Dont Get Mad — Get Mad Hanna!

Beerchaser regular, Jim Westwood, at the entrance to Mad Hanna

While one can cruise the infamous Barmuda Triangle (also known as “The Stumble Zone”) in SE Portland and find numerous dive bars, unearthing these hidden treasures in other quarters of the Rose City, has become more challenging – particularly with the closure of some historic dives.

In the eight years of Thebeerchaser blog, I’ve reviewed quite a number of memorable dive bars.  I attempted to memorialize (if you will) the Portland all-stars in this category in a February post:  https://thebeerchaser.com/2019/02/09/thebeerchasers-best-portland-dive-bars/ .  It captures the essence of my four personal favorites.

Now my second visit to Mad Hanna was after publishing the aforementioned post or it would have been an addition to the four favorites.   And it is in NE Portland, which does not reflect the wealth of dives in the southeast quadrant.

Mad Hanna (hereafter “MH”), while clearly exhibiting the notable characteristics of a dive, borders on the temperament and character of a neighborhood watering hole.  As evidence of this slightly schizoid ambiance, see  both the martini glass and the Pabst sign which decorate the front of the establishment which is otherwise dumpy and rundown – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Notice the martini – gin with an olive – in the upper right part of the sign….

We have to be careful here because one description in a link to the MH website describes it as a “casual, playful tavern.”  (No dive bar should have the adjective “playful” characterizing it, so we will scratch that phrase as misguided…..), but it does have positive mood or presence similar to another one of the NE dives – The Standard. And it self describes in the caption to it’s own website:  “The Best Dive Bar in Portland.”

While I spend a considerable amount of time researching the establishments I visit, I had never heard of MH until reconnecting with a friend, Hillary Barbour.  She lives in the general area and said that it was a bar that deserved recognition by Thebeerchaser, so my first visit was with Hillary.

I first met her in 1994, when she was a research assistant for the Portland City Club and I was on the Research Board of this civic organization.   She was a recent graduate of Reed College and earned the endearing moniker, “Barbour the Magnificent,” by some of us on the Board because of her superior performance and enthusiastic work ethic.

After a few jobs trying to discover what she wanted to do with her life, she worked as a key staffer for Congressman Earl Blumenauer for almost fifteen years and became the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Burgerville in 2016.

Barbour the Magnificent on her throne at Mad Hanna

As a recent Reed graduate, Hillary spent a lot of time at the City Club trying to  convince us that she was really politically moderate, had worn dresses to most of her liberal arts classes and that most of the students at Reed were just like those at Oregon State University except that they major in Nuclear Physics, Bio-chemistry or Chinese Literature rather than Forestry or Animal Husbandry.  

Actual picture of Cerenkov radiation surrounding the underwater core of the Reed College nuclear reactor

Note:  Some Portlanders may not know that Reed is also the only undergraduate educational institution in the world to operate a research nuclear reactor.    Those who live near campus might consider acquiring a Geiger counter to supplement their portable generators if they view this excerpt from the Reed website: “We are dependent on incoming freshmen who want to run the reactor…..”

Hillary asserted that Reed’s intercollegiate sports program including rugby, ultimate frisbee and soccer, was less expensive and more inclusive that those of the PAC-12 – maybe it was the PAC-10 in 1994….

Ultimate Frisbee in between time at Reeds’ nuclear reactor…

And finally, she tried to explain the Reed’s Student Ethics Code to members of the Research Board  – it differs from most (maybe all) universities in that it is:

“….a guide for ethical standards themselves and not just their enforcement. Under the Honor Principle, there are no codified rules governing behavior. Rather, the onus is on students individually and as a community to define which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.”

Westwood offered explanation of Honor Guide…

Jim Westwood, a hard-core Beerchaser regular, who is also a former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter and one of the most skilled appellate lawyers and intelligent people I know, was also a City Club leader at that time.   He accompanied me on my second visit to MH.

So as we were drinking a PBR, as a conversation piece, I asked him for his interpretation of this somewhat abstract university credo.  He mumbled something about the substance of jelly-fish and then referenced protoplasm and amoebae…

But we digress….. Back to Mad Hanna……Why wouldn’t you like this bar?   While the outside might be somewhat off-putting, the inside has everything one could ask for in what is colloquially labeled “a watering hole.”

It has great old beer signs – such as Pabst, Oly and Rolling Rock and a good, although not excessive, selection of brews ranging from the standards to a few micro-brews  (Happy Hour = $4 micro – $2.50 standards and PBRs’ are $2) all of which are listed on a blackboard rather than an electronic display.  I was impressed with their line-up of ten cocktails – see below – which get good reviews.

There’s also an impressive pool table, a poster of Wonder Woman and a few, but not too many video poker machines in addition to arcade (video) games.

Adds to the ambiance….

There were a couple of TVs but ones which are of moderate size and for which the glare doesn’t disturb the somewhat dingy but very comfortable ambience.  And instead of low-scoring soccer games or Sports Center blaring on the main screen, there was a muted Charlie Brown animation film captivating the audience.

