Okay Beerchasers – This is No Bar Joke!!


(Cheers to my wonderful sister-in-law, Pam Williams, for doing the calligraphy and graphic above.)

Those who follow this blog, know that it started as a hobby after I retired in 2011 as the COO of Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt – a large Portland law firm where I had worked over twenty-five years.  The whim to visit and write about bars and breweries came after a lunchtime drop-in to Lumpy’s Landing in Dundee on the way to the Oregon coast.

While the plan was initially to confine my exploits to just Portland area establishments, our retirement travel combined with my wife, Janet’s, discovery that she liked IPA’s rather than confining her beverage selection to strictly Oregon Pinots, offered the opportunity to expand this “journey” to Europe, Alaska, Hawaii, many regions of the US and throughout Oregon – from the coast to the Cascades to Eastern Oregon.

Raising a mug at the historic Dirty Nelly’s Tavern in Boston

So at the end of 2018, my count of reviews – all of them except when traveling, consisting of at least two visits, was at 287.  Of these 111 were in the Portland metro area with the remaining 176 watering holes, scattered throughout the aforementioned localities.  The post below – published in January provides a complete list by year of those venues:

https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/01/17/hey-have-you-seen-thebeerchaser-during-the-last-seven-years/

A week-long trip to Phoenix in March this year for Spring Training, hikes and Beerchasing upped that count by eight and reviews of four Oregon establishments, The Gemini in Lake Oswego, Old Town Brewing and the Bantam Tavern in Portland and Beachcrest Brewing on the Central Oregon Coast, raised the tally to 299.

The “living wall” at the unique Pigtails Bar in Scottsdale.

The threshold of this significant milestone, begged the question of the appropriate bar or brewery to “honor” as # 300 as well as which Beerchaser regular to ask to join me for that momentous occasion.

The Leaky Roof  (hereafter “The Roof”) – a wonderful and long-time SW Portland neighborhood bar or gastro pub – founded in 1947 – originally as a food cart and one that survived a devastating fire, seemed fitting.  It had been a convenient (two blocks away) and cherished gathering place for many after-work brewskis with my colleagues when I worked at the Oregon State Bar from 1979 through 1985.

I returned there after an absence of 33 years in June 2018, with Janet and some good friends and Beerchaser regulars (David and Kate Dickson and Roy Lambert and his spouse Mary Maxwell).  We had a great meal and sampled their good tap list and I vowed to return for my second review and subsequent blog post.

The 2018 return visit

That occurred on May 6th and it was absolutely appropriate that my long-time friend, Dennis B. Fergson accompanied me.   I first met Fergy in 1979, when I started at the Bar Association and the firm for which he was President and Chairman of the Board – JBL & K Insurance, served as the Bar’s benefits consultants.

After “retiring” from insurance and since he knows everyone in Portland, he has worked at Portland State University – first as Assistant Athletic Director and currently as Senior Philanthropic Advisor.  (That means he knows who to approach in the Rose City to donate to the City’s excellent university – of which both my wife and I are alums in the graduate Masters in Public Administration program.)

I will return to Denny later in the post, but we had a great lunch – Fergy had one of the many – perhaps hundreds – of cheeseburgers he has consumed during lunches over our forty-year friendship. I had a great Reuben sandwich, which rivaled what former Mayor Bud Clark’s Goose Hollow Inn down the street claims as the “Best Reuben on the Planet.”
I was surprised that The Roof has not been named as one of Portland’s go-to bars in Willamette Week’s Annual Bar Guide – an excellent and comprehensive resource for Thebeerchaser since starting this hobby in 2011.

2017 Willamette Week Annual Bar Guide

Other than a brief reference in one article on pub crawls  and a short review by legendary former WW Arts and Culture Editor, Mathew Korfhage in 2013, the only other hit from a Goggle search with WW and the name of the bar in the search terms is a 2017 WW article entitled:

“Portland Woman Sues State Senator Rod Monroe for $3 Million After a Leaky Roof in His East Portland Apartment Building Allegedly Left Her Disabled”.  (emphasis supplied)  It is unknown whether beer or any other alcohol was involved in this incident…..

Korfhage’s revew states, in part:

“The bar serves its once-blue-collar Goose Hollow crowd with triflingly cheap happy-hour food ($4.95 for a one-third-pound burger, 3-6 pm) and costlier dinners, including an excellent lamb shepherd’s pie ($14.50) so spiced it’s almost curried.

Great food besides good whiskey, beer and wine…

The website promises ‘the largest selection of Irish whiskey available in Portland,’and while we can’t verify the claim, the list doesn’t disappoint, with 24 marks and vintages of uisce beatha (the name for whiskey in Irish) in its tiny hearth-and-hardwood space. Dirt-cheap, triple-shot whiskey flights are available….”

 

I did not sample The Roof’s whiskey inventory – Irish, Scotch, Bourbon and Blended – extensive as you can see from their menu – and only had a few of the nine beers on tap – which I was glad to see included both Guiness and PBR

The picture below shows that they have a classic bar set-up which attractively houses the various hard liquors for which the bar has developed a reputation.  They also offer a nice selection of wines.

Another surprise in doing additional research on the bar, is the breadth and excellent quality of their menu – deserving of their claim to be a gastro pub.  It ranges from a robust weekend brunch menu, a good selection of lunch options, to standard starters, sandwiches, salads and seven very reasonably priced dinner entree’s ranging from fried chicken to Shepherds Pie (Korfhage raved about this) to Pecan Crusted Trout to Stuffed Meatloaf – which could be topped off by Crème Brule’e or fried ice cream for dessert.

Great dessert options as well!

Sabrina, our personable and competent server with Denny

And I am sorely tempted to return for their Happy Hour – during certain hours every day of the week in which you could get a bowl of Guinness Irish Stew for a mere $4 plus a buck off your alcohol preference.

I have to admit that as I stated in one previous bar review, having lunch (or breakfast at The Dockside) with Fergy is like winning the lottery, but notwithstanding the character and personality of this remarkable gentleman, it did not influence my positive reaction when reconnecting with The Roof.

Dennis Ferguson, who was one of the Few and The Proud, during his service with the US Marine Corps, is also an outstanding athlete and family man.

We still laugh about the time in the early 1990’s when I walked into a lunch at Huber’s during some stressful law firm merger negotiations.  After a few minutes of conversation, he said to me “Williams, you need to shape up.  Quit slouching and get rid of the monotone and be a leader.”

A few cheeseburgers back……

He has always been motivated, but I think his tendency to be a mentor was born when he was allegedly on a business trip to Keokuk, Iowa in 1985.  He left a message with the hotel front desk to give him a call at 6:30 and when he answered the next morning, the clerk said, “Mr. Ferguson, this is your wake-up call.  What are you going to do with the rest of  your life??”

When I told my wife that I was going to lunch at The Roof with Denny, she said, “Don, you better change.  Denny always looks so classy!”   To top that off, as we walked in, a well-known Portland investment adviser who knows both of us and walked in right before us and came over to our table, looked at Fergy and said, “You never age, do you?”

So to say the least, being around Dennis B. Ferguson ups one’s game, but regardless of whether you have the pleasure of his company in the future as I will, you should give the Leaky Roof a visit – and not just for a drink, but for lunch or dinner.

Perhaps it doesn’t get the publicity or accolades of The Goose because of the well-deserved fondness Portlanders have for Bud Clark, but it scores as one of the premium neighborhood gastro pubs in Portland.

The Leaky Roof       1538 SW Jefferson

 

The Bantam Tavern – Something to Crow* About


Many traditional dives and neighborhood taverns have disappeared from the Portland bar scene and those remaining are at risk given the economy and the tendency to transition the space into higher paying commercial tenants such as condos.  It’s  thus refreshing that a number of Portland entrepreneurs are willing to invest in both traditional and new watering holes.

Rather than the corporate franchises who offer sterile environments such as the Yard House, one can still find quaint environments reflecting individual character thanks, in part, to the efforts of two partnerships – Dan Hart and Chris Navarra and there’s also Warren Boothby and Marcus Archambeault.

A Boothby and Archambeault bar in SE

The latter are responsible for establishments such as Gold Dust Meridian, the rejuvenated Sandy Hut, the Lay Low Tavern and the recently opened Vern, which saved the former Hannigan’s from oblivion.  (the latter two, not yet reviewed by Thebeerchaser.)

Hart and Navarra are co-owners of some of my favorite Beerchasing experiences over the last seven years including Prost, Stammtisch and Interurban, all of which had great beer, outstanding food, wonderful bartenders and servers and an environment that makes one want to return on a regular basis.

Getting the Boot at Prost

They have done it again with the opening of the Bantam Tavern on NW 21st.   Other than to a limited extent in the Pearl District, the concentration of bars – especially good traditional bars – in the NW quadrant, pales in comparison to the Eastside.

