Bar Culture – Part III

The topic of bar culture is one close to my heart – reinforced by my Beerchasing hobby started shortly after retirement ten years ago. This is the third post about the elements of “bar culture” excerpted and expanded from my article for Bridgeliner – a wonderful on-line newsletter in Portland, Oregon.

Cassie Rudd, the Editor, asked me five related questions. The first was addressed in the post entitled “A Petri Dish – Bar Culture Part I” and the second in a less elegantly titled post – “Bar Culture – Part II.”

In the narrative below, you will see responses to the final three questions including the last which describes the three Portland watering holes which I think best embody the elements of bar culture described in the article.

Now get out there with your friends and help those bars and breweries to continue their important role in the economy and community!

Support Your Local Watering Hole *1

What direction do you see Portland’s pub and tavern culture heading and what are some of the pros and cons?

I’m very optimistic that Portlanders will again head to bars and restaurants to mingle with friends now that vaccination rates make such gatherings safe. The same  is true for watering holes throughout the US and globally for that matter. 

And the character or culture will quickly be restored if operational constraints aren’t too strict – like not allowing seating at the bar – an important part of the ambiance in every bar. 

It’s important to support these establishments after the severe economic constraints they have faced in the last eighteen months.  And the financial hardship is not new.

Even twelve years ago, author Mike Seely in his book, Seattle’s Best Dive Bars, stated his concern that the dive bars in his city were swiftly disappearing and might be an endangered species.  

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A wonderful book

The Portland Mercury also did an article on March 9, 2016, entitled “The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society,” stating, in part:

“Portland’s lost a bunch of dive bars recently. A few were absolute shitholes that deserved to disappear, but most were victims of circumstance and change.

A number of other bars have changed ownership and been fancied up to suit the modern market. Dive bars, if not endangered, are at the very least under threat.” 

The pandemic and lockdowns have not been kind to some of my favorite bars reviewed since I started my blog.  Gone but not forgotten are Sidecar 11, Bailey’s Taproom Crackerjacks Pub, The Tanker and the Tugboat Brewery.  (Click on the links to see the reviews.)

With the forced closures and the riots in Portland, the concern now transcends just dive bars.  Any small, independent watering hole faces economic challenges. 

It’s up to Portlanders to support these establishments unless they want to see more sterile, boring and insipid establishments devoid of personality such as the Yard House (see my 2016 review entitled “The Yard House – Does it Measure Up?”) in downtown Portland.   It’s owned by the same corporation that owns the Olive Gardens

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The Yard House – where you are met by a hostess who seats you in the bar and they contract with a commissioned artist who does all of their artwork nationally – does not measure up in my opinion.

What do you think will always stay consistent with Portland’s pub and tavern culture?

This answer may alienate those who think Portland’s own culture is unique, but I will respond with the same answer whether describing a bar in Portland, the Oregon Coast, Montana, New England or Amsterdam.

Besides my own experience, the evidence is derived from resources I’ve used in my blog from Matt Love’s “Oregon Tavern Age,” to author Joan Melcher’s two books, “Montana Watering Holes”, to Dr. Tom Noel’s wonderful and appropriately titled book, “Colorado – A Liquid History and Tavern Guide to the Highest State.”

I’ve talked by phone with each of these writers and in the last month even started an e-mail dialogue with a fellow blogger – Rich Carbonara – who lives in Munich, Germany and publishes a blog entitled “The Beer Wanderers.” (Rumor has it that we have at least one interest in common – validated when I purchased his excellent book  Beer Hiking in Bavaria.)

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As long as we don’t capitulate to the corporate chains who want to open their aseptic, suave drinking venues, the ancient tradition of a gathering place where one can raise a mug with friends will continue without much evolution.  That’s a good thing!

All the authors above, I’m sure agree, as I do, with English poet and essayist, Samuel Johnson’s assertion:

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”  *2

Obviously, I can’t speak for him, but I also concur with the twelfth century poet who stated:

“When the hour is nigh me,

Let me in a tavern die

With a tankard by me!”  *3

What is one of Portland’s quintessential pubs you feel is emblematic of that culture?

