar next time which looks interesting and consistent with venues visited on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs.

You should check out Slow Bar.  While it may not have the distinctiveness of some other SE watering holes – most notably in the Barmuda Triangle, it has some features warranting a visit.   And as Frank Peters said, “They have done a really, really ‘Tip of the Cap’ job in a very difficult business during a very competitive time in a marginal area. ‘Many are called—–Few are chosen.'” FJP

The “Flake” at Thebeerchaser visit to the Grand Cafe in 2013

Although Frank’s bars are not operating any longer, they were always colorful and oozed character.  Perhaps Michael Barnash and Rob Hemmerling should hire the former OSU Beav and Maverick as a consultant…….

 

Slow Bar         533 SE Grand Avenue, PDX

 

The Independent – A Maverick Among Bars….

photo-jan-31-5-37-28-pm

 

 

 

 

 

I ‘ve been to a number of sports bars in the five and one-half years since starting Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs.  Some such as the historic Claudias in southeast Portland stand out and have some character and interesting sports memorabilia – like the picture of my Oregon City High School basketball coach, Dale Herron, who played for the legendary Claudia’s AAU team, after starring for the U of O Ducks in college.  (He played for Claudia’s from 1961-7 during which time they won three NW AAU Championships.)

No. 34 - third from the left in back row - former U of O basketball star, Dale Herron

No. 34 – third from the left in back row – former U of O basketball star, Dale Herron

But many others such as the Marathon Taverna, which purports to be a sports bar doesn’t live up to the label – just a number of big-screen TVs.  That was also the case with the On Deck (downtown location), the immediate predecessor of The Independent.  Prior to that, the Silver Dollar II, another sports bar occupied the space.

However, The Independent – on Broadway near the historic Benson Hotel, is a great sports bar with a theme dear to the heart of most Portlanders – the legendary Portland Mavericks Baseball Team.

Opening day for the Mavericks at Civic Stadium in 1973

The Portland Mavericks have a fabled history as documented in the award-winning documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball, produced in 2014.

The team, formed in 1973 by Hollywood notable, Bing Russell, was the only independent baseball team in America at the time.  As described in the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) summary:

“Bing operated without a Major League affiliation while playing in a city that was considered a wasteland for professional baseball.  Tryouts for the Mavericks, which were open to the public, were filled with hopefuls who arrived in droves from every state in America, many of whom had been rejected by organized baseball. Skeptics agreed it would never work………

The Mavericks’ in your face attitude was contagious to fans, and during their short reign, they – and Bing Russell – basically held up their middle finger to the sports establishment and said we’re playing this game on our terms, not yours. They were the real life Bad News Bears.”

A rear view (and perhaps more photogenic one) of Faust at the Independent across from Alice, his wife, and lawyer Jim Westwood

Joining us for beers that day, wearing his Portland Mavericks jacket, was a man who was integrally involved in that history – Beerchaser regular and retired Portland appellate lawyer and broadcaster and most importantly, a former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Jack Faust. https://thebeerchaser.com/2014/09/02/john-r-jack-faust-fall-2014-beerchaser-of-the-quarter/

Faust with former Portland Maverick Manager, Frank “The Flake” Peters while Beerchasing at the Grand Cafe

Jack appears in the movie and you can read about his role as Bing Russell’s lawyer in the underdog legal victory in his suit against the Pacific Coast League in the Beerchaser post.(Russell was awarded $206,000 in a final arbitration – the League had made a final pre-arbitration offer of $5,000!):

Besides the interesting sports memorabilia, The Independent is spacious, has a cool wrap-around bar, a good selection of beers (20 on tap, which include five rotating and a $3.50 PBR Tall Boy) and a host of wide screen TVs (32) with various sporting events:

“Come catch a game on one of our 32 flat panel TV’s and a projection system for big games.  Your team will be on!

You’ll also find …..vintage hockey masks, boxing gloves, baseball bats ad a vertical collection of USA Men’s Soccer jerseys dating back to the ’70’s on loan from Nike.”

Corey, our jovial and helpful server

And we were fortunate to have an outstanding server that day.  Corey Lewis was personable, very helpful on beer selection and background of the bar while also having an interesting story (see below)

 The others enjoying The Independent’s beer and environment that day were Jack’s wife, Alice, son Charlie, his daughter, Amy, lawyer Jim Westwood, Denny Ferguson and Thebeerchaser’s spouse, Janet.  (Denny stuck to his values and ordered a cold Coors Light draft.)

Thebeerchasing crew with the traditional logo

As usual, the company on these Beerchasing events is always a highlight regardless of how good or bad the watering hole in which we raise a mug(s).  Such was the case at The Independent in which Jack Faust refreshed us with some Mavericks’ lore including the antics of his friend, Frank Peters.

Alice Faust – 1941 Adventure..

We also heard the amazing story of Alice Faust’s experience when she personally witnessed the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack.  As a 7-year-old living in Honolulu near Pearl Harbor, she heard and saw Japanese bombers and fighters flying over their house and heard the bomb blasts from the harbor as Japan launched World War Two in the Pacific. Her father, a naval reserve officer recently called to active duty, drove off in a Chevrolet to war at the base.