The space, formerly occupied by one of the Laughing Planet healthy-food restaurants, which moved across the street, is small and appropriately named as stated by Hart:

“It comes from a bantam, like a small bird or chicken,” he says.  “It’s that ‘small in stature but big in heart’ kind of idea.”

And the Bantam may be diminutive in total size, but packed with the kind of stuff that draws you to a bar.   First, the building in which it’s located is an attractive brick building with an engaging entrance.

Typical Phoenix Brewery – good beer, but strip mall ambiance at Helio Basin.

After recently spending a week in Phoenix in which it seems that about 90% of the bars and breweries – although they had good beer – are located in strip malls and have the ambiance – well….of Phoenix!

The  interior of the Bantam is attractive with only a few tables/booths, but a great bar and backbar. The art and interior décor is distinctive and there’s one TV that is tucked in a back corner, so not overly distracting.  

The idea to hit the Bantam emanated from my friend Steve Oltman, who works only a block away at Sealy Mattress and had said we should make a visit.

In doing preliminary research before the visit, I saw quite a number of really bad social media comments such as this one from Yelp:  “I keep wanting to love it and make it my local bar of choice.  Unfortunately, every experience I have had is just mediocre.”

Steve is a classy guy and I was incredulous that he was so positive — then I realized — I was looking at reviews for the Bantam Pub in Atlanta!

This was Steve’s second Beerchasing event after hitting the Salty Rhino last December, which is a new bar in West Linn that is close to both of our homes.   He’s, a Minnesota native and Moorhead State grad, has a contagious grin and is a good drinking buddy – besides his other great traits!

Besides being a great mixologist, Ollie Gahlsdorf (right) is a very amiable person

They have robust Happy Hour options and each of us had a good Flensburger Pilsner for $4.50 – the first time I have tried this authentic German beer – a good option.   Otherwise, they have eight taps – with some excellent Northwest microbrews including Newburg’s Wolves & People Farmhouse Brewery’s Helder and a cider tap.

Also ten diverse bottled beers, including Ranier and Budweiser for traditionalists and more esoteric options such as Tillamook brewery de Garde’s Framboise at $29 for a 750 ml bottle – “an average age of approximately 18 months, and refermented the blend with fresh Oregon red raspberries.”  (Untapped)  There are also eight wine options.

Ollie Gahlsdorf, who previously managed Interurban, is the bar manager and stated that he loves the neighborhood and the patrons trying out the new establishment and “business since we opened has been great.”   He garnered great reviews for his cocktails at Interurban and now has “designed the house cocktails, including the Lions,Tigers and Bears, a Jamaican rum sour with apricot syrup and allspice dram.”  (Oregon Live 10/19/18).

“Oh My!!” Jamaican rum sour with apricot syrup and allspice dram.

There are fifteen interesting options – helpfully broken into sections such as “Strong,”  “Not Too Sweet,” (includes a jell-O-shot, “Hot Drinks” and “Sweet.”  They range from $10 – $12 with steep discounts for the Happy Hour options such as an Old Fashioned.

We did not have time to eat, but the menu is typical of Dan Hart’s establishments and food presentations we saw looked really good:

“Stammtisch chef Grahman Chaney plays more towards the sensibilities at Interurban than those at his day job.

Salty drinking snacks like jerk-seasoned chicken thighs and a Dungeness crab dip with friend wonton chips (both $9 during happy hour) star alongside hearty, meal-sized sandwiches, like a prime rib dip ($15) and a tavern burger ($14) so juicy the first bites caused it to ooze like a punctured water balloon.”   Willamette Week review 11/21/18

And where can you find a bar menu that allows you to have an entrée like Steak Diane for $18 and yet try a Spam Slammer (grilled Spam with teriyaki, mustard, pineapple, hoisin aioli & shaved cabbage on a sweet Hawaiian bun) for $4.   Ollie said the slammers are “a real adventure.”

Both Steve and I are ready to try it when we return – probably in good weather so we can enjoy the nice patio and assuming our wives don’t accompany us….By the way, they also have a worthy assortment of munchies such as olives, popcorn (dressed in Parmesan & espelette pepper) and chicken legs that almost had me reaching over to the plate of the guy next to me at the bar for a sample.

The fourth of Dan Hart’s establishments I’ve visited lived up to the experiences of the others and this bright, attractive bar has everything you want for either a casual beer or a night out.  Steve’s recommendation was spot on.

Both the print and socal media reviews are virtually all positive and I was impressed that Dan Hart personally responded to the one Yelp review that was negative.  Perhaps the best summary is:

“Outstanding happy hour dinner and drinks tonight!.  Great cozy atmosphere, engaging staff, really excellent food (don’t miss the chicken confit, standout fries and a burger, a perfect Old Fashioned and well-curated draft list.  Highly recommend.”  (Yelp 11/14/18)

Bantam Tavern Logo

Bantam Tavern          922 NW 21st 

*   And by the way, Bantam chickens do crow……

The Gemini – Maybe Not Your Sign – But Perhaps Your Bar!

There is a dearth of good neighborhood bars in West Linn and Lake Oswego.   Just before the end of 2018, however, I found a terrific new one less than three miles from my house in West Linn.

The Salty Rhino is a small, no frills, but superb neighborhood pub on Highway 43.   John Lyons and his business partner, Alan Blackwell, are doing a good job of establishing a clientele of regulars since it opened in 2018.

Lake Oswego is a different story.  While there are a few bars, the Gemini Bar and Grill (hereafter “Gemini”) stands out as one that has a lot to offer with an inviting environment.

As Portland Barfly, a credible authority on Portland area bars, states in its review:

“Really the only proper bar in Lake O with a local draw of friendly, mostly younger folks and the occasional monied types on the slum. Remodeled a few years back, ceilings raised, fire place alight. Outdoor seating. Pool x3, sports on multiple screens. 24 beers on tap.” 

While admitting that I’ve gone to this watering hole on State Street in the center of Lake O for years, I have essentially taken it for granted – occasionally just going in for a casual beer with a friend and then forgetting about it.

A gathering of brothers – (albeit old ones…)

It was only in the last fifteen months after attending two gatherings (the most recent two weeks ago) of my SAE fraternity brothers – a bunch of old guys who graduated from Oregon State in the early ’70’s and listening to their comments, then doing some research and afterwards talking to the owner and manager that I came to really appreciate it.

And these frat guys, having started their Beerchasing exploits while in college at legendary Corvallis bars such as Don’s Den, Prices and the Peacock, have strong credibility when it comes to evaluating such establishments..

Corvallis – the start of a life-long educational process…..and the Peacock is still thriving

The Gemini has a long history in this same location and before it was opened by Jerry Casey (whose astrological sign was Gemini) in 1982, it was a bar called the Open Seas.

Casey’s son, Shawn, now owns the building and sold the business to Lordean Moran seven years ago.  She is an attractive and personable lady who lives in West Linn and started as a bartender and then manager at the Gemini.

So why is the Gemini recommended and what distinguishes it as a good neighborhood den?

Besides having ample parking, which can often be a problem at Portland establishments, it’s spacious yet has a cozy atmosphere (two great gas fireplaces), an attractive long bar, two pool tables, a number of smaller spaces or niches to provide some privacy, if desired, and a variety of tables from small rounds to a long community table as well as a larger space in the rear for groups and for weekend music.

It has a kind of funky décor with holiday-type lights illuminating the exposed duct work and ample televisions to see the game you want, yet which don’t overwhelm and detract from the environment.

And don’t forget the deck at the rear, which appeared to be a sure bet in fair weather.

Besides the physical attributes, they have a good selection of beers and ciders on tap (15), specialty cocktails and some favorites which draw great social media reviews (Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule and Margarita).

Good selection of drafts – including PBR, of course.

Lordean also told me they are now offering CBD Soda – a hemp infused soda – the first time I had heard of this offering at a Portland bar although it is becoming more common.  The Gemini sells a lot of it and why not – it’s supposed to:

“…aid sleep, reduce nausea and vomiting, relieve anxiety and reduce contractions in the small intestines,” among other remedies….!

CBD Soda – Medicinal Qualities??

Perhaps this drink has redefined the meaning of the term “On the ropes…”

Then there is the good bar food, the friendly and competent staff, and weekly events including trivia night and popular Texas-holdem tournaments.  The Gemini is also well know for its weekend music.

I guess I could end the review here, but some amplification is fitting.   The first SAE function was in November, 2017.  About twenty-five of us were gathered including some spouses and April, the manager reserved the back room to accommodate us.

Our server was efficient and friendly in handling that size crowd and it was perfect for having a few beers and snacks and catching up after a number of years.

The most recent gathering…

Our most recent get-together was small – only six of us and we all fit at one table.  Grace, our server, was superb and based on the experience of several who make regular visits to the Gemini, she always reflects that customer-service attitude making us feel like we were the only customers in what was a busy bar. (see below for more about Grace)

Unlike many of the establishments I cover, I found no newspaper articles on the history of the bar or reviews by print media such as Willamette Week or The Portland Mercury.   Most of the social media reviews, however, are very positive.

