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  

NEPO 42 – A Northeast Portland Gem

Since the start of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs five one one-half years ago (now at 75 Portland bars and 125 throughout eastern Oregon and the Oregon coast, several US regions and Europe) several methods have been used to “discover” some wonderful new watering holes. Sometimes it’s through the recommendations of blog followers or a review in the press or social media.  And I try tp research and find bars or breweries that are not just part of the mainstream.  It has led to positive results.

But the discovery of NEPO 42 in Northeast Portland, albeit indirectly, can be credited to a wonderful two-year old Golden Retriever – Wesley Walter!   Wesley belongs to my daughter, Laura, and her husband, Ryan.  You see, NEPO 42 is right across the street from 3 Dogs Boarding and Daycare, where Wes goes to cage-free doggie daycare and sometimes boards when the young couple goes on trips.  http://www.3dogsboardinganddaycare.com/

And although this is a blog about bars and beers, 3 Dogs deserves a shout-out as well.  They have always taken good care of Wes and the staff is friendly, helpful and committed to the canines who are their “clients.”

Wesley in his younger days about 1 1/2 years ago..

Laura and Ryan had mentioned a small bar and grill on NE 42nd Street, right across from 3 Dogs – it’s on the border of the Cully and Concordia neighborhoods –  so I decided to try it out when reconnecting with a former work colleague and friend, Bernie Stea.

Bernie and I worked together for several  years at the Oregon State Bar in the early 1980’s when he was the Bar’s Director of Continuing Legal Education and I was the Business Manager.  (more about Bernie below)  Bernie drove in from Camas, where he and his wife, former Portland radio personality, Deb Janes, are managing brokers at the Carl Group, a real estate investment and development firm.

Not the most impressive exterior……

NEPO 42, like a number of bars I have visited, is housed in what cannot be considered an impressive structure (it also has a very small parking lot) but the interior is a different story.  It radiates a warmth as aptly described in a Willamette Week review shortly after it opened in 2009:

“I expected Matthew and Sara Firosz’s bar to be a slightly remodeled neighborhood dive, but the pleasant space, decorated with art nouveau posters and black-and-white photos and with the remains of aged ceramic tiles on the floor, possesses rough, unpretentious elegance. It also has everything you could want from a neighborhood pub: a long bar, plenty of booths, a massive flat-screen TV” (W. Week 3/10/09) 

And while this blog focuses more on beer and bar history than food, let’s talk about the latter before discussing NEPO 42’s impressive twenty beers on tap.  The menu is diverse and not your typical “pub faire”.  Based on my two experiences and customer reviews, you will not leave hungry.  S goof summary is this 6/2/16 Trip Advisor review:

“Wow what a neighborhood GEM. Outstanding Pub Food with a great selection of taps from all over the Northwest. They do all their own smoking and that spells the best pulled barbeque pulled pork that probably is the best in the Portland area. Be sure try the chicken club very tasty and very fresh. Good selection of healthy salads.”

As further evidence, I was struck by the variety of dishes on their menu that received compliments  in social media and press reviews, to wit:  (Yelp) Mac and Cheese – 1/10/17, Fish and Chips – 11/9/16, brewery pretzels, kale salad…and the barnyard fries (“will be asked for on my deathbed.”) – 8/2/16, clam chowder – 1/23/17.

“……my absolute favorite, the OG dog “Primo bun, sauerkraut, jalapeño pickle relish, stone-ground mustard, steamed with Old German Lager. This is one fantastic hot dog.” – (Trip Advisor 3/5/17)

Willamette Week named Nepo42 in its 2016 Best of Portland issue for the third-best wings and in a 9/20/16 review on “Best Happy Hours” stated:

Fried Chicken and Waffles with bacon in the middle) – I even took some home….

“….seek out the masterful fried chicken—golden-brown chunks of crisped succulence either layered atop a waffle or hidden within the bacon-, spinach- and pepper-laden mac and cheese……$6 OG Dog (a ginormous frankfurter wrapped in a sturdy potato bun and slathered with jalapeño relish, homemade sauerkraut, and a house mustard itself steamed with Old German).”

