2021 Summer Beerchasing Miscellany – Part I

Now That Really is a Dirty Shame!

While I’m happy for my friend, John Runkle, the owner of the World Famous Dirty Shame Saloon in Yaak, Montana, I lament for the rich history of legendary dive bars, that John has sold the bar – the new owners take over in late August.  Originally there was talk that they would change the name, but that appears to be a false rumor.

After reading about the history of the bar in Joan Melchers’ two books “Montana Watering Holes,” I called John and arranged a visit and stay in 2019 at the Yaak River Lodge, which John also owns – located on 7.5 acres along the beautiful Yaak River.

I stayed for two nights in the Moose Room (the Wolf Room was already occupied) – waking to John’s home-cooked breakfasts of bacon, hashbrowns and blueberry pancakes.  In the near term, He will continue to operate the Lodge – a rustic retreat shown below which is about one mile from the Saloon.

My enthusiasm for the Bar, John and his staff as well as the entire Yaak community of about 250 people, is evidenced by the four blog posts I wrote – necessary to adequately convey John’s and the “Shame’s” amazing stories. 

The last one entitled “Thebeerchaser’s Final Thoughts on the Dirty Shame Saloon,” published in October 2019, contains only some of the tales I heard there.  Check it out and the others to understand some of the reasons why this remains my favorite bar in ten years of Beerchasing.

So what’s in store for this soon to be father of three kids under six after his wife Dallas Runkle’s projected delivery date in September.  They live much of the time in the Tri-City area in Washington where Dallas is completing her graduate studies in education and counseling.

A conversation this week with John went like this:

Beerchaser: “Are you going to sell the Lodge at some point?”

Runkle: “Yes, we’ve temporarily taken it off the market, but when Dallas finishes her educational requirements in about a year, we’ll probably move to Texas.”

Beerchaser:  “What are you going to do, John – Run another saloon, run for office, run a marathon…” (John is a staunch conservative and we had some great debates about politics and life during my two days in Yaak while we drank beer.)

Runkle:  “Since Dallas will be working and at sixty, I’ll be the oldest dad in the world with three kids under six, I’ll probably be taking care of my offspring.  (Laughing) Joe Biden’s child-care credits will help me do that!”

John hasn’t met the new owners of the Dirty Shame yet, but they are a group of radiologists from San Luis Obispo, California, who also bought the Yaak River Tavern across the street from the Dirty Shame and evidently acquired the nearby  Overdale Lodge as well.  Does this seem a little like the premise of the series “Yellowstone?”

Regardless of the name change, the bar will not have the same character as when John was the owner and what he has made of this legendary watering hole since he bought it out of foreclosure in 2013. 

John’s humor, great heart and sense of community, have made this a focal point for the community and miles around for events such as the Sasquatch Festival, the Crawfish Festival, the Adult Easter Egg Hunt or the “Yaak Attack.”  After the two previous owners failed, John’s business acumen prevailed and the saloon has increased revenue every year except in 2020 with COVID.  It has never been more profitable.

He ended our phone call by saying, “Don, don’t forget that on July 31st, we will have the last staging of Female Cream Wrestling (last year it was canceled because of COVID) and the farewell party with live music will be on August 28th.”  

Let’s see – it’s 520 miles or 8 hours and 29 minutes from my house to Yaak.  And, if I hurry, I might be able to get a reservation in the Moose Room again…..(See the end of this post for another photo album of my visit to the Dirty Shame.)

Back to Beerchasing but Farewell to Some Favorite Haunts

With vaccination rates at a good level and restrictions lifted in Oregon, Thebeerchaser is back in business – visiting new bars and breweries to add to the total – now approaching 400 – since starting this retirement hobby in August 2011.  My most recent post related my four great visits to Corner 14 – a wonderful community watering hole in Oregon City which opened in February of 2020.  Stay tuned…..