Dive bars are often characterized by hard-core regulars who react with mild to more aggressive hostility to newcomers, but on both of my visits, you are unnoticed when you walk in and stake out a location and head to the bar to order.  That’s because scattered groups of regulars are engaged in active discussions or in friendly interactions with the amiable and helpful bartenders.

People, whether on the excellent patio in the back (see below), gathered around the bar or sitting at tables in small groups, were having a good time.

Sterile environment – operated by the same corporation that runs the Olive Garden.

Now there are a few of the bars or breweries visited on Thebeerchaser’s multi-year tour which either reflect sterile, corporate-type settings or environments or worse, a benign neglect or seeming apathy of the owners.  A less genteel way to convey this is that the character of the bar “sucks!”

The only two Portland examples I can cite are The Yardhouse in downtown Portland and Bar 33-Brooklyn just north of Sellwood.

A lot of potential, but apathy greets you at the entrance

(If you want to learn the rationale for my conclusions, click on the links above, but suffice to say that if you really are thirsty for a beer, have at it.  But if you want a “bar experience,” don’t waste your time.)

Mad Hanna is the antithesis of these bars and I would suggest that it’s because of the attitude of the co-owners —Crystall Maddox and Liz Hanna, who not only came up with the good name, but also make efforts to instill community and the spirit that seems to radiate within the walls.

They get a nice mention in a 2017 feature in Portland Drink entitled “Visit One of Portland’s Many Female-Owned Bars” 

For example, their Facebook page is informative and filled with information and they also have a nice, but not overly sophisticated website with scores of pictures of people having fun and the inviting description below:

“Mad Hanna, your neighborhood living room, drinks are cold and the welcome is warm.  Need a laugh or ear to bend, swing on by and you’ll find it.  Fresh squeezed juice and house-infused liquors mean delicious hand-made cocktails. 

Enjoy ping pong, horseshoes and conversation in the sunny backyard or stay inside for pool, jukebox and sass from the best bartenders in town.  When you’re here your part of the family – we got your back!”

Let’s look at the evening activities:  Tuesday and Thursday they have DJ NIghts from 8:00 to midnight and on Saturday from 4:00 to midnight. On Wednesday, it’s Open Mic Night from 6:00 to 110:00 PM.  Don’t forget Karoke on Sunday……and periodic movie nights.

And their DJ booth is unique – also a great place to sit when they are not spinning discs.

As a side note, the Rovon Inn used to be the name of the bar prior to the change in ownership in 2012 that brought us Mad Hanna.   It was involved in a dram-shop lawsuit back in 2011 involving a drunken driver who allegedly drank there and at another establishment before being involved in a car wreck that killed a woman in another vehicle.)

While both times I was there, it was a typical Oregon winter day – cold and drizzly, but even so, there were people bundled up on the back patio and I can just visualize the activity during good weather – although as the sign indicates, under control…….!

 

 

 

Earlier I mentioned the tap list, but MH is also known for it house-infused cocktails and jello-shots they have a good collection and get excellent reviews in print and social media:

“……a chalkboard cocktail menu juggling the sublime (“$6.25 Ginger Whiskey Sour”) and ridiculous (“$9 CBD Margarita”).  While most regulars enjoy the well-curated array of mostly local brews, make sure to plunk down $1.50 for a pudding shot—an addictive dollop of soft-serve indulgence that’s become Mad Hanna’s signature libation. As an ideal blend of the playful and potent, the 80 proof is in the pudding.”  Willamette Week June 9, 2018

Now you won’t find an expansive menu here, but they do have some munchies from nachos to hummus and the grilled-cheese sandwich options gets good comments.  And my friend, Jim, paused in our conversation while chowing down on his $4.50 (Happy Hour) peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

This post is already too long, but there’s still a bit more to the story.  One factor that can add to or detract from a bar is the “juke box.”  MH’s garners great reviews not only for the music, but the bar’s approach is consistent with the tone set forth above:

 ……a special note – check out the jukebox here – it has such a great mix, everything from punk to classic country to ROBYN! don’t be afraid to throw in a few quarters and dance, also don’t be shocked if strangers join in too! its a real friendly place 🙂Yelp 7/8/14  (For those out of the cultural mainstream, ROBYN is a Swedish singer and songwriter…..)

Fantastic juke box, but who the heck is ROBYN??

Regardless of whether one considers Mad Hanna a dive or a neighborhood bar, it warrants a visit.

You will see evidence of the comfortable vibe mentioned in this post whether it is seeing a poster about a benefit to help an ailing bartender or resident of the neighborhood,  having a chat with one of the amiable bartenders or even hitting the bathroom – it also has character!

Further evidence of “community”

You should take the advice of this 6/9/18 Yelp reviewer who stated:

“Probably the coolest place I’ve been to in a long time. I will be going back to this place whenever I’m in town!”  6/9/18

And if you run out of conversation topics, you might want to revisit the interpretation of the Reed Ethics Code.  Alternatively, you could discuss the recent article, “What is a Reedie Anyway?”

