Club 21 – Don’t be Fooled by the Name of this Good Bar

Club 21 - Definitely not a Strip Club....

Club 21 – Definitely not a Strip Club….

Okay – admit it.  When you saw the title of this review was Club 21, you thought I had abandoned the guideline to exclude strip clubs from the venues reviewed on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.  But that’s not the case.  Club 21 is a great NE neighborhood bar in an iconic 1930 building (at one time a Russian Orthodox church) co-owned by Marcus Archambeault and Warren Brophy, who also own two other Portland bars –  Gold Dust Meridian (see Thebeerchaser review in October 2012) and The Double Barrel.

Ryan, Dan, Leslie and Scott with Thebeerchaser logo

Ryan, Dan, Leslie and Scott with Thebeerchaser logo

Unlike some multiple bar owners who stay with one theme, they are creative – each bar has its own marketing, menu and ambiance based on the clientele, the building design and the neighborhood  history.

Club 21 has great character and lawyers Scott Whipple and Dan Duyck and young O”Neill Electric Project Manager, Ryan Keene and I enjoyed our beer and a dinner there one late weekday afternoon.

Whipple is a Beerchaser regular having accompanied me to Ash Street Saloon and the Dixie Tavern downtown, in the early 2012 days of this “journey,” then to Slab Town and the Skyline Tavern in October 2013.

He and his law partner, Duyck, were along for Gold Dust Meridian and Bar of the Gods and Ryan and his girlfriend, Laura, Beerchased at Quimby’s, Sniff Café and most recently, Stammtisch.  (If you’re interested in seeing any of these reviews, just use the “Search” feature at the top right of Thebeerchaser logo.)   P1020507

When we arrived at 5:00, there were few in the building, but a steady stream of regulars quickly filled both the inside and an expansive patio on the sunny afternoon.  And the regulars were friendly and talkative when we asked them to tell us about the bar.


Expansive and Dog-friendly Patio

Expansive and Dog-friendly Patio

According to our bartender, Leslie – who has worked there 3.5 years, Club 21 has been the name of the bar since 1958.  After its time as a place of worship, it became the eastside annex of Jake’s Crawfish.

The owner of Nick’s Coney Island bought the building and  named his bar, Shadows.  In 1958, it became Club 21 – just because it’s on 21st and NE Glisan.  Marcus and Warren purchased it in early 2011.

In the photo below, that’s Dennis in the center – he works at Franz Bakery, and first came to the bar in 1966 – where he met the woman who is still his wife in the early ‘70’s.

Jovial and Helpful Regulars - and good taste in beer!!

Jovial and Helpful Regulars – and good taste in beer!!

Dennis and his friends remember the structure when it was a church and talked about sitting on what used to be the altar when they first started patronizing.

As an undated Portland Mercury review asserted,Be sure to say hi to the regulars they’ve been drinking there before you were born. No but seriously. They have!” (Unless you are as old as Thebeerchaser….)

And the dark and cozy environment reeks with personality with accoutrements such as old Schlitz lamps and classic Blitz beer signs, three antler heads, a stuffed duck, a classic nude painting, four old-fashioned pin-ball machines, Big Buck World and a small nook in the wall with religious statuettes.

One of four trophies....

One of three trophies….

In fact, even the men’s bathroom has character – you have to open a door and walk through a small narrow hallway to get to it. (The door on the right is the entrance to the maze in the photo below.)

Even the entrance to the bathroom has character....

Even the entrance to the bathroom has character….





The current owners remodeled the infrastructure (kitchen, plumbing and code issues) while being careful to maintain the spirit of the building.    They improved the interior and reformed the menu.  Subsequent reviews show they accomplished their goal:

“Yes, I think they’ve done a knock-out job bringing this historic building back to life. It still feels like a dive bar, but now it has some much appreciated style going for it”. (Barfly 12/13/11)

"Droolworthy" old Blitz sign.....