That said, the pandemic and lockdown were brutal to hospitality establishments and some of my favorite bars and a few breweries didn’t make it.  And while we lost a number during the pandemic, it exacerbated an already tough economic environment.   An 4/4/21 Oregon Live article entitled, “Brewers Were Soaked by the Pandemic” stated in part:

“Oregon breweries were already undergoing a generational transition in the months before the pandemic hit.  In 2018 and 2019, Lompoc, Bridgeport, Portland Brewing and Widmer Brewing all closed restaurants and/or bars.  Alameda Brewhouse, Columbia River Brewing and Burnside Brewing shut their doors too.”  (Click on the links to see Thebeerchaser reviews.)

“Oregon breweries shed 1,000 jobs between the summer of 2019 and the pandemic, nearly 12% of the sector’s employment.  Then 3,500 jobs vanished in the spring of 2020.

Employment….tumbled 43% in the first months of the pandemic.   While many of those jobs bounced back over the summer as the state gradually reopened, brewery jobs remained down nearly 29% — a greater fall than at restaurants and bars, overall.”

Ironically, liquor sales jumped 20%, last April, during the first month of the pandemic to a record high. But there is good news on the brewery front. 

A number are expanding their locations including Pelican Brewing in Lincoln City, Lake Oswego’s Stickman Brewing and Baerlic Brewing in NE Portland.  Chuckanut Brewing of Bellingham, known for its lagers, has filed to open a SE Portland beer hall.

I’m very excited to check out a new Portland brewery.  Steeplejack Brewing is scheduled to open in an historic church building (112 years old) in July.  (Soft opening on 7/16 and grand opening on 7/31.) .  Two University of California – Santa Cruz college buddies – Brody Day and Dustin Harder are partnering to restore this wonderful NE Portland landmark  (Willamette Week 2/20/21)

Demolition and rebuilding is underway as crews are digging up a section of the main hall of worship for a sunken brewery, but Steeplejack plans to keep many of the most iconic and timeless elements of the building intact.

William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, actually laid the cornerstone of the church at a ceremony in front of thousands of onlookers back in the day. But the primary feature is the 65’ ft. high steeple and bell tower from which the brewery gets it’s name.”  (“Steeplejack Brewing drafts All-Star Team for upcoming Portland brewpub in restored church.”  (The New School 4/20/21)

I  had a good telephone conversation with co-owner Brody Day and challenged him on the headline of the second article above asking, “What makes your team of the All-Star caliber?”  His response was good.

Steeplejack’s Head Brewer and Lead Brewer, Anna Buxton and Anne Aviles both have extensive experience in the brewing industry.    Anna at the  innovative Modern Times Brewing and Anne in the Experimental Brewing aspect at both DeGarde Brewing on the Oregon coast and Portland’s award-winning Breakside Brewing.  

The pent up desire to socialize with friends and family over a good beer portends a robust summer and fall for Northwest watering holes – that is if they can find adequate help.  The new Pelican pub in Lincoln City advertised a $2,500 signing bonus for cooking staff.

A late June visit one of our favorites on the Central Oregon coast – Depoe Bay’s Horn Public House and Brewery – had a big crowd, but the upstairs section of the pub was closed because they didn’t have enough kitchen help to accommodate the demand.

I’m also pleased to see the ill-conceived recent plan of a few Oregon Legislators in House Bill 3296 to raise the Oregon beer and wine tax by 2,600% and 1,400% respectively according to Willamette Week, died a well-deserved death before it even got out of Committee during the 2021 Session.

That said, I was saddened to see in a visit to Lincoln City that a favorite community dive bar for decades – the Cruise Inn, which I reviewed in 2014, appears to have closed its doors. Although I haven’t found any formal notice, the furniture, equipment and “library,” including the complete set of American Jurisprudence Legal Forms are gone and the phone disconnected.  

Check out a few photos from my posts on the Dirty Shame Saloon.

Photo Credits 

*1. Pelican Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/PelicanBrewingCompany/photos/10158384649633435

*2. Stickman Brewing Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/stickmenbeer/photos/a.254878121231579/

*3.  Baerlic Brewing Facebook Page  https://www.facebook.com/baerlicbrewing/photos/1360228664170193

*4.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/106659551525747)

*5.  Steeplejack Brewing Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/SteeplejackBeer/photos/a.107641808094188/

*6. The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/878078125931167

*7.  The Horn Public House and Brewery Facebook Page   https://www.facebook.com/thehornpublichouse/photos/a.221404098265243/

Beerchaser Miscellany – The Bad, the Unfortunate and the Good!