Cozy cubby-holes and niches….

One can go back a number of years and see a few complaints about the sound system or the interior but they have remodeled a number of times over the years and upgraded the sound-system.

There now seems to be little room for complaint. (Yeah, there was one idiot on Yelp who was miffed because they didn’t have Pear Vodka…..)

And Fridays and Saturdays when they have live music, are the nights to hit the Gemini if you want a party-type atmosphere.

The space where the bands play can get filled up pretty quickly and you can reserve a table for a fee which essentially becomes a credit against your bar tab.  I liked this admonition by a Yelp reviewer (1/13/18):

“Plan ahead, save a space by the dance floor, live music is always the best depending on your likes, very talented musicians.  Food is good, service is good, but be patient on busy nights.  And don’t just sit yourselves down like you’re in a five star restaurant and expect to be pampered — not that place. This place  is a fun low key place with great music and a wonderful owner who really cares!

In January, the groups below had weekend Gemini gigs and although my knowledge of this topic is severely lacking, they appear to have good followings and play at some credible establishments in the Portland music scene:

Wild Heart, Kevin Selfe, singer/songwriter Jacob Westfall, Acoustic Minds.

Dancehall Days, My Happy Pill, Will Kinky

Curtis Salgado

Lordean explained that the history of music at the Gemini is rich and such premier NW musicians including Curtis Salgado and Linda Hornbuckle – the late matriarch of the Portland blues and gospel scene – made regular appearances in years past.

When asked for one of the distinguishing characteristics of the bar, the owner said without hesitation, “Safety for our women customers – especially on weekends.”

This assertion was affirmed at least in one of the more unusual Yelp reviews – especially since the bar is in the burbs and Lake Oswego is not the most menacing unless you are intimidated by BMW sedans…..

It makes a valid point, however, about an important issue for bars these days whether in the burbs or in the urban center.  It also helps differentiate the Gemini from many of its competitors:

“I was greeted by the general manager, April, and watched after, the security is watching for creepy guys and actually offered to walk me to my car, the excellence of taking care of female clients, more bars should take this precedent! Absolutely the highest level of personal safety for women!”  (11/24/18 – Yelp)

And Grace, who was effusively praised by the aforementioned fraternity bros. is mentioned specifically in three of the more recent reviews from 2017 and 2018, the most ebullient and yet succinct of which was: One word… GRACE!”  (11/12/17).

One Word — “Grace!”

April also draws additional kudos from social media plus the SAE’s as well and when I chatted with her, it was obvious that she takes pride in the bar she manages and has a great relationship with her customers.

April

Now without getting too compulsive on the Yelp reviews, this one (3/6/2018) sums it up pretty well:

“This place is the BEST! GREAT food, service, and a comfortable place! I recommend this place. You’re NOT going to find a better bar/restaurant in downtown Lake Oswego. I enjoy the dignity and service that is given to me. IT’S IMPORTANT TO FEEL GOOD, WHEN YOU GO OUT.”

Two parting notes:

First, when I saw the shelf of gnomes or trolls shown below in the wall opposite the bar, I initially thought it was kind of weird and tacky and not consistent with the setting.   But after talking to Lordean, it reinforced the idea of this bar as a “community” of sorts, as was the case with the aforementioned Salty Rhino and other great neighborhood bars.

Gnome Contest – perhaps garrish, but a great benefit to Children’s Cancer Association

She said that this “Gnome Program” started five years ago when a little girl named Lexie was diagnosed with cancer.  Lordean came up with the idea of buying the gnomes and having a contest to paint them.  The Gemini brings in “judges” to determine the winners, and all the proceeds go to help Lexie through the Children’s Cancer Association.

The program has continued and they have raised significant funds.  They also support fundraisers for Camp Millennium – a free camp in Roseburg for children who have received a cancer diagnosis.

Secondly, one of the six SAEs who was at the Gemini recently was not in the group picture because he volunteered to take it.  I remedied that by having someone else take the photo at the end of the post.  Craig (The Dude) Hanneman was a roommate for several terms at the SAE house in 1968.

Thebeerchaser and The Dude in 1968

The amazing story of this former farm boy from Turner, Oregon can be viewed in Thebeerchaser post I published in 2012 when he was named Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

Up to last week at the Gemini, the Dude and I were kind of even i.e. in 1969, I coached him through Dr. Edward G. McGrath’s upper-division political science seminar.

We plodded through topics such as the political economy of development and underdevelopment, social change, democracy, authoritarianism and regime change, nationalism and constitutional design.  (This was substantively different than him having to learn how to defend the Triple-Option Flexbone Offense when he was an All-American defensive tackle for OSU.)

Defending the Triple-option flex…..

In return, he taught me how to appreciate the lyrics, tonality and meter of Dean Martins’ Greatest Hits album, most notably what became my favorite song in college – “Thirty More Miles to San Diego.”

But that day at the Gemini, he inspired me with a new technique when toasting with a friend for which I am grateful and owe him.  It’s wise advise for all drinkers.  He said:

“Dirt, typically when people propose a toast, they look at the ceiling or have no focus with their eyes. 

From this day forward, whenever you toast, you should  adopt my practice of looking the other party(ies) straight in the eye when you say ‘Cheers.’  That way they know you mean it and it’s not an empty gesture.”

Astute advice from an old buddy…..

Make a point to hit the Gemini in the near future, if not for a musical group on the weekend, just to drop in for a beer and to say hello to April and Grace.   Tell them that Thebeerchaser sent you….

The Gemini Bar and Grill         456 State Street        Lake Oswego

Hunt Down the Salty Rhino…

Michael Lammers and Steve Oltman

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.

The bar at Palomar

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 with Steve Oltman

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.

John Lyons – looking good in an ugly sweater, but how would it look on Belichick??

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.”

Commendable Commode!

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.

Lived on Nixon Avenue in West Linn….

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!”  

What did the street know and when did it know it???

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.

Snow Cave A great winter ale

“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?

No memories of the hunt, but a great design.

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..!”)

Vikings Quarterback Kirk Cousins is smiling, but Steve is not…..

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…….

Food Options

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)

Salty Rhino Pub         

19335 Willamette Dr.           West Linn

 

Bar 33 (Brooklyn) and Then???


What draws a person to watering hole?   Having visited over 250 bars, taverns and breweries in the last seven years of which about one-half were in the Portland area, I feel reasonably qualified to opine…..

Multnomah Whiskey Library

In some cases, it might be the extensive tap list or whiskey labels.  Examples might be Bailey’s Tap House (24 rotating taps) or the Multnomah Whiskey Library (1,500 different labels) both in downtown Portland. (Click on the link to see Thebeerchaser review of all bars mentioned in this post.)

I would suggest, however, that when one confronts more than fifteen or so drafts or ten labels of Scotch, the incremental magnitude of the drink menu becomes somewhat irrelevant (as long as PBR is one of the drafts….).

Bailey’s Tap List – how many drafts does one need?

In other cases, it might simply be economics.  A good Happy Hour with $1.50 PBRs or cheap but strong cocktails can garner a loyal group of regulars.

At Gil’s Speakeasy, their claim to be “The Nicest A-holes in Town,” might just be correct, and the cheap beer is supplemented by a daily food special such as a $3 chili dog (Saturdays) or three tacos for a buck on Mondays — that’s also Dirty Bingo Night!.

Or maybe it’s just the attraction of an ice-cold Hamms on tap for a buck  – all day each Wednesday.  That’s the case at The Standard.  It’s a NE dive bar which Mathew Korfhage, the fabled (and now former) bar reviewer at Willamette Week in the WW 2017 Portland Bar Guide described as:

“….cheap, no-nonsense fun in a way that takes all comers and yet is loving towards its long-time regulars.  These days in Portland that makes The Standard not very standard at all.  It makes it a GD treasure.”

The Standard – “A GD Treasure.”

While I could go on for pages on other criteria drawing one to a bar, I will complete this list by adding the critical factor of ambiance or character.  It’s where an establishment as you walk by beckons you – like the Sirens in Homer’s Odyssey.

Odysseus and the Sirens from Homer – tied to the mast…..

Maybe it’s the engaging and cordial staff or the friendly regulars that radiate a welcoming atmosphere that pervades the place like smoke from the Taylor Wild Fire in the City of Grants Pass.  (And before Oregon’s Smoke Free law passed in 1981, most dive bars had the same Air Quality Index reading…)

My favorite Portland examples are the Dockside along the Willamette River in North Portland or Cracker Jack’s Pub in NW.  As you walk out the door, you are already planning your next return trip…..

The Dockside – a hidden gem

Or perhaps its the idiosyncratic layout with an eclectic mix of red booths and scattered tables, classic pinball games and memorabilia including old beer signs, deer antlers, tacky but “timeless” art and placards with quotes such as these two from the historic Bay Haven Inn in Newport:

“I’ve been fishing so long, my worm is getting Social Security.”      

