The Standard – It Redefines the Meaning of the Term


You last read about one of Portland’s fabled bars in the most recent post of Thebeerchaser – that being The Dockside Saloon and Restaurant.   Located in an historic building, this classic bar has been owned by the same family since 1986.  Well, the following narrative will tell you about another legendary bar you should visit – this one a dive bar in Northeast Portland.

Now when you see the term The Standard, (I’m choosing to capitalize both words throughout the post) you might automatically assume it references the Portland-based life insurance company.  Indeed, “The Standard” is a marketing name for Portland’s own Standard Insurance Company, which was chartered in Oregon in 1906, now employs about 2,500 individuals and owns several high-rise buildings in downtown Portland.

Not a sparkling exterior

But The Standard you will read about below is a bar which, even with a great reputation, has been below the radar in an inconspicuous location on NE 22nd Avenue – just off Burnside.  And some might assert that with the dark wooden fence with a dumpster in the middle, fronting the bar, it looks like a recycling center.

Opened in 2007, it doesn’t have the long history of some other classic bars, but demands recognition.   Why would you travel here and struggle for parking rather than hit one of the city’s many sparkling breweries or taprooms – some relatively close by including Upright, Laurelwood, Alameda and Culmination?

A spacious interior

The 2018 Edition of “The Bar Guide.”

Well, one of Thebeerchaser’s trusted resources during the seven years of this tour of bars, taverns and breweries is Willamette Week’s Annual Bar Guide.   The 2018 Edition) “Portland Bars and Happy Hours – the 101 Best Bars in Portland,” sums it up succinctly in a wonderful review written by the weekly’s former Project Editor, Matthew Korfhage:

“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.”

And, in fact, going back and reviewing past issues of the Bar Guide, The Standard, unlike most