In one of my last posts entitled “Destiny of the Dives,” I listed a number of Portland bars and breweries that had closed based on the pandemic and resulting lockdowns and the civil disorder that was rampant in Portland last year.  Unfortunately, there’s a couple more, both of which I had hoped might reopen, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Bailey’s Tap Room – right on Broadway in downtown Portland and known since 2007 for its robust tap list (its twenty-six rotating taps were displayed electronically) will definitely not reopen although that was the intent when it first closed.

Unfortunately, the Upper Lip – a great lounge on the upper floor of the same building – is also gone.  The building was quickly sold and who knows if another watering hole will eventually take over the space.  An article in Brewpublic.com echoed the same pessimistic outlook.

One of the first electronic displays of its kind

Willamette Week reported in a  January article headlined  An Oregon economist could not think of another example of ‘an area that has so quickly fallen into disfavor.’”:

“Portland plunged from one of the most desirable cities for real estate investors to 66th among 80 cities (Urban Land Institute)….The reputational damage is what’s going to exacerbate or prolong what we saw unfold in 2020.”

Grixen Brewing – my former neighbor was one of the partners in this brewery opened in 2013 in SE Portland that featured a spacious taproom and good beer.

Great taproom and quality beer…

Grixen — Sorry to see them go…..

It was announced in August that they would temporarily close although their website now states:

“We have permanently closed.   We are still navigating a way to keep the beer alive.  Follow us on social channels for announcements.” 

Well, there is nothing in social media or on the internet that updates that info except a piece in NewSchoolBeer.com in October stating “Lease the Former Grixen Brewery.”  I hope I’m wrong, but don’t count on seeing them again.

Tax and Legislative Changes and Lifting of Restrictions

Fortunately, at least in Oregon, there are some positive developments which will now help bars and breweries after a tumultuous year.

Oregon Craft Brewers avoided what would have been a 100% tax increase:  “The $900 billion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress Dec. 21 includes a set of tax breaks that offer substantial relief for Oregon craft brewers, distillers, winemakers and cider makers, who are among the small businesses hit hard during the pandemic.” 

As an example, a brewery that produces 10,000 barrels a year would have jumped from paying $35,000 a year to $70,000 a year in excise taxes

My favorite cocktail — gin – up with olives

  At the end of 2020, Oregon Legislators passed a bill that allows bars and restaurants to sell mixed drinks for offsite consumption – something the industry has been seeking for the last year statewide.  It requires food with the drink order, but that’s a start.

Well, it took long enough, but at least they got this one right!

  Because of falling COVID rates, “For the first time since November, restaurants, bars and brewpubs in the Portland metro area will be allowed to reopen their indoor dining rooms at a limited capacity at the end of the week.”  (2/12)

So on 2/12, Portland area Beerchasers, while still practicing social distancing and wearing masks, could go out and support their local watering holes and not just  sit in the cold with portable heaters.

And to show how it goes, just when the COVID restrictions were loosened, Portland and the burbs got hit with an incredible ice storm that closed roads, led to hundreds of thousands losing power and trees either coming down altogether or large limbs breaking under the weight.

Matchsticks….! My sidewalk and street

I’ll take a pint over push-ups or pilates…..

Our own street and sidewalk looked like a behemoth tossed limbs like match-sticks.

But I’m confident normality will resume In Oregon.  It’s just a matter of when and how one defines “normality!”

After all, it was reported by Willamette Week, that a recent national survey by the American Addiction Centers revealed that bars won out over gyms on which adults missed most.  In Oregon bars won by a decent margin: 59% to 41%.  Go figure!

The Evolution of Darwin’s Theory and a Sad Farewell..

Followers of this blog know that one of my favorite dives outside Oregon is Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage Alaska.  I first came across this unique watering hole in 2014 and it has been serving beers (not on tap – just bottles and cans) for over forty years.