Raising the Grant High 2017 trophy (Alice is on the right)

And who could resist the dialogue between two of the smartest Constitutional experts I know – Faust and Westwood (the latter, also a former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter and a coach of this year’s Grant High School’s Oregon Constitution team on which Amy Faust’s daughter, Alice, is a member and will soon depart for the national competition in Washington, DC.)

Faust and Westwood – The beer sweetened the dialogue….

Their discussion focused on the next step and the likelihood that the White House would prevail after a federal district court and then the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked Trump’s first travel ban.

(“The three judges from the 9th Circuit flatly rejected the government’s argument that suspension of the order should be lifted immediately for national security reasons, and they forcefully asserted their ability to serve as a check on the president’s power.”)

Note 1:  The President, learning from his first mistake and in an effort to have the “terrible judges” reconsider, issued a revised Executive Order in March, which just last week was also frozen by a Federal District Court Judge in Hawaii.

Note 2: Faust’s amazing legal career includes serving at Richard Nixon’s lawyer in Oregon for his 1972 re-election campaign.

Twenty draft beers including five rotating taps

Since it opened only in 2015, The Independent does not have scads of social media reviews, but most are very positive based on its location near Portland hotels, the food, the ambiance and the service.

As expected, there were some early negative reviews complaining about the service, but if our example was typical, they have addressed the issue.  And one thing that was impressive was the fact that the negative comments, when they were reasonable, often generated a response by Linda Addy, Director of Operations for Independent Restaurant Concepts, who either apologized or offered to rectify the problem if the complainant contacted her.  I also chatted with Linda by phone and she is a real pro, interested in providing a great experience at her firm’s venues.  

What is the appropriate male patron to urinal ratio in a sports bar???

 

As always, there were some interesting critical comments – ranging from the gratuitous such as the typical whiners who didn’t get to see their specific sports team or wanted every television in the place to broadcast the Duck’s game…. to the irritated (and probably older) guy who was irate: “Had to change the place to 1 start – a sports bar with 1 urinal!!!  What an oxymoron!!!” 

(At first, I laughed at this comment, but considering that many of the reviews talk about the great crowds at the bar, perhaps this is something that management  may need to address although there are two bathrooms in the bar.)

The bar is locally owned according to a June, 2016 announcement in Portland Eater: “Brandon and Brian Anderson own the 225 SW Broadway Building and  they’re teaming up with IRC – the restaurant group behind Produce Row Care, Circa 33 and others.”  (See Thebeerchaser review on the impressive resurrection of the historic Produce Row Cafe) https://thebeerchaser.com/2015/12/07/produce-row-cafe-take-a-hike-and-have-a-brewski/

The Man Cave

The menu is pretty typical with some good bargains at happy-hour which is 3:00 to 6:00 each weekday – a buck off on all beers,  a cheeseburger for $5 and both nachos and a Coney dog for $6 and a $2 salad which got a favorable review.

One 9/1/16 Yelp reviewer commented, “Much better food selection than your average sports bar.  Gluten-free options are always a plus.  Good service, clean dining areas.

I mentioned that Corey, our server, has as interesting story.  He is a native Montanan and trans-planted Texan who is both an actor and musician.  He told us about his four-piece rock band, The Misery Men, in which he plays a mean rhythm guitar and does vocals in addition to being  “Chairman of the Board. “

According to one 2016 reviewer: http://doomedandstoned.com/post/138441988863/themiserymen

The Misery Men with Corey in the center

“Corey G Lewis is a man of many names, A.K.A. “Mr. Misery,” “Vortex Conductor,” “Snakecharmer,” “The Magician,” and (my personal favorite) “Viking Jesus of the Utopia.” Corey claims responsibility for the band’s vocals, screams, growling, lyrics, and riffs. 

He’s a jack of all trades, counting among his specialties: vortex conductor, time traveler, quantum theorist, worshiper of cats, crow whisperer, and aficionado the quantum world! A well-travelled dude, he’s called Missoula, Denver, NYC, NOLA, L.A., and Austin his home and, since 2011, Portland, Oregon.”

The Independent also has some interesting cocktails and this led to my only disappointment that afternoon.  I was anticipating with relish their “go to” cocktail – the Maverick  but was denied that experience because they actually ran out of Old Overholt:

“A shot of Old Overholt + icy-cold Rainier 8 (Old Overholt is the oldest of The Olds, a relic you can drink.  This famous Straight Rye Whiskey has a distinctive flavor and appeal that after Prohibition, made it the most popular spirit in the country…)”

Old Overholt – Rye Whiskey that demands a return to the bar….

Fortunately, I had a great Fort George Vortex IPA (this and the Breakside IPA are their most popular beers) which eased the psychological trauma.  More importantly, it gives me an excuse to make a another visit to The Independent – a sports bar that merits a return.  Besides, I want to check out the featured “Man Cave” (Leather couches, wingback chairs, and things like vintage medicine balls and a punching bag.)

And when you go, say “hello” to Corey and find out where his band is playing next.

The Independent      225 SW Broadway #100   


Note:  I paid another visit to The Independent on St. Patrick’s Day and it was rocking.   1080 – The Fan was broadcasting and the bar was filled with revelers.

And the Man Cave was impressive with the party in the picture above enjoying more nachos than I think I have ever seen in one confined space previously.

I still need to return for The Maverick Cocktail as I couldn’t resist having another Ft. George beer.

Dirt and Sprague from 1080 in broadcast mode…