“Soup of the Day — Whiskey”  

The Bar at the Bay Haven Inn – established in 1908

One of the most memorable examples is the Tank of Death at the Tide Pool Pub in Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast where Vicki, the owner, will tell you about going to “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” in Iowa, when her dad worked in a slaughterhouse and meat-packing plant.

Vicki and Thebeerchasing crew in 2014 – she also makes the best pizza on the coast

The Tank of Death is graphically described by former coastal bar blogger, (“Letitpour.net”) Matt Love, as:

“A salt-water glass coffin called the Tank of Death.  It is packed with all manner of marine creatures caught by local fishermen who bucket in their curious finds and dump them in.  Eels, crabs, sea bass, perch, Dick Cheney, octopi and urchins all end up in the mix……….

The Tank of Death – a “Roman arena of savagery and merciless predation….

According to the bartender, aquatic creatures regularly stage a battle royal to the death and the tank serves as a Roman arena of savagery and merciless predation  – with bets slapped down and accelerated drinking when the water turns a creamy, cloudy red.”   

But I digress (considerably) with this 700 word introduction to Bar 33 – Brooklyn.  Perhaps, it’s my frustration with a bar that looked like it might be a very interesting site to meet some new people and experience the engaging climate that has typified a majority of the barrooms I have frequented on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs.

However after three separate visits, I left with the sentiment:

“Visit it for a mug of one of the ten drafts and to hear a good Van Morrison song from a decent juke box.  But then move on to an establishment where you will want to return – maybe even invite your mom to visit.”  (And a number are not far from Bar 33 – see below) 

Now it’s not because of lack of amenities – the bar is pretty spacious and has an attractive back bar.

There are a number of games such as Big Buck Hunter and even two Skee Balls, an electronic juke box, a number of big screen TVs, a pool table and an expansive albeit unspectacular patio with a fire pit that would be nice for a summer afternoon – dogs are welcome.  There’s also a large parking lot.

Most of the social media comments are above average although there are not that many reviews.  But on my visits, the bar had no vibe or energy – admittedly a subjective judgment and I might make a return trip on a weekend night to see if that helps.

Part of the problem is they have no web site – nor does their sister establishment Bar 33 – Gresham.   And their Facebook page has very intermittent material.  For example, besides a post on September 2nd announcing, “Thursday Night Football is Back,” the most current posts were on June 20th and April 18th – both for free comedy line-ups.

And evidently they have Karoke on Saturday nights and Trivia Nights, but unless you are a regular or see their sign, that information probably passes you by.

The last “events” advertised on Facebook were from December 15, 2017 launching their new menu and happy hour (no details were included) and live music by the Still River Drifters on October 14th. (The last entry on Bar 33 – Gresham Facebook page was posted on 2/27/17.)

A person answering the phone on 9/3/18 said, “We don’t have live music any more, but we’re looking into it.”   Since they had an empty popcorn machine in the bar, I also asked about this and he responded, “We no longer have free popcorn.”

The bartender on my visits was efficient, but preoccupied even though there were few people in the bar (you order food and drink at the bar).

The background info I got on the bar came from on-line research where I learned that the building’s predecessors were a Chinese restaurant named Yummy Garden  and more recently a Salvador Molly’s. (Sellwood Bee 12/24/18)

I assume that like the Nineteen 33 Taproom in the Willamette section of West Linn – a great pub Thebeerchaser reviewed in February 2017 – the name of Bar 33 is derived from the monumental year in US history, when Prohibition – the 18th Amendment was repealed and replaced by the 21st Amendment after a failed fourteen year fiasco.  However, one would never know otherwise the derivation of the name.

And the co-owners evidently have a hospitality background:

“After years of working in the bar, brewery and restaurant industry, Owners Jeff Pochop and Jake Whitney decided to work for themselves. 

Opening Bar 33 Gresham in 2011, Jeff and Jake are now on their fourth location.  Including Pastimes Sports Bar & Pizza in Fairview, Oregon and a small deli in Lebanon, Oregon.”

Besides the good Backwoods Copperline Amber I had, the other redeeming factor on one of my visits to Bar 33, was raising a mug with Larry Frank.

Larry Frank – outstanding lawyer and great guy…

Larry is a recently retired VP and Associate Legal Counsel for Standard Insurance.  A Lewis and Clark Law grad and University of Iowa alumnus, he is an outstanding lawyer and a great guy.

We can applaud Pochop and Whitney as entrepreneurs, but Bar 33 – Brooklyn has a lot of unrealized potential in Thebeerchaser’s humble opinion.   If you want to check it out it’s located at 4729 SE Milwaukie Ave – just north of Sellwood.

And maybe you will find a different environment than id did; however, I would suggest that after a quick beer there or one of their cocktails which seemed reasonably interesting, you spend the bulk of your time at one of the following:

The Brooklyn Park Pub, (2 minutes or .7miles) the first stop on Thebeerchaser’s Tour in 2011, where one of Portland’s best bartenders, Phoebe Newcombe will serve you beer in a Mason jar and make you feel very welcome.  You can also ask her about the Brooklyn’s iconic Whiskey Club.

Phoebe at the Brooklyn Park Pub – a class act..

Or you could check out The Muddy Rudder (6 minutes or 2.1 miles) on the east side of the Sellwood Bridge, which definitely does have live music and a great environment.

Chart a course to the Muddy Rudder

 

 

Then there’s the Ancestry Brewery’s Taphouse (5 minutes or 1.9 miles) at 8268 SE 13th Ave where you can have a pint of their flagship beer – Best Coast IPA and some outstanding beer-battered fish and chips.

Ancestry Tap House

 

And if you want some exercise, just south of Bar 33, you can take the trail for 1.1 miles along the Oaks Bottom Wild Life Refuge to the Lompoc Brewing’s Oaks Bottom Public House.

You will walk through an urban wetland popular with bird watchers and full of other critters including beavers, otters and cranes (not the construction kind although there are plenty of those in Sellwood lately.)

Urban Wetlands in the Oak Bottom Wildlife Refuge

A “must” at the Oaks Bottom Pub

In the living room environment of the Pub, you can have a fantastic Cobb salad and a pint of their outstanding Proletariat Red Ale.

Now, there’s even a new brewery only 3.3 miles away – Ruse Brewing, whose co-owners and brewers, Shaun Kalis and Devin Benware, at least from their website and some early reviews, seem to have the passion which appears to be missing from the aforementioned co-owners:

“We brew small batch, flavorful, and thoughtfully-crafted beers. We work with local artists and musicians to design beers paired with their art for concept events and beer releases. Our community is a major inspiration for our company vision, we will do what it takes to be involved and support other businesses and organizations.”

Ruse will be a stop on Thebeerchaser’s Tour in the next few months.

Now this is the first review of over 200 blog entries, in which I have set forth more words talking about other establishments than the focus of the post.   I can defend that, however, because all of the others mentioned above, captivated the imagination regardless of what time the visit or how many people were in the bar – not the case with Bar 33.

Bar 33 pool table and games

Bar 33 Brooklyn      4729 SE Milwaukie     Portlan

Walk on the “Wilder” Side

The late playwright and author, Thornton Wilder wrote the play and subsequent film, “Our Town” about a fictitious New Hampshire Town – Grover’s Corners.  Portland’s Wilder Bar Cafe (known simply as “Wilder”) is not named after him, nor is the Wilder Bar in Fort Lauderdale, but I have a feeling, the Wilder Bar in Portsmouth, New Hampshire may be.

In an historic brick building

Nevertheless, Portland’s Wilder in an historic brick building, which has housed at various times a craft shop, tattoo parlor and stationary shop, on NE 30th and Killingsworth is definitely worth an outing(s) for the food, the beverages and the ambiance.

While we liked the last establishment we visited and posted on the blog – The Woodsman Tavern (https://thebeerchaser.com/tag/the-woodsman-tavern/), Wilder surpasses the former in all respects and our first two visits will be reprised multiple times in the future.

Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “……illustrates the importance of the universality of the simple, yet meaningful lives of all people in the world in order to demonstrate the value of appreciating life.”  (Wikipedia)  And perhaps this theme, reflects the environment, décor and attitude of the staff in this bar opened in 2014.

Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Thornton Wilder

As examples, examine the following excerpts from several print media reviews:

“A homey little bar more interested in maple buttermilk pie, kale Caesar salad and a local-leaning tap list (only one of eight offerings wasn’t from Oregon) than in ethically iffy foie gras or distantly sourced seafood.”  (Rebecca Jacobsen 1/7/14 )Willamette Week)

Or this one, a month later, from Oregon Live (2/26/14) :

Yakuza, Beast, D.O.C., Cocotte(other Portland restaurants) have brought a steady stream of well-heeled Oregonians and visitors (to that intersection) but they’re not the sort of establishments likely to be frequented by their neighbors who have long awaited a pleasant, affordable place to watch the Beast-bound limos roll by. Wilder, a new corner bar with culinary ambitions, seeks a more local audience with a suave atmosphere and an inexpensive, if not exactly groundbreaking menu.” 