Mad Hanna  6129 NE Fremont

Belmont Inn – Check That Name….

The Belmont Inn on Belmont Street!!

The Belmont Inn on Belmont Street!!

Draft Magazine recently named Belmont Station as one of the top 100 beer bars in America. While Thebeerchaser prides himself on his due diligence in scoping out and then visiting bars, this one got by him. Perhaps the slip up in confusing The Belmont Inn (sometimes the moniker Belmont’s Inn is also used) with the similarly named venue is understandable, however, because Belmont Station is actually on Stark Street.  Although the Belmont Inn is not in the top 100 bars, we still had good beer, reasonable food and another “shot” at Big Buck Hunter.

Poet and essayist, Walt Whitman said, “I have learned that to be with those I like is enough,”  and the companions on a Beerchaser visit can definitely affect the experience.  I was therefore fortunate to have David Dickson and Adam Davis join me in hoisting a mug.  Dickson has been featured in previous reviews including The Muddy Rudder Public House and Davis Street Tavern and can be considered a Beer Tour regular.

Adam Davis and David Dickson

David Dickson (l) and Adam Davis

Davis is one of the founders of the NW’s premier polling and public opinion firm DHM (Davis Hibbitts and Midghall, Inc.).   Adam’s erudition and audacity are notable and starting out with a Vodka Tonic with a touch of Peach Schnapps was indicative of his eagerness to go off the beaten path.

After finishing his freshman year at Grant High School, Adam moved to Estacada (home of The Rangers) where he served as student body president. He worked on the “Go-19” Campaign to lower the voting age and was one of the founders of the first high school chapter of OSPIRG.  Some suggest his political instincts were shaped in downtown Estacada at The Legendary Safari Club which in those days was not strict in checking OLCC cards.

One of the Distinguishing Features of the Safari Club was its "Menagerie..."
One of the Distinguishing Features of the Safari Club was its “Menagerie…”
The Original Safari Club in Downtown Estacada

The Original Safari Club in Downtown Estacada

After attending Willamette University for one year he transferred to Portland State, where he graduated.  While at PSU, he also served as then State Representative and now Congressman, Earl Blumenauer’s first administrative assistant.

Some suggest Thebeerchaser was a victim of the curse, “May your life be filled with lawyers,” and Adam reinforced that plague since he graduated from U of O Law School and then practiced for a year before starting his opinion polling work.  His current work involves a lot of interesting stuff and he needs to use a power point presentation to explain what he actually does for a living.

Service by Brett

Service by Brett

Willamette Week in its 2007 Drinkers’ Guide – A Sinful Guide to Portland’s Best Bars” described Belmont’s Inn: “There’s plenty of beer, the crowd is diverse and finding a seat is rarely a problem.”

There are very few other reviews of this bar and it can be described as a nice, but not distinctive, neighborhood tavern with a bunch of beer options (23 on tap in addition to PBR and Bud) and good, reasonably priced food.

David Dickson, being a Stanford grad and having spent most of his career in management at academic institutions, made an effort to impress Adam in our political discussion with the assertion, “In democracy, it’s your vote that counts while in feudalism, it’s your count that votes…..”  He started with a Double Mt Indian Red Ale from Hood River while I drank an excellent Spire Mountain Dark N Dry Cider (it was…) from Olympia. We collectively followed up with Portland’s Breakside Brewing Pilsner

The Bar at the Belmont Inn

The Bar at the Belmont Inn

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After appetizers, we all had good meals choosing from their excellent selection of 1/2 pound burgers.  They also have a robust selection of salads and sandwiches.

Since they don’t have a working web page, it’s a challenge to determine when the Happy Hour occurs, but it appears it’s from about 11:30 to 7:00 each weekday and more confined on weekends. They are open 365 days each year.              Pool Bel

There are three pool tables, five video poker terminals and five or more traditional pin-ball machines in addition to the ubiquitous Big Buck Hunter.

The "Old Style" Pinball Games

The “Old Style” Pinball Games

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David, in his quest to become the world’s best fake marksman, gravitated towards this electronic big-game hunt, while Adam spewed memories of the “real” prey at the Safari Club in Estacada

"If only I had spent more time shooting and less time studying in Palo Alto...."

“If only I had spent more time shooting and less time studying in Palo Alto….”

Some of the reviews suggested the service was less than stellar, but we found Brett and Angie were friendly, helpful and efficient.  Although the Belmont Inn may not make not ever be considered one of the nation’s top bars, it has a diverse group of regulars, friendly staff and a memorable selection of beer.  And according to Adam, it is one of a limited number of establishments where one can get a good Peach Schnapps.

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The Belmont Inn                        3357 SE Belmont

Bartender Brett and David Dickson with Thebeerchaser logo

Bartender Brett and David Dickson with Thebeerchaser logo