“Drool-worthy” old Blitz sign…..

“Club 21 is back in action, following a change in ownership (now in the same capable hands as Gold Dust Meridian), and a lovingly-rendered makeover of the old gal.

Don’t worry – she looks like the best Club 21, ever. And, no more of that embarrassing body odor. These are all good changes – enlarged patio, enclosed and ventilated kitchen, new paneling, everywhere, annoying mini-flat screens, nowhere, a drool-worthy collection of beer signs and booze memorabilia.”

And this from Willamette Week (10/12/11):

Thebeerchaser thinks Schlitz __ is even better than Pabst stuff
Thebeerchaser thinks Schlitz signs are even better than Pabst stuff

“(Club 21) still looks like a little fish tank castle on the outside and feels like a ski lodge on the inside. But the former dive bar, which took only a slight hit in patronage while closed for upgrades this summer, has stepped up its style game considerably.

Its former duct-taped booths have been replaced by new upholstery; dingy old beer mirrors replaced by…well, even older Pabst paraphernalia; two pinball machines have turned into four; the patio now seats dozens of young blue-collar regulars…”

Double the fun.....
Double the fun…..


And everybody raves about the food, which once was described as, “….burgers that (came) from a stack in a frozen bag from Sysco.”

Willamette Week continues:

“The obscenely cheap food specials are out, but replaced by still-cheap and altogether more satisfying options, including an epic build-a-burger menu with endless variations (how about a housemade veggie patty on Texas toast with smoked Gouda.” 

 And we leaped at the chance to try their menu specialty, “Build-a-Burger (BaB)”.   (My selections are in bold) and as one City Search reviewer labeled it – “A fat kid’s dream.”

"Build a Burger" and add tater tots or onion rings

“Build a Burger” and add tater tots or onion rings

BaB is seven-step process commencing with picking your “foundation” – one of five options ranging from Oregon beef or prime rib, to fried or grilled chicken to a veggie burger and then your bread from  one five (whole wheat)  and selecting one of eight types of cheeses (pepper-jack).  Keep going with the sauces (sea and salt peppercorn, smoky pepper, 12 spice BBQ, Cajun, habanaro, Jamaican jerk) and condiments (A-1 sauce, sweet & saucy relish).

Check out the menu below which further illustrates the process.

Build-a-Burger - A construction project....

Build-a-Burger – A construction project….

If you want one of the eight extras for just a buck, add an eighth step (bacon, ham, fried egg, avacodo, caramelized onion, onion straws, sautéed mushrooms, anaheim peppers, pickled habanero, tomato bacon jam and grilled pineapple) – the works for only $8!


since it was Happy Hour – every day  from 3:00 until 7:00, we got a buck off on the food and $.50 off on our beer.  Side orders included fries tater tots, onion rings, green salads or Caesar salad).

A good menu - remade in 2011 with better quality and wider selection

A good menu – remade in 2011 with better quality and wider selection


All of us chowed down, supplemented by one of only four beers on tap (Rainier, Vaorizer, Boneyard or Kolisch).   We were so stuffed, we couldn’t even take advantage of the all-day breakfast special consisting of two eggs, hashbrowns, and toast for $5.

And Club 21 has a great juke box and live music periodically (“We’re not a rock show venue, but feature a few bands a several times each month.”)   Also check out some specials such as “Bottomless Mimosas” and “Comedy Brunches.”

They do not have a website but rely on minimal marketing through Facebook.

Don - the cook who is good at his job.

Don – the cook who is good at his job.

So if you are looking for info on the web about Club 21, be careful to be specific about the name and location. Otherwise, you will end up at the websites of venues with the same name in:

Oakland: Club 21 is the San Francisco Bay Area’s Hottest Gay & Lesbian Latin and Hip Hop Party Destination, the number #1 Gay Latin and Hip Hop Night Club.”