Meet bartender, Bertrand, an artisan!

So, what has made this small bar so attractive.  Well, the staff was wonderful.  On our first visit, Janet and I sat at the bar and started talking to the bartender, Bertrand.  He mentioned that he is a photographer and trying to move up the level of his craft by attending Pacific Northwest College of Arts.  The interaction among Bertrand, the servers and the cook was low-key and very positive and the customer service was A+.

One advantage of sitting at the bar, is the ability to view the essentially open-kitchen which was hopping and interesting to watch.  And the servers told us, “We love Colby.”  He’s one of the two cooks.  (After excellent meals on two occasions, we were also enamored with Colby…)  

Because seating is somewhat limited by the overall size of the establishment, we had to wait a bit on our second visit when we were joined by our daughter, Laura, and her husband, Ryan.

We hit right at dinner time and there were no unoccupied tables, but the servers were very accommodating and suggested we go for a drink to nearby Yukuza Lounge which has a great bar.  When we returned, our table was ready and our server was superb.

Bertrand was effusive about his cocktails and we had read about Wilder’s excellence in this category, so we tried both the Powers’ Punch (Gin, Combier, Benedictine, Dolin Rouge, Absinthe and Lime) ($9) and the Bourbon Sprawl (Whiskey, Pomegranate, Lemon, Angostura). ($9)

We hope that he continues his bartending when he graduates from PNCA, because besides photography, he is an artisan at combining distilled sprits.

When we returned we had two of the eight beers they had on tap – both from breweries we had not tried before – Royale Brewing, which is nearby in NE Portland and 54-40 Brewing in Washougal, Washington.  Wilder tries to feature Northwest beers on tap and they did a good job with these.

Wilder in the evening is pretty dark – candles on the table and minimal lighting – but it enhances the cozy ambiance of the bar, which is very attractive with slatted lath wood walls, exposed-beam ceilings and a dark wood floor.   With the limited capacity of the bar and the positive vibe from the staff and patrons, it creates an intimate atmosphere that is not easily found in Portland establishments.

Now, let’s talk about the food.  The Oregon Live article described their menu as “not exactly groundbreaking.”   The 2015 Willamette Week Bar Guide calls it accurately, “Elevated comfort food.”  Well, it may not be the most expansive menu you’ll find, with five starters and seven main courses including two outstanding salads, but the finished product from their kitchen is truly “elevated” based on our experience – admittedly limited, but check out some of the other comments below.

We split the hamburger and each of us had the large roasted squash salad with arugula and plenty of walnuts.  The burger surpassed our expectations and the meal, which was both excellent and filling was a total of less than $30 without tip ($11 burger and two salads $16).

Although social media reviews on the mussels, fried chicken, the white bean burger and the blackened chicken sandwich were also very positive, we ordered the identical meal when we returned and our companions had the kale and kidney-bean Caesar salad with their burger.   (They thanked us for the recommendation.)

Besides the newspapers, I try to look at a number of reviews from different social media sites such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon and Zomato to discern trends or identify specific strengths and weaknesses.   And while there were a few who had complaints about a specific food item, these two typify Wilder patrons’ sentiments:

“Fried chicken is the best! Burger is awesome!  Service staff are prompt, friendly and knowledgeable. Beverages are delicious. A gastronomic adventure to be enjoyed.”  Trip Advisor 2/27/17

And this from Zomato within the last six months:

Great drinks and one of the best burgers in town.  Wonderful ambiance and good service.  This is one of my favorite local community bars that has a real neighborhood feel to it.  Highly recommended.”

“One of the best burgers in town….”

I did chuckle because one of the only really negative (and almost hostile) reviews was from February, 2018, by a woman on Yelp who raged about the “control freaks” at Wilder because she disagreed with their policies – one was to comply with OLCC regulations and the other two seemed very reasonable.

What was humorous, is that she went ballistic after her three visits – each where she encountered these policies developed by somebody with a “sad, little mind.”   It obviously begs the question, “Why did you keep returning??”

She gave Wilder only one star which was a real departure from the guy on Yelp who only one month earlier stated, For the best burger and cocktails in town, I wouldn’t recommend any other space. If I could borrow someone else’s thumb, I would give this place 3 thumbs up.”

Co-owner, Raquel

The co-owners are Raquel Bournhonesque and Ben Preacher.   Raquel, shows on her Linked-in resume that she has been with Upstream Public Health and a community coach, health advocate and food enthusiast.

She and some friends formed Upstream as a non-profit to further health and equity advocacy issues.  It has done some great work in the public health arena. While with Upstream,  she worked on the unsuccessful effort to fluoridate Portland’s water in 2013.

Raquel happened to answer the phone when I called before Wilder opened on a Sunday with several follow-up questions for the blog.   She has an upbeat and affable personality and we had a nice chat.

In the six years since I started this blog, I have found that the owners of the small bars and breweries, for the most part, are entrepreneurs who have a passion about beer or food, risk a lot to make their dreams come true and then work inordinate hours to make it successful.  Raquel and Ben are typical and make one feel a lot better than, as a contrast, having a brewski at the Yardhouse in Portland’s Pioneer Square.

 

(See Beerchaser review on 4/4/16)  https://thebeerchaser.com/2016/04/14/the-yard-house-does-it-measure-up/

So instead of having a beer and/or a meal at The Yardhouse and adding to the profits of the same giant corporation that owns the Olive Garden,  you should enhance Raquel’s and Ben’s 401(k) by dining and drinking at Wilder.  Tell them Thebeerchaser sent you!

Wilder Bar Cafe               5501 NE 30th     Portland

 

 

 

 

The Woodsman Tavern Strikes a Chord

Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs has resulted in visits and reviews of over 200 establishments since its inception in 2011 – not only in Portland, but all over Oregon, the US and even a few in Europe.   Therefore, its logical that the Woodsman Tavern – a Portland icon, of sorts, would make the list.

That said, I try to avoid venues that are primarily restaurants with a bar as kind of an ancillary feature.  It’s not that these establishments don’t have good beer or cocktails or attractive bars.  They just don’t have the character and ambiance of a stand-alone watering hole, especially that evidenced in dive bars!

The McMenamin’s bistros generally fall into the former category although I have made a few exceptions.  Beerchaser visits to The Fulton Pub, the White Eagle Saloon and the St. John’s Pub were splendid.  These all, however, had historical significance or distinguishing features.

For example, The Fulton was the site at which Hammerhead Ale was originated (and I consumed my first beer with the late NW author and Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Brian Doyle) and the White Eagle is on the National Historic Register – its history is replete with tales such as a prostitute being murdered and it being haunted by ghost-like apparitions on the second floor.

Notwithstanding its title, the Woodsman Tavern is an example of the former category i.e. more restaurant than bar.   While our two visits were well rewarded, it had the look and feel of a high-end restaurant.  That said, let’s look at why it is getting great reviews – it has a new chef, an expansive menu of cocktails and whiskeys and the food – most notably, the fried chicken is superb.   (Note also that most taverns do not have a “chef” per se’.)

The Woodsman is also one of the few places that I’ve visited where the Oregonian’s food critic, Michael Russell has authored a detailed review.  (He’s probably never been in the Reel M’ Inn – twenty blocks down Division Street and also known throughout the Northwest for its fried chicken. According to one article, it fried up an estimated 52,000 pounds of chicken in 2016.  But it’s a completely different ambiance….)

The Woodsman is in an old building in Southeast Portland and has a bright and attractive entrance with classy dark wood interior.  When opened in 2011, it was evidently a hot spot in the Portland food culture – known for its high-end dishes such as roasted trout.

Eateries run in cycles.  Social media reviews until recently started trending negative on the food and service.   That appeared to change late last year evidently because one of Portland’s noted chefs, Doug Adams, temporarily took command of the kitchen and menu:

“Suddenly, the Woodsman Tavern is once-again among the hottest restuarants in town.”   (1/1/18 Review by Martin Cizmar of Willamette Week.) Adams made his mark at Paley’s Place among other restaurants and is waiting for a new restaurant in downtown Portland to open.

The Bar Itself

The dining room is separated into two large rooms with booths and tables.  The bar is a long L-shaped counter with about twelve stools at the back of the east section.

It has an impressive display of hard liquors and twelve cocktail options ($12) with names such as “Dog Will Hunt” and “Married in a Fever,” and includes their trademark “Old Fashioned.”

For the bourbon and whiskey connoisseurs, I counted 120 options on the menu ranging from a pour of Jim Beam for $7 to Wild Turkey Tribute 15-Year Bourbon that will set you back $180.  (Perhaps this is economic validation of the distillery’s 2011 ad campaign entitled, “Give’em The Bird.”)