I always look forward to their pithy and biting quarterly newsletter – until I can return, but was glad to see in the latest edition that they reopened in late January:

“Several establishments won’t be opening at all.  Some were old, established icons around town.   (We will reopen) with the same wonderful staff that are known and loved – some as long as twenty six years.  Some minor tweaks were done during the shutdown, but the same free popcorn and free Jukebox will still be there too…..So get vaccinated and let’s end this crap.” 

My last mention of Darwin’s was to post a picture sent by Jon Magnusson’s – father-in-law to our older daughter when he and his wife, Nancy and two good friends, Dr. Bob and Stephanie Thompson visited Anchorage on a trip to see the Northern Lights in February, 2020.

I told them they had to check out Darwin’s and I got a text from Jon with the picture below and the comment, “Exploring Darwin’s – Great Place.”

From left – Jon and Nancy Magnusson and Stephanie and Dr. Bob Thompson at Darwin’s Theory in February 2020.

We were shocked and saddened to learn that Dr. Bob passed away last week following a heart attack while swimming.   He practiced Family Medicine in Seattle and was loved and respected by patients, colleagues and all who knew him.

In 2013, he was honored as the Outstanding Health Care Practitioner in Washington State and as stated by the CEO of the Valley Medical Center where he practiced for over thirty years:

“Dr. Bob, as he is fondly known, has worked at Valley for over 25 years and he is an emblem of what it truly means to be a tireless and compassionate care giver, committed to helping people in need.”

Dr. Bob Thompson was an outstanding person-of-faith who worked on many volunteer medical missions including Belize in Central America and Albania.  He was active in numerous charitable organizations and a loving husband, father and grandfather.  We will miss him.

New Times for Old Town

In an 8/16/20 Beerchaser post, I mentioned how entrepreneur, Adam Milne, the founder of the iconic Old Town Pizza in 2003 and his later expansion to Old Town Brewing, faced challenges during COVID and the riots/protests in Portland this summer.

Adam Milne – a bright and creative businessman

They caused him to temporarily close one of his his two establishments – the downtown location as reported in a July 12 Willamette Week:

“‘The moment of a temporary closure became, sadly, clear on Thursday when our revenue for the day was $18.75,’ he says….. ‘We really need help from the city. Downtown businesses have been hit especially hard with the high density, vandalism and tents in front of our business.'”

While Old Town Pizza is still closed, he has not been sitting idle and will expand with another eastside location besides the Northeast Brewery.

Just this month, he purchased Baby Doll Pizza on Southeast Stark – he won’t change the name although it will now feature a number of the excellent Old Town beers on tap.  Baby Doll is known for its’s New York style pizza.

Congratulations Adam.

Parting with Encouraging Words

In my recent post, Destiny of the Dives, I bemoaned the loss of some historic Portland watering holes, but parted with a hint of optimism – that during and after the pandemic – required restrictions, a number of establishments have either expanded or innovated to stay open and in some cases, grow and prosper.  The pent-up demand caused by isolation would be a beacon to Beerchasing…..

And then I came across an outstanding January 12th article from New School Beer.com that was stunning in the expansiveness of such plans in 2021 —  The Most Anticipated Upcoming Oregon Breweries and Taprooms of 2021 — New School Beer + Cider

The most exciting news is the info about Steeplejack Brewing – plans to open this summer – a heartening story not only because of the spirit of the co-partners (Brody Day and Dustin Harder) who are two college buddies, but because their partnership and cooperative efforts with the Metropolitan Community Church.

Portland’s Metropolitan Community Church

The result – a wonderful historic landmark will be saved and still serve as a community gathering place.  This is an incredibly ambitious project. Stay tuned and Godspeed!

“The church at NE 24th and Broadway is a landmark of Portland’s Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood known for it’s ornate steeple and long history.

The building’s most recent owners Metropolitan Community Church left the building in 2019 and it narrowly avoided being demolished. Turning down competing bids, the MCC leaders chose to sell the space to two homebrewers who wanted to keep the building intact and as a central hub or the community.”

Conceptual photo of the planned brewpub

Amen!!