To be objective, there was one vociferous critical Yelp review on 9/15/16 – maybe the cook or the customer just had a bad day……

“Jalapeño Poppers were just BURNT and exploded (they were so dark it was like eating charcoal), cheese sauce for Barnyard fries was grainy and tasted like flour, burger was overly well done and dry (when I had asked for med rare)”

Thebeerchaser is delighted with his Happy Healthy Bowl

I’ll supplement the above with my own two visits.  The Happy-Healthy Bowl (a special menu item with a title Thebeerchaser usually avoids….) I had at the lunch was large, delicious and was filled with a bunch of good stuff (brown rice, black beans, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and roasted fall vegetables. Topped with jalapeño cilantro and guajillo sauce, sour cream and sharp white cheddar)

There was no jealousy on my part as Bernie devoured what he considered to be a great cheeseburger – with a lot of good fries.

A great cheeseburger

Then when I returned for dinner with my wife, Janet, I marveled at the incredible Fried Chicken and Waffles for $13 (including the slices of bacon in the middle) I even took some of it home for a snack – something which I usually don’t do.  Janet had the Happy-Healthy Bowl at my recommendation and although she thought it was good, did not share my enthusiasm.  And their food prices, especially at Happy Hour are really reasonable.

I enjoyed seeing Bernie Stea again – he has had a career both as a lawyer and an entrepreneur and is one of the brightest and most innovative people I know.  His undergraduate and law school degrees were both from the University of Maryland where he was awarded the Order of the Coif – a prestigious national law school honor society and also served on the Maryland Law Review.  He clerked for Maryland’s highest court before moving to Portland in the early 70’s to practice law.

A “late model” Osborne 1

My first encounter with Bernie was in 1980, when as the Bar’s financial manager, I had to question him about his CLE department budget and he showed up with his Osborne laptop computer with the budget laid out on a SuperCalc spreadsheet.   (Even then, he was an early-adopter of technology.)

As I “attacked” his figures we started a friendly rivalry which entertained Bar staff when we “replicated” the dialogue at all-staff meetings.  It became a staged production in the tradition of Jane Curtain and Dan Akroyd on Saturday Night Live.  After Bernie would make a mock eloquent plea as to why his budget should be increased, my reply was, “Bernie, you ignorant slut!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k80nW6AOhTs

His subsequent career involved work at private law firms, CIO for startups, consulting for high-tech firms, and raising timber in SW Washington.  He and his wife now run a real estate sales and investment firm in Vancouver.  The Carl Group focuses on family estates, green construction and multi-generational housing solutions in the Southwest Washington and Portland metro area. http://natureasneighbors.com/about/

Robust selection of beer from 20 taps

While I have focused on the food to this point, I would be remiss not to mention the twenty-one rotating taps including cider.  Janet had a  BoneYard RPM IRA and I had a Priem Belgian Strong Dark Ale (I grew fond of this beer when we first tasted it at the Pfriem Brewery on a beautiful spring day in Hood River last year.)

Priem Brewery in Hood River – makes a great Belgian Strong Dark Ale

Then we split a Double Mountain IRA.  There was a wide range of beers to satisfy most beer aficionados. Pints were $4.50 at Happy Hour which 3:00 to 6:00 daily.

Other positive factors were free pool, a nice porch in the front which is both pet and kid friendly – not necessarily in that order, enthusiastic crowds and specials for Blazer games.  (You might even see Wesley Walter there on a spring or summer evening……)

Free pool

The vibe was of a friendly neighborhood pub and the staff including our server, Natalie, was friendly and efficient – something which might not always have been the case based on this Yelp 8/23/16 review:

”Recent staff shakeup has made a fantastic spot even better! The constantly complaining girl with blue hair is gone, and somehow a new dawn has broken! …….“

Janet ready to drop Wesley off at 3 Dogs. He absolutely loves doggie daycare.

And 3 Dogs is a great story in itself which you can check out at their website:

http://www.3dogsboardinganddaycare.com/about-us-3/ .

“The business started in 2008 and is owned and operated by Anne Graves, an experience veterinary technician and Michael Lauria, a professional dog trainer with years of experience managing tradition and cage-free dog boarding businesses.”

Although I love dive bars, there are a few neighborhood hangouts which have learned to put together a winning package and are worth visiting.  I echo the sentiments of this final review and urge you to check it out yourself.  And if you have a dog that needs occasional daycare or boarding, go across the street and check 3 Dogs out.   Tell them  that Wesley sent you!

From an article entitled “Meet Me in Cully” Willamette Week 8/22/16:

“An irreplaceable oasis of pub life, NEPO 42 does its best to approximate all bars for all people. Parents bring their children, pets accompany their owners to the front patio, sports fans gather for games, and folks predisposed to hate all of the above may choose from 20 taps of craft beer and cider when filling their growlers.”

 

NEPO 42       5403 NE 42nd Ave

 

A busy and competent kitchen