This is a hard question to answer because there are so many good bars.   When a bar is good, it’s fantastic.  And even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good!  However, I will suggest three rather than one – all on the Portland’s east side. 

Gil’s Speakeasy whose owners self-describe as “The nicest assholes in town,” have a wonderful dark, spacious bar with no sign on the exterior and great cheap daily specials ranging from $3 chili dogs to $1 sloppy Joes. 

They even have a coin-operated breathalyzer – an option if you’re not sure.  It states, “Blow before you go.  Profits to local charities.”

It is the epitome of a good neighborhood dive bar from the exterior, to the ambiance once you walk in. The owners are, in fact, “nice” but definitely not assholes! The food, music, games, barstools, backbar and furnishings demonstrate the bar culture I’ve described.

Don’t overlook Mad Hanna – a wonderful bar community – has transformed itself during the pandemic into a general store (“part indie boutique, craft fair and whimsically curated market”). 

Besides, there aren’t too many saloons where you can chow down a $4.50 peanut butter and jelly sandwich while guzzling your $2 Happy Hour PBR.

But the bar or pub that epitomizes the culture discussed above is The Standard.  This dive opened in 2007 at NE 22nd and Broadway and was perfectly described by Mathew Korfhage in the “Willamette Week 2018 Bar Guide”:

“But the thing that made me treat this bar as an extension of my living room for seven years, what makes it different from every other bar with cheap drinks and a pool table and a covered patio in winter, is the simple decency of the place.  

The Standard is one of Portland’s last true neighborhood bars, a ramshackle version of Penny Lane decorated in shattered CDs and corrugated metal……More than any other bar I know in Portland, it is a sodden vision of an ideal society.”

While I’ve named three of my favorite bars in Portland with great character, one can do the same, to a greater or lesser extent, in every community in the US and every other nation. 

Perhaps if we had friendly discussion and debate over a cheap Happy Hour brew, we could iron out the polarization characterizing such dialogue during the pandemic.

Cheers and Amen!

And thanks again to Cassie and Bridgeliner for making it possible for me to contribute the articles.

Photo Credits

*1.  Public Domain – File:Dollar.PNG – Wikimedia Commons

2.  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds – Samuel Johnson – Wikipedia) National Gallery

*3.  Image courtesy of Pam Williams

Beerchasing in the Highest State – Part I

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Colorado – I have to admit that until last fall, my only knowledge of Colorado breweries harkened back to college years at Oregon State University.  You were a hero with SAE fraternity brothers and could be a babe magnet – at least temporarily –  if you came back from a road trip with a few cases of Coors – brewed in Golden, Colorado.

Coors - the Silver Bullet to popularity in the late '60's

Coors – the Silver Bullet to popularity in the late ’60’s

Coors was then not sold in Oregon because it wasn’t pasteurized.  As a result of its unavailability, it became a delicacy similar to Cuban cigars with the advantage that you were not supporting a communist dictator when you purchased the product.

A state rivaling Oregon in breweries and scenery

A state rivaling Oregon in breweries and scenery

 

 

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In September 2014, my wife and I spent twelve wonderful days in Colorado, six of which were in a Breckenridge condo.  While we both love Oregon, I was convinced that if we had to choose another home, it would be this state with its majestic mountains, lush forests, lakes, rivers and canyons – and oh yes – bountiful breweries, which although they are not natural wonders, can still make one’s pulse surge with anticipation.

New Belgium Brewery - one of Colorado's best

New Belgium Brewery –  the first in the US to purchase 100% of its electricity from wind generated power

Rocky Mountain National Park's amazing Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountain National Park’s amazing Trail Ridge Road

We saw spectacular and fascinating scenery ranging from the Trail Ridge Road, which bisects Rocky Mt. National Park – 48 miles long with eight of those above 11,000 feet (Mt. Hood’s summit is 11,249) – to Garden of the God’s and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

The Chapel at the US Air Force Academy

The Chapel at the US Air Force Academy

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Our visit concluded watching the Oregon State Beavers beat the Colorado Golden Buffaloes football team in Boulder on a beautiful day. (Please limit your comments re. the Beavers’ final Pac 12 record.)