They have a nice selection of wines and fifteen beers on tap including five by one of my favorite breweries – Block 15 in Corvallis.  On our first trip to the Woodsman when we had dinner, I had a pint of Block 15 Double IPA and on the second trip, where we just sat at the bar for drinks during Happy Hour, I could not resist a cold Rainier for $2.

The east side of the restuarant

Let’s get back to the food, which should be the guiding rationale for a visit.  I will talk more about the food critics’ reviews below, but The Oregonian stated, “For food fans, this might be Portland’s best sports bar.”

Since there are only two televisions over the bar – both with sporting events when we were there, I guess this is his subtle way of promoting the Woodsman’s Double Cheeseburger and implying that the food in most Portland sports bars, sucks! 

An outstanding starter

The side dishes are ala-carte and either $3 or $5 and the bucket of chicken was $19, so we started by splitting what is a boring option in most places – a wedge salad.  And while a little spendy at $11, it was wonderful (bacon, big croutons and superb blue cheese dressing!)

I love fried chicken – that’s how I persuaded my wife, Janet, to go with me to the Woodsman.  It was a late birthday present.   There was no question what I was going to order. And it’s a fantasy – your own metallic bucket filled with five large pieces.  I am appalled that I was so enthralled that I forgot to take a picture!

Now let’s look at how some experts describe this one of six entr’ees.  Martin Cizmar, who for the last seven years has been the Arts and Culture Editor at Willamette Week, is succinct, but on point.  (I am sad to see him leave the weekly this month.  He wrote great reviews of not only restaurants, but every kind of bar, tavern or brewery in Portland and always creatively captured the character of the place.  (He’s moving to Washington D.C. to write for an on-line publication.)

You should read his entire review of The Woodsman:  http://www.wweek.com/restaurants/reviews/2018/01/02/the-woodsman-tavern-is-entering-a-new-golden-age-under-chef-doug-adams/

Martin Cizmar – will be missed….but will still drink PBR (Photo courtesy of Willamette Week

He is a an outstanding writer and seems a lot less pretentious than his counterpart at The Oregonian:

“….the best fried chicken in town….(Adams’) ultra crispy recipe in which the honey is drizzled onto just out-of-the-fryer batter.”  (WW 1/1/18)

Now compare that to the more ostentatious description by Michael Russell:

“…..Adams’ fussed over bird , each crunchy piece wearing a shaggy brown coat reminiscent of a teddy bear’s fur, drizzled in honey and served with a clear glass bottle of hot sauce on the side.” (Emphasis supplied !??)

And not to get overly compulsive, but this one from a Thrillist ranking of the top 15 fried chicken places in Portland by Andy Cryza (9/2/15 – before Adams arrived…)  Woodsman was the top-rated option.  (Reel M Inn was #3.)

“…..Perfectly fried, with the juices locked into the premium bird, which is cut up into five generous pieces…..And the breading – occupying the zone between crisp and light – is kissed with a smack of honey which, when mixed with the salt, takes it into a danger zone hovering near meat-candy perfection.”

But if you don’t like chicken there are other worthy choices. I was able to persuade Janet, if I gave her a little bit of my chicken, to get the Double Cheeseburger ($16).  It was immense and the Canby, Oregon, Laney Family Farm’s beef scrumptious.  The fries were a perfect complement.

I described Michael Russell’s writing above as somewhat pretentious e.g. he started his review with the following: “…the restaurant has languished of late (last year) behind food that seemed to have lost its sense of place.” 

I changed my opinion – a little.  He was a little more down-to-earth when he wrote this about one of the Woodsman’s twelve starter options:

“Take the bologna sandwich.  It’s impressively thick cut of pink meat seared gently, surrounded by melted American cheese like fondant on a wedding cake and topped with sweet pickle on a sesame-seeded bun.  It’s a borderline obscene take on the classic….I’ve ordered it on every visit.” 

Fried chicken – “each piece wore a shaggy brown coat….”

At least he shied away from the toy creature analogy he made above with the fried chicken and didn’t compare the bologna to the Porky Pig stuffed animal he got at Disneyland……

And to affirm that this menu option may be worth the seemingly steep price ($12), let’s look at a non-foodie’s view – just your typical Yelp comment on 1/17/18:

“Now I know what you’re thinking, what the hell is in Bologna anyway, but this (sandwich) was freaking delicious.  I don’t know what’s in Bolgna, I probably don’t want to know.  But I’m on board.” 

Finally, while the bistro is also known for its chilled seafood and a seafood tower for $95 along with “Oyster Hours” all day Monday and from 5:00 to 6:00 on other weekdays, I loved our meal there because the food was good but also plentiful.  The picture below shows the box that we took home with our leftovers (It was filled and some of which survived to lunch the next day…) 

As another Yelp review who shares similar views succinctly stated:

“The food big.  Big food.  Platters….Reminds me of a place when I was a kid.  Logger means, man.”  (Yelp 1/15/18)

Most of the recent social media reviews are very positive although some question the prices especially since it is an ala-carte menus.  Another complaint which rang somewhat true with us on our first visit was the physical spacing:

“I don’t mind sitting at tables or booths, but why does anyone think that being 6 inches from a stranger is comfortable.”  (Yelp 1/14/18)

However, if someone is going to do a hatchet job on the Woodsman Tavern, they will have to come up with something of more substance than tables being a little too close.  Besides, you should check out their fried chicken……….

The Woodsman Tavern

4537 SE Division Street

 

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

 

For Downtown Bars – Choose ZARZ

Janet, Kate and David ready for Happy Hour

With so many new bars east of the Willamette River in Portland, both in NE and SE, it is easy to ignore downtown Portland – or the Central Business District (CBD) as it was called during the 25 years I worked in its heart – on the 17th floor of the PacWest Center.

The venerable PacWest Center, home of the Schwabe Williamson law firm

A suggestion by my friend and Beerchaser regular, David Dickson, that we (his spouse, Kate and mine, Janet) take a jaunt by the river along the Promenade and then hit Happy Hour at Zarz on First, a relatively new bar (September, 2016).  It describes itself as a “neighborhood bar” and the “Best Happy Hour in Portland.”  

 

A brisk walk along the East Bank Promenade

David’s suggestion was a good one and after a brisk and delightful three-mile jaunt, we had a great dinner and good drinks at excellent Happy Hour prices.

Bernie Stea at lunch with our server, Erin

The experience was enjoyable enough that it motivated me to return for lunch a few days later with another veteran Beerchaser – Bernie Stea, co-managing broker with his wife, Debb Janes, at the Carl Group, a real estate investment and development firm in Camas.  http://natureasneighbors.com/about/   (It should be noted that Beerchaser standard due diligence is to visit a bar at least twice before offering a review.)

Both my daughter, Laura and her husband, Ryan, graduated from the University of Portland and one of my favorite authorities on beer, Dr. Sam Holloway is a tenured professor at the school (and former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, so I was happy to see that Zarz is the product of another successful UP graduate.

Zaryab “Zar” Sheikh graduated and earned his MBA from UP in 1979 and went on to earn his CPA, worked internationally and ultimately became President and owner of Gorge Hotels, a Washington corporation that owns several hotels besides the restaurant.

I had read about the bar’s extensive whiskey selection which their website describes as “inspired by Zar’s favorite signature cocktails and regional wines…..comprised of standout, premium cocktails made with quality liquor from top international and local distillers” and seeing the classy setting with a beautiful bar, I was reminded of two of my prior Beerchaser venues focusing on hard liquor rather than beer – Barlow Artisanal Bar (visited in 2016) and the Portland Whiskey Library (2017).

Multnomah Whiskey Library – a $600 membership fee

Although both of these bars were good experiences, I would return to Zarz again before either of the former.   Barlow’s menu is significantly more limited, the drinks and food are more expensive and the setting and décor do not compare.

While the ambiance of the Whiskey Library is outstanding, one has to either purchase an annual membership for $600 or buy a $25 “Hall Pass” and stand in line for what can be hours to drink in what admittedly is an exclusive, award-winning setting.  Fortunately, I had a benevolent host during my visit who picked up our tab…….

So why would Zarz get the nod over these other classy venues?  Well, the food is very good starting with the burger, which for Happy Hour is a very reasonable $8 for a large and delicious burger with fries – on the regular menu for $12.  All of use chose this option on the first visit.

Didn’t take long to go with the burger…

Almost without exception, the social media reviews are very positive on the food.

The Cuban sandwich, which Bernie thought was excellent draws raves: “Husband had the Cuban, which was one of the best he’s ever had. I went with the local Oregon raise fried chicken with grits and greens. I have to say it was the best I’ve have West of the Mississippi and North if the Mason Dixon.”  (Yelp 9/15/17)

The fish tacos get good comments:

“What really surprised me were the fish tacos. These were unbe-lievable and so good that we had to place another order of them. You will definitely want more than one order as these fish tacos are addictive.”  (Yelp 2/1/17)

Three small sliders for $8 – a good deal! Bernie’s Cuban is in the background.