Galveston Island,Texas: (in the Historical District. Rated #2 out of 13 on Trip Advisor for nightlife) “Island Chic. Sophisticated. Relaxed. That’s the low-down on 21, Galveston Island’s premier spot for great times, great atmosphere, and great friends.”

Pueblo Colorado:  (The only strip club in Pueblo – rated at 2.5 stars out of 5  – mostly because “The dancers were burned out.”)

Or you could end up at the websites for the nightclub on West 52nd Street in New York City or a luxury retail story in Singapore.  Nevertheless, it appears that Marcus and Warren are going to stick with the name Club 21 and the history it embodies.

Religious statuettes and old whiskey trinkets - tacky but quant.....

Religious statuettes and old whiskey trinkets – tacky but quant…..

But if you want a no frills, old school environment with  exceptional burgers, a charming atmosphere with friendly regulars and helpful staff, no mixed drinks, a diverse juke-box and a good, albeit limited, selection of cheap draft beers, head to Portland’s Club 21.

And Marcus, why not hitchhike on Build-a-Burger (BaB) with BaBS (Build-a-Banana Split).  First you  select the ice cream flavor, then topping…….then……!

An inanimate regular at the bar




Club 21     2035 NE Glisan





(To view the map with all the bars reviewed by Thebeerchaser, click on the “View Larger Map” link at the bottom of the map below)

Reflecting on Oregon’s Urban-Rural Divide – The Embers Brew House in Joseph, Oregon

In the Heart of Joseph

The Embers Brew House

Thebeerchaser’s bar tour was in a slight rut.  Fascinated by the contention of Kip, owner of Bar of the God’s contention that his establishment was in the midst of Portland’s Barmuda Triangle, I realized I had been sucked into the vortex and had focused too much on SE Hawthorne establishments including:

      Bar of the Gods      Hawthorne Hideaway     Gold Dust Meridian 

Claudia’s   (visited but not yet posted)

As a result, in October I visited the Ship Tavern (not yet posted) in  Multnomah  Village and decided that an Eastern Oregon pub visited on a mini-road trip in late September should be included in my blog.  Thebeerchaser and spouse took a wonderful trip to Eastern Oregon and spent two nights at Wallowa Lake Lodge in Joseph, Oregon.

Wallowa Lake Summit Tramway – Notice the Haze from the Smoke

The scenery was wonderful  – the only problem was that the enormous brush fires in Eastern Oregon and Washington caused a haze which made beautiful Wallowa Lake gray rather than its normal crystal blue.  The smoke even made the view at the top of the Wallowa Lake Tramway impossible to see the other beautiful Eagle Cap peaks.

However, we had a wonderful time at the Embers Brew House (EBH) on a Saturday night in Joseph after dinner at the Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise.

Brew and Dinner at the Bar at Terminal Gravity Brewery and Pub

A Great Place to Visit in Enterprise, Oregon


It was after the tourist season in Joseph and on a Saturday night those at the EBH were mostly locals, hunters and a handful of tourists like us.   Why did we love the Embers?  A clue is in its website:

“The Embers past is firmly rooted in the history of early settlers, business people and today’s locals.  A fire at the present adjacent site of a local grocery store destroyed that property, but The Embers withstood any damage and remained intact, thus the name “The Embers” was born.”

What else made our visit to the EBH memorable?

  • It was the hot-spot in town and the local folk were lively and friendly – a close knit community.  This sign, shown below, posted by the bar embodies the philosophy:

    Not Just a Quote on the Wall…

  • The food was outstanding.  Teresa, the cordial owner and her crew, turned out an absolutely incredible number of pizzas and burgers for the large crowd.
  • Everyone was waiting to either see the Ducks vs. Arizona football game or listen to the Jimmy Bivans Band – a wonderful Boise country-western group that rocked the patio and beer garden area for several hours (you can hear them at three different McMenamin’s from January 12-14th, 2013).

