Those of you who have followed Thebeerchaser know that notwithstanding the name, this blog is not a rigorous journalistic or academic study of beer. Although, I love microbrews, I am always pleased and will opt for a $2.50 Happy-hour PBR rather than an esoteric and more expensive craft beer.
Rather, this blog chronicles my journey to what is now over a hundred bars, taverns and pubs in the last four years in Portland and the far reaches of Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, the southeastern US and several countries in Europe.
Dive bars are preferred, but regardless, this investigation involves dissecting the history and character of the watering holes, interviewing the bartenders and regulars and commenting on the distinguishing characteristics of each establishment.
And one of the most enjoyable parts of these junkets has been the companions with whom I raise a mug. In many cases this has been Janet, my wonderful spouse of 35 years, (one reason she was named 2014 Beerchaser-of-the-Year) but others have included lawyers, investment analysts, academicians, consultants, retired friends and just plain folk (although no animals) to this point.
The most recent Beerchaser event was at Kelly’s Olympian – a unique (and I use that word with mindfulness of hyperbole) dive bar right in the heart of downtown Portland. Fortunately, my five companions that day were as fascinating as the bar in which we gathered.
Let’s begin with the bar. Kelly’s, opened in 1902, is the third oldest bar/restaurant in continuous operation in Portland and per the Kelly’s website:
The name was derived from the name of one of the original owners, “Kelly”, and the Olympia Brewing Company, which was involved in the inaugural opening so that it could sell its product, Olympia Beer. It was originally called “The Olympian Saloon”. The name “Kelly’s” was added a few years later…..
In the early days, it was a popular gathering spot for locals as well as visiting timbermen, sailors, shipyard workers, longshoremen and others passing through. In addition to being a popular bar, it had the reputation for having one of the most well known card rooms in all of Portland…and was truly a landmark.
Legend has it that there used to be several secret entrances to the Shangai Tunnels, where Chinese immigrants and dockworkers lived and made their way about the underground of Portland.
……In one section of the basement is a peculiar patching of the wall and remnants of an old tile floor, from a rumored “speakeasy” that existed during the Prohibition years of the 1930′s.
So what’s changed from the early 1900’s and is Kelly’s still imbued with the personality chronicled in its archives? Or is it just another old bar struggling to survive given the advent of shiny brewpubs and corporate establishments proclaiming the 99 beers on tap available to patrons.
This excerpt from Barfly provides evidence (and I believe our group would concur) that it is the former:
There’s no longer a piss-trough down the foot of the bar……. After more than a century, adjustments have to be made to any establishment. Women can come and go these days, the cellar tunnels to the port have been sealed, and, a few years back, once three generations of family ownership changed hands, a dozen vintage motorcycles were hung from the ceiling.
Weird, that – sorta awful, sorta crazy – but, beyond niggling details (HD screens, paint job, more-than-edible food), it’s the same old bar. Servers still descend the trapdoor behind the bar to get ice. (Verified with Lucia, the Manager, that this is still the case and that’s where their kegs are also stored – see the picture below.)
Elderly regulars maintain their presence. The shoeshine stand disappeared, tragically, but a decent sound system lures rising bands and tastemaker DJ’s…… (the music started in 2008)…..(Barfly)
Before some additional comments about the bar, let’s talk a bit about my companions that day. Two of them (Portland lawyers Jack Faust and Jim Westwood) are former “honorees” as Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter by this blog. (Check the links on their names.) In fact, Westwood is the one who suggested we congregate at Kelly’s).
After having worked at a law firm (Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt) with over 100 attorneys for twenty-five years, my concern that at least three lawyers are really essential for meaningful dialogue, was allayed when Jennifer Johnson, Dean of Lewis and Clark Law School joined the group.
Jennifer’s career is impressive and besides, she is a great drinking companion! After law school, she was awarded a prestigious clerkship for Judge Alfred Goodwin in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
She then worked at the Davies Bigg firm (now Stoel Rives) specializing in real estate finance and land use, before joining the law school faculty in 1980, where her teaching awards are numerous and impressive including the Leo Levenson and Burlington Northern Foundation awards for excellence in teaching.
In 2008, Dean Johnson was named Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar in recognition of her exemplary teaching and scholarship in business law and was installed as the Erskine Wood Sr. Professor of Law. She became Dean of the Law School in 2014.
I enjoyed talking to her when we first met at the Rookery, but heard from a friend – one of the 2015 graduating law students – how she distinguished herself at their graduation ceremony.
US Senator and Lewis and Clark Law School alumnus, Heidi Hietkamp, was scheduled to deliver the commencement address. But thanks to the dysfunctional body which may be mislabeled as the “Upper Chamber,” she was detained in Washington D.C. because of a Rand Paul’s filibuster on the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
Jennifer found out on Friday that the North Dakota Senator would not be able to make it to Oregon by Saturday afternoon. So Jennifer, pinch hit after writing her remarks on what turned out to be a long Friday night.
When I attended a graduation party for the law graduate the next evening, he and his parents both raved about how Jennifer “hit it out of the park,” with her remarks. They opined that it was the highlight of the ceremony.
And before discussing Amy and Charlie Faust who rounded out on contingent, we should digress and mention that the same group we had at Kelly’s had Beerchased about six months earlier at The Rookery – at that time a fairly new and classy bar on SW Broadway.
The contrast in environment at the Rookery is described in one September 2014 Yelp review as:
“….really charming, I have a fondness for restoration projects and they did a wonderful job. We were eager to sample local brews and dig into taste bites….We ordered the charcuterie plate, mac & cheese and corned beef stuffed Yorkshire pudding.…….The mac & cheese was one of the best I can recall in ages and I never thought about stuffing a reuben into Yorkshire pudding, but …….it was a wonderful blend of Irish and British.”
It’s a suave and sophisticated bar on the second floor of SW Portland restaurant Raven and Rose. The dark wood panels, the clientele (mostly downtown professionals) and the menu are all good, but perhaps a little bit stuffy.
At Kelly’s, our group’s personality adapted to our environment. We were rowdier, drank cheaper beers and were less attentive to Jack Faust’s stories even though they are always captivating – but more so in a “dignified and staid” environment than in a dive bar with classic motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and tatted patrons.
What about Jack Faust’s two offspring – Amy and Charlie? Given their engaging personalities and interesting backgrounds, I knew that it did not take three members of the Faust family to ensure riveting conversation.
Charlie is a Portland mortgage broker. After graduation from U of O, he traveled for a year in Europe and SE Asia, then worked as a staffer for Senator Bob Packwood.
That prepared him to weather the storms when he worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration including the experience of being on the crew of a NOAA hurricane research plane during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 – peak winds of 155 mph. He has Beerchased previously at Marathon Taverna and Bailey’s Tap Room.
Amy is a talented writer and popular Portland radio personality and the female half of the Mike and Amy Show on KWJJ The Wolf.
She has an interesting background and after graduating from Scripps College – one of the five prestigious Claremont Colleges in Southern California, she moved to New York where she both met her husband and even sang in an all-female alternative country band (negotiations to get tapes are underway at time of publication…).
The Mike and Amy Show, after thirteen years of great ratings, was unceremoniously canceled by station management in September of 2012. This was ironic because their show was one of five nominees for that year’s County Music Association Media Personality of the Year in the major markets.
Although it is unusual to hear management in any industry admit that it erred, in June 2014, based on listener demand and the poor ratings since the action, the duo returned to the airwaves and KWJJ Program Director, Mike Moore, announced:
“I want to speak to you about a mistake that ‘The Wolf’ made back on Aug. 6, 2012”
Mike Moore’s description on Linked In states, in part:
Tenacious program director with 15+ years of experience in providing strategy, vision…..developing and executing on-air and online strategies that provide cost-effective programming that positively impact bottom line without compromising quality.
He is still with KWJJ and perhaps his ability to reverse course is one reason. Typical of the responses to the return of the show was this one:
I am so very thrilled to have them back. It’s nice to listen to the radio again. (Yes, I haven’t been a listener since they were fired — I was brought up on KWJJ and have listened to that station since about 1972).
Amy also validated the cliché about Portland being a “small city” when she discovered that our friendly and competent bartender was Mary Kate, a former colleague from the Entercom who Amy ran into when Mary Kate was a bartender at Dukes – a bar on Division and then at another bar on N. Mississippi Avenue.
Now the current owner of Kelly’s is not without some celebrity. According to Willamette Week in its 2013 article on “Portland Hydro Hogs,” Benjamin Stutz is a lawyer and besides being co-owner of Kelly’s he develops condos and also owns a drive-thru pizza joint in Hillsboro (Motopizza). His wife Dr.Cynthia Gulick, is an osteopathic physician working in medical bariatrics.
They were “featured” as the top Portland “Water Hogs” in 2013, with residential consumption of 1,006,060 gallons. “(Their) apple tree-lined driveway (enters) a 3.3-acre property’s tennis court, swimming pool and a small vineyard of pinot noir grapes and also averaged 1.02 million gallons in the prior two years.” (Willamette Week 4/21/13)
For those who enjoy an occasional cold beer, this 2013 consumption would equate to 64,907 kegs of PBR – a small fortune even at Happy-hour prices.
Stutz was also on the Top Ten list of Hydro Hogs for 2011-12, but to his credit, has not “resurfaced” on the list since 2013.
And as for Body Art…..
As one might expect, the clientele at Kelly’s is diverse as described in a Zagat review: ….”a mix of punks, business types and ‘street urchins’ gathers for Pabst and ‘strong’ pours of Jack Daniels…..”
And, of course, with the bike theme, you would be correct in assuming that bikers – a group known for sporting body art, comprise a portion of the regulars.
In addition, a January 2014 Trip Advisor review after mentioning the biker contingent, also stated: “Of course, everyone working there sports multiple tattoos and piercings. No wimps allowed.”
The make-up of our group did not consist of professions known for their ferociousness or intimidation, (in fact Westwood before his legal career was a TV weatherman at KGW). We did not exhibit traits that allow you to drink without trepidation in a dive bar.
Based on that fact, I asked Jim if he had considered our vulnerability when suggesting Kelly’s.
He casually lifted his left sleeve to show me his recent tattoo, and assured me that this decoration – the numerals “1783” – while not typical of the more graphic tats displayed by the bikers, ensured our acceptance and respect. (Besides I was prepared to tell them that we knew Schwabe partner, Jay Waldron – no tattoos, but a former rugby player, biker and one who has kicked back more than a few beers with whiskey chasers at Kelly’s.)
Westwood, who has served for fourteen years as coach of the Grant High School “We the People” Constitution Team, endured the pain from the needle after he delivered on a promise to his team members. He told them that if they won the 2013 National Championship, he would get a tattoo to recognize the victory.
Westwood’s most admired historical figure is President George Washington and 1783 is the year of two of the most significant events in our first President’s storied career as a military and political leader. We have to admire Westwood’s motivational skills and commitment as a coach.
The Kelly Motorcyles
The classic motorcycles are a distinguishing feature at Kelly’s. The description in their website does a good job conveying the effect:
The crowning glory is the collection of a dozen vintage motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and about, each restored to perfection. One of the owners is a motorcycle enthusiast and finally found a home for his impressive motorcycle collection.
Complementing the motor cycles are other motorcycle accessories, combined with museum quality neon signs, antique gas pumps and historic photos of Portland and motor cycles.
We had a great time at Kelly’s and you should try it taking into consideration this closing description by the Portland Mercury:
The neon, the road signs, the decorative motorcycles all scream “theme bar,” but Kelly’s Olympian manages to avoid the inauthenticity the décor would imply….. Kelly’s has the gravitas of a place that’s been around for over a century.
The food is… well… bar food, but the drinks are on the deep side, the tap list is long, and much of the clientele could probably tell you a thing or two about motorcycles. It’s not quite a grim and gritty biker bar—but it’s not faking anything, either.
Due to the length of this post, we have not covered the quality bands which make Kelly’s a destination in the evenings. Check these out on the link to their website shown below. And check out the over 20 beers and one cider they have on tap at their Happy Hour from 4:00 to 7:00 each day and 11:00 to 1:00 on Thursday through Sunday.
(If you run into Jay Waldron, buy him a beer!)