Multiple compliments were also offered on the deviled eggs,  steak, hummus, bacon sampler and especially the fried chicken – available as an entrée or as one of  three slider options – three sliders for $8 or a buck cheaper at Happy Hour.  I had the fried chicken option for lunch and was very pleased with my choice.

The beer selection is good – nine on tap ($6 and $1 off at HH) along with two ciders and a reasonable choice of red and white wine.  My Kiwanda Cream Ale by Pelican Brewery that evening was good, but not very cold although this was remedied the next day when my excellent Suicide Squeeze from Fort George came and was cold as was Bernie’s Oakshire Amber.

But the flagship beverages at Zarz are their fifteen cocktails ($10 and $2 less at HH) -people seemed to like the margarita – and about 150 types of hard liquor on the shelf.  Now while this does not compare with Multnomah Whiskey Library’s purported 1,500 labels.

150 + options available

The selections range from old standbys such as Jack Daniels ($7 per shot) to about fifty labels of Scotch ranging from my favorite – the Balvenie 17-year Double Wood  for $45 to their most expensive which appeared to be a Cragganmore 25-year which would increase your tab by $152 for a shot

Erin, our wonderful server, asked the bartender, friendly Eric, who acceded to my request and climbed the ladder to retrieve the bottle of Cragganmore and pose in a picture. (Note: the bottle was about 2/3 full so somebody has tried it!)

Eric, gingerly holds the Cragganmore

I did some quick calculations and figured there are about 757 milliliters in a fifth and assuming a shot is 44 milliliters, that would mean the bottle would generate $2,615, so I told Eric to be very careful when handling the bottle.   Some internet research revealed that the retail cost of a fifth of Cragganmore is about $425.  It was evidently distilled in 1988 and aged in oak casks.

One on-line whiskey rating site stated in part:

Nose: sweet with lots of vanilla, heather honey and hints of honeydew melons. Nice bits of dried mango. The fruitiness is balanced (or muted if you like) by green, spicy oak and liquorice…………Mouth: creamy, still rather sweet with some honey and orchard fruits. Nice hints of pineapple and coconut….”  

In the village of Ballindalloch in Banffshire, Scotland.

They concluded: “The oaky notes, ginger, pepper and plenty of vanilla make this one typically American oak, but they also make it seem younger than it is. A lot of distilleries have this profile at half the age and a fraction of the price.”

And remember, the $152 taste of fruit as it sails down your gullet lasts for about three seconds. (Perhaps chewing a Bit O Honey candy bar while swilling a glass of good oaky Maysara Pinot Noir (McMinnville) would save you about $140 dollars and last a lot longer.)  The New York Times described as “In your face aromatically, with a blast of sweet red fruit.” (10/19/16)

Well, we digress – now back to Zarz.  Besides the food and drink and the friendly and helpful staff, the other attribute that speaks well of this bar is the ambiance created by the interior.   It is housed in one of Portland’s historic buildings (purported to be the 9th oldest) and the longish space besides having a great bar, has spacious booths besides a number of tables.

Adorning the walls are a number of retro pictures including those of Johnny Cash, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Ray Charles and the Rat Pack.  (I took Bernie’s picture by this one because of our days working at the Oregon State Bar (He served as Director of Continuing Legal Education and I was the Business Manager).

He presented his budget on a laptop Osborne computer using VisiCalc software and would quietly sing Frank Sinatra’s classic “I Did It My Way, as he tried to justify a plan filled with what we budget people called “fluff.”  (He may not have gotten all of his funding approved, but he got high marks for creativity.)

The only negative about Zarz was the challenge of parking in that area of town although there are some Smart Parks in the area which is probably the best bet.

Oh, and if you like live music, check them out on a Friday or Saturday night.  Erin said that one of the most popular groups is Portland’s Toledo Kesch – a blues-based rock and roll group which was appearing that Friday.

Zarz has had some challenges which is not unusual in the restaurant and hospitality business.  After their September, 2016 opening, they evidently closed for a period earlier this year.  However, the bar and bistro has come back strong.  It deserves a visit, so check them out.

 

 

Zarz on First          814 SW First  

The Doctor is in at T.C. O’Leary’s

In the six years of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars Taverns and Pubs, I have found that while there are some bars which leave a bit to be desired (such as my last visit to Portland’s Slow Bar), there are none for which I regret my visit(s).  Most of the bars or breweries are admirable small businesses, which radiate warmth, character and are replete with stories of the owners, regulars or the trappings of the watering hole itself.

Such is the case with Northeast Portland’s “T.C. O’Leary’s – A Little Irish Pub.”  Located on 29th and NE Alberta, the pub has interesting space, an excellent patio, innovative music and activities, and the background of Thomas Christopher O’Leary, the owner/manager, including the story of how he got to Portland and his PDX connections, could fill a small book. 

Some people will remember this space as the former Branch Whiskey, which was also managed by Tom and was a favorite neighborhood spot known for its classy selection of hard liquor which Tom has retained.  As one Yelp reviewer opined in May, 2016, “Branch is an amazing spot for sophisticated food and cocktails in a casual atmosphere.”  

Tom has a strong background in managing bars and hospitality based on years working in bars in Ireland, New York City and Los Angeles.  When the opportunity arose in 2016, he with the advice and financial help of family connections who had confidence in the investment potential, became the owner and changed the name and theme to that of an Irish Pub.  The bar would be a family-friendly neighborhood gathering place and would not serve pub or bistro grub, but authentic Irish food.

Tom Kelly

And those “family connections” are some of Portland’s finest citizens ranging from his wife, Siobhan’s, mom and dad – Anne Kelly Feeney and Dick Feeney to uncles Tom and John Kelly and aunt Susan Kelly – all individuals celebrated for their sustained community and public service and entrepreneurship.

Neil Kelly Co. logo

(Tom is the President of the Neil Kelly Co. started in 1947 by his father with a $100 investment and which is now nationally recognized for its award-winning design and innovative practices in home remodeling).

Dick and Anne from article in the “Catholic Sentinel” magazine

Anne was the Multnomah County Auditor for two terms and later served as CEO of Loaves and Fishes.  I remember Dick when he was the Public Affairs Director for Tri-Met and a skilled and effective lobbyist for the agency in the 1970’s and I worked for the Clackamas County Commissioners.

Besides being an investor, Dick has stopped by the bar almost every day since its opening.  He stuck his head into the Snug that day to say “hello” to our group. The couple now devotes much of their time to charitable work.  http://www.catholicsentinel.org/Content/Faith-Spirituality/Living-Faith/Article/Faith-fuels-their-ongoing-public-service/4/29/18615

In the short time since the bar’s “soft opening” – the day after Thanksgiving in 2016 – Tom and Siobhan O’Leary have taken big steps in achieving their goals for the bar.  Let’s look at two other Yelp reviews which reflect the overall sentiments of those commenting on the social media site: 

“This establishment is pretty fantastic….Ever changing specials, Guinness on tap and entertaining live music including a fiddler! You’ll find it here. The fish and chips are delicious. Their Shepard’s Pie is delectable and the service is outstanding. It is nice to know that you aren’t just a customer here, this is your friends and family. ”  (7/10/17) 

“Sweet addition to the Alberta neighborhood! Really nice genuine people own the place and their actually Irish- full accent and all! I have never eaten Irish food before. I really enjoyed the Vegetarian Blaa beet sandwich on soda bread and the fresh garlic and herb fries were pretty damn tasty!”  (6/30/17)

Chuck enjoying his fish and chips

And on my first visit with retired Portland lawyer, Chuck Mitchell, who had not been Beerchasing since our 2012 visit to 1856 – a NE Bottle Shop.   We both concurred that the fish and chips – one of T.C. O’Leary’s specialties – was superb.  Just looking at the menu with items such as Guinness Braised Beef, Bacon and Cabbage, Shepherds Pie and Haddock Chowder made my mouth water and made me come close to addressing Chuck as “Paddy…”

Besides those mentioned above, Tom talked about the compliments they receive on their bread roll and baked beans.  Their Saturday and Sunday brunch (Irish breakfast) is a neighborhood favorite with pork sausage and black pudding (pig) as favorite menu items.  They also have a good Happy Hour menu from 4:00 to 6:00  and all food items are $5, including a new offering of a half order of fish and chips and the “new O’Leary’s hot dog.”

A smiling Trinity coed

Adding to the Irish authenticity on my second visit was our server, a wonderful young woman named Caoiimhe (that’s the Gaelic spelling for Quiva) who is a third-year Trinity College student visiting and working in the US for three months before her final year in college.  Trinity is the oldest (1592) and most prestigious university in Ireland.