The Beavs beat the Buffaloes in Boulder - note the orange contingent on the right

The Beavs beat the Buffaloes in Boulder – note the orange contingent on the right

My fondness for Colorado was heightened by the number of breweries and great bars we visited – 18 in twelve days.

Portland purportedly has more craft breweries per capita (76 in the metro area) than any city in the world, and the state of Oregon has a total of 181 – at 6.3 per 100,000 adults – first in the US.

This compares to 175 in Colorado – 4th in the US at 4.7 – where they range from Adolph Coors  Co. – the largest in the world and the formidable New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins to many micro-breweries – eight of which we were fortunate to visit and taste their product.

Don and Janet Williams with our tour guides - the Sengers

Don and Janet Williams with our tour guides – the Sengers

Our philosophy was that the 1.6 breweries per capita fewer in Colorado was the equivalent of being in a bar which had 75 different beers on tap rather than 100 and we would explore notwithstanding the #2 ranking.

We had a great time both at the beginning and end of our trip with good friends, Barb and John Senger – Barb is an OSU grad and both are retired school administrators and were accomplished tour guides.

Their extensive preparation for a Beerchaser tour was evidenced by the copy of an outstanding reference guide awaiting me on arrival – Colorado, a Liquid History & Tavern Guide of the Highest State by Dr. Thomas Noel, a professor at the University of Colorado.

An essential resource for Beerchasing in Colorado
An essential resource for Beerchasing in Colorado

 Dr.Noel states in his introduction that he began surveying bars early when he was  nineteen years old – forty-four years younger than when I commenced Thebeerchaser Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.   His ultimate mission makes me consider returning to graduate school – a dissertation in history at UC as follows:

 

An historic example of the venues explored by Dr. Noel and Thebeerchaser
An historic example (in Breckenridge) of the venues explored by Dr. Noel and later by Thebeerchaser

 

 

 

 

For that research, I systematically visited every licensed and unlicensed after-hours club, bar, lounge, nightclub and tavern in Denver – some six hundred establishments…..Since completing the Denver bar survey of 1965 to 1978, I have not been idle.  I have expanded the study, hoping to visit every bar in Colorado.”   

What vision and perseverance!

The good professor promptly returned an e-mail I sent and in his response granted me permission to use excerpts from his book in my blog posts.  He also informed me in his reply that he also authored another book of interest to Beerchasers – Denver: The City and the Saloon. A pearl of wisdom from Dr. Noel:

The tavern as an institution, as well as a building type, is underappreciated.  This book gives a voice to people – and an institution – that usually escape dry history books.  Bars have made and shaped history.  They themselves have revealing histories and are great places to collect tall, short and winding tales.

A notable validation of Dr. Noel's premise from the historic Sink Bar

A notable validation of Dr. Noel’s premise from the historic Sink Bar

Based on my Beerchaser Tour over the last 3 + years, Dr. Noel’s quote hits the mark regardless of whether the venue is in Colorado, Oregon, Amsterdam, Anchorage, Prineville or Port Townsend.

So during our twelve-day trip, what were the eighteeen bars and breweries we visited  and which will be highlighted in three or four subsequent Beerchaser posts?

 

From the Avery Brewery in Boulder

From the Avery Brewery in Boulder

Boulder  Crystal Springs Brewery, The Sink, Avery Brewery, Gravity Brewery, Post Brewery

Fort Collins – The Town Pump, The Mayor of Old Town Bar, New Belgium Brewery

Breckenridge – Angels Hollow Bar, Apres Handcrafted Libations, Breckenridge Brewery, Broken Compass Brewery, The Gold Coin Saloon, Ollies Pub and Grub  P1030035

Colorado Springs – Phantom Canyon Brewery, The Ritz Bar

Dillon Lake –  The Dillon Dam Brewery

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From Choice City Butchers and Deli in Fort Collins

 

 

 

 

 

One acknowledgement before concluding this post which I would be remiss in omitting.  Our host, John Senger, in addition to having a great feel for selecting quality bars and breweries, also distinguished himself with the quality of his hand-crafted martinis – a libation for which Thebeerchaser is an enthusiastic advocate.

Complementary.  Gin - up with olives!

Complementary: Gin – up with olives!