Live Entertainment from Boise – Jimmy Bivins and Friends

  • Mike, a local guy I bonded with wearing a blue Notre Dame sweatshirt, was watching the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game which went down to the wire before the Irish won.  I had listened to the Beavs beat UCLA earlier that day and we talked about both of our alma maters’ undefeated seasons so far      – not realizing what was to come in the next weeks……

Mike, whose daughter also was a ND graduate, was a cool, rugged guy.  He had no airs and was drinking white wine with ice from a plastic cup!   The Notre Dame game ran over a few minutes into the Oregon game, but nobody was going to ask him to change the channel.

Some brief excerpts from reviews on Yelp give an idea why the Embers bustles:

“My husband and I spent the week in Joseph along with 4 other couples. We made it into Embers on 3 different occasions.  The food was excellent; the beer cold, but most of all we enjoyed the staff.”

“Eating a spectacular Greek classic pizza with fresh basil and kalamata olives, outdoors, with a view of the Eagle Cap mountains, while enjoying a beer. It doesn’t get better than that!”                                              

The Bar at the Embers

“We earned our Embers visit with a multi-day backpacking trip in Eagle Cap’s beautiful Lakes Basin. The pizza was a welcome relief after backcountry dehydrated meals. Embers offers plenty of options for the discriminating vegetarian. Their beer list is surprisingly extensive.”

We had eaten dinner earlier at the Terminal Gravity Brewery in nearby Enterprise, which also had a lot of character.  Try their macaroni and cheese and their ESG (Terminal Gravity’s Rye beer, “Extra Special Golden,” might be described as an American golden ale.)

Joseph has several other pubs and even its own brewery.  Take a look at the photos below::

The Hydrant — Where Beer Flows in Joseph



The Outlaw Saloon and Cafe – Another Joseph Bistro



The Stubborn Mule Saloon in Joseph

Mutiny Brewing in Joseph, Oregon

Elkhorn Saloon in Sumpter, Oregon


On our road trip to Wallowa Lake we also went by several old taverns in other Eastern Oregon towns, but did not have time to visit them.  For example, this picture above of The Elkhorn Saloon in Sumpter is a classic old saloon.

It enables one to envision the scene when one western bar patron, named Mike Fink, in the 1800’s unsuccessfully tried to shoot a tin cup of whiskey off the head of his friend – a guy named “Carpenter,” who ended up with a bullet in his head.  Fink became the master of understatement by stating, “Carpenter, you have spilled the whiskey!”      (“Legends of America” – Old West Legends)

Seeing the entrances of the establishments below convinced thebeerchaser that an Eastern Oregon segment of the Bar Tour should be on the agenda next year.

The Lostine Tavern in Lostine, Oregon

It also reminded me of the bar joke about the dog who limps into the bar in Wallowa and yells to the bartender and drinkers:

“I’m looking for the guy who shot my paw….”     


Leave a comment if you know of a bar in Central or Eastern Oregon that should be included in this future Beerchaser Tour.  Shown below are some of the other saloons that beckon:

The Oxbow Saloon in Prairie City

The Range Rider Tavern in Enterprise – Notice that Hunters are Welcome!




And let me conclude with my final western bar joke:

The sheriff bursts through the door of the western saloon and yells:  “I’m looking for Paper Bag Bill – he’s a wanted man.”

A guy at the bar says, “What’s he look like?’ The sheriff says, “Well he has paper bag mask, a newspaper shirt, a crepe paper scarf and a paper bag chaps.”

The bartender asks, “What’s he wanted for?”

The sheriff says, “Rustlin!”

Paper Bag Bill — A “Rustler”….

—————–Eastern Oregon was a great road trip and we will be back to visit the Embers Brew House.  Some people deabate Oregon’s Rural vs. Urban Divide.  Having a beer at a good tavern is just as good in Joseph or Enterprise as it is on SE Hawthorne!

The Embers Brew House    204 North Main Street     Joseph, Oregon