Besides Guinness, the bar has nine other beers on tap, (I tried my first Feckin Bewing beer – a tasty “Top of the Feckin Mornin”) several wines, a cider and numerous specialty and classic cocktails plus an amazing selection of liquor – try a shot of Whistle Pig Farm’s 2012 Boss Hog Rye for $48, which will allow you to see if you want to invest in an entire bottle which runs between $100 and $200…..

Kevin – Amys better half..

Our group on the second visit, besides my wife, Janet, comprised a number of Beerchasing regulars including the Faust clan (Jack and Alice, daughter Amy and her husband, Kevin) Jim and Janet Westwood (the combination of Faust and Westwood meant that we had two of the most respected appellate lawyers in Oregon on our side in the event of post-visit litigation….) and intellectual property lawyer, John Mansfield.

Mansfield, preoccupied with establishing his new practice at Harris Bricken, had not accompanied me to a watering hole for some time although he had made his mark at three noted dive bars – The Ship in Multnomah Village, the Slammer in SE Portland and Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive Bar.  (click on the names for a link to the posts)

He also Beerchased at  the classic Mock Crest Tavern and finally at Church – a great SE bar where he tried to emulate Martin Luther by posting 95 patents on the entrance to commemorate the renowned theologian’s 95 Theses at Wittenburg.

A clowning Westwood with Mansfield – the Ivy Leagues finest..??

Westwood and Mansfield, both Ivy League law graduates (Columbia and Cornell respectively), obviously did not talk about their law schools’ undergraduate sports teams, but we all harkened back to Mansfield’s more creative undergraduate days at the University of Oregon where he played in a rock band and majored in music composition and theory. He is a talented musician.

The picture below (I think taken by one of his clients) shows he is not a traditional, staid member of the Bar.

Kiss My Patent…

It also is evidence that Amy Faust, who is a co-host on the Mike and Amy Show on 99.5 The Wolf, will not be spinning any of the tunes on his Pandora playlist on her stint at the crack of dawn each weekday morning.  (She and Mike just received the 2017 Country Music Association 2017 Broadcast Personality of the Year for a Major Market.) Interestingly enough, Amy and John played together in a band for their respective daughters’ school event where Amy dusted off her mandolin and they both sang.

It should also be noted that both Jack and Amy Faust and Westwood have been prior Beechaser-of-the-Quarter “honorees.”  To see their stories, click on the licks here.

https://thebeerchaser.com/2014/09/02/john-r-jack-faust-fall-2014-beerchaser-of-the-quarter/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2017/04/11/amy-faust-beerchaser-of-the-quarter-and-mandolinist/

https://thebeerchaser.com/2013/03/28/portland-attorney-jim-westwood-beerchaser-of-the-quarter-for-january-march-2013/

Call ahead to reserve….

Tom had kindly reserved one of the distinctive features of his bar for us – The Snug – a comfortable and fabulously quirky little alcove at the front of the bar which is a tradition in Irish pubs.  It  accommodates about twelve people and provides a wonderful small-group nook that allows a modicum of privacy while still facilitating enjoyment of the T.C. O’Leary ambiance. (Call ahead to reserve it)

The Snug observed from the street.

 

 

 

 

A great patio

 

Although the bar with its fifteen authentic whiskey-barrel tables, historic family pictures and memorabilia is a cool place to sit, another good place to congregate is on the patio at the back, which T.C.’s essentially shares with the adjoining bistros on either side.

Family pictures add to the character of the bar

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of décor, I noted the red athletic tool that looked a little like a hockey stick hanging above the bar.  Tom said it was a “hurling stick”  and I didn’t hear him, so naively asked if he said it was a Curling broom,” to which he replied, “God no!”  Probably the reason for the vehemence of the response was that the pace and action of the sports are total contradictions.  Hurling is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin and is the fastest field sport in the world. It is administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association. The game has prehistoric origins, and has been played for 3,000 years.”  Wikipedia     

The antithesis of curling…

Of course, the theme of this bar begs the question, “What is it like on St. Paddy’s Day?”  Tom said they had about seven times the number of patrons on the first celebration of this “sacred” event since their opening, and it was kind of a three-day celebration.   They also moved a separate bar out to the patio and there was a line down Alberta Street.

And Tom, like many of the owners or bartenders I have met so far on this six-year journey, has a great story.  Of course, the most unusual aspect of it was the notoriety he accrued in his six years starring as Dr. Brendan Daly on Ireland’s most popular soap opera, Fair City. 

Dr. Brendan Daly…..

Tom grew up in Killeny.  “During years working as an actor in Dublin – from small theatres to six years playing Dr. Brendan Daly on Ireland’s most popular soap opera, Fair City, Tom and fellow performers communed at local pubs, drinking pints like they would never age.

For his wedding reception, a magical pub in the West of Ireland suited him and his new wife better than any hotel.”  (T.C. O’Leary’s website)

Fair City is the most watched drama in Ireland, with average viewing figures of 550,000….. tackling many controversial and taboo issues previously unseen on Irish television, such as rape.”  Wikipedia 

Siobhan, his wife of ten years, first met Tom in Ireland when she spent nine months at Trinity College.  Tom knew her sister, Catie, and agreed to show Siobhan around Dublin.  Tom had a girlfriend at the time, but he and Siobhan had an “instant connection.”   Tom lived in a big house with extra rooms and offered (partly as a gesture to her sister) to let Siobhan be a boarder.  Her sister told Siobhan somewhat jokingly, “You will fall in love with Tom.”

Catie was correct .  Tom broke up with his current girlfriend.  Siobhan in the subsequent term, got her lowest grades at Trinity.  They decided to pull a practical joke and Siobhan told Catie that she detested her landlord (Tom) and couldn’t wait to leave.  For the next month, the fiction gained momentum until her mom, Anne, insisted that she was going to fly over to Dublin to rescue her “baby.”  As with many practical jokes, after Siobhan  revealed the truth, the family was not amused although fortunately, they approved of the relationship.

Tom came to New York and he and his future wife drove across America while camping along the way.  Fast forward and Siobhan moved to Ireland for a year where they were married on December 29, 2007

They moved to New York City where Tom had some acting gigs and worked in bars on the Lower East Side.  That’s where the dream of owning an Irish pub first crept into his consciousness.

With family on the west coast, they moved to LA for three years, where Tom worked in high-end bars, working two jobs six nights per week with the goal of building collateral to own his own Irish Pub.  And now they had a little girl in the family……

Moving to Portland in the summer of 2014, Siobhan labored at an office job while Tom worked construction.  (Contrary to the popular belief, good bartending jobs are not that easy to get in the Rose City.)

Anne Feeney knew the manager of Branch Whiskey, and with his extensive experience in bars, he hired Tom immediately which began a two-year stint until the owner announced he was closing.

Tom got good advice from his investors and negotiated successfully.  After only a three-week interim closure, they were back in business with some new trappings thanks to a great work by their general contractor Megan Beaver of Eight Penny Nail, and T.C. O’Leary’s “Little Irish Pub,” has become a neighborhood fixture ever since.

I was somewhat critical of the last bar visited on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs i.e. Slow Bar on Grand Avenue.  While it is known for its great hamburger, I questioned whether the bar lived up to its potential by simply relying on its notorious burger and a juke box known for its collection of Heavy Metal selections.

Let’s examine some of the activity Tom has orchestrated at TC’s compared with Slow Bar’s “hot” juke box as a comparison:

The James Joyce book club – a bunch of serious dudes…..

On Tuesday nights, TC’s hosts a James Joyce book club in the Snug and they plow through about fifteen pages reading Joyce’s classic Ulysses with each participant reading his or her selection until the egg-timer rings for the next reader to start.  (Maybe it takes longer because James Joyce, according to one recent article I read, is an “exclamation point fanatic.”)

Of the ten authors with the most prolific use of exclamation points ranging from Elmore Leonard – 10th place to Virginia Wolf – sixth place to F. Scott Fitzgerald – 4th place, Joyce came in first with 1,105 exclamation points per 100,000 words in his three novels!!!  — What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt, published March, 2017.  (Read the book and you will also learn stuff like Nabokov’s favorite word was “mauve.”)

Every second Monday night, they have Irish music with a fiddler with the other Mondays devoted to other local musicians.  On Thursday evenings patrons see a specialty act – Michael Sheridan, a unique and nationally recognized singer-songwriter who has packed them in according to Tom. https://www.facebook.com/events/1917437525206189/           

If my two visits are typical, you should definitely drop by TC O’Leary’s where Tom will greet you as he does every patron at the door.   This personable Irishman, entrepreneur and former actor can give you advice on which draft beer or one of their specialty cocktails will enhance your visit.

But if he approaches you with a scalpel in his hand, you can be assured, it’s to carve some of the high-quality beef they use and he is not reenacting  his days as Dr. Brendan Daly.

 

T.C. O’Leary’s     2926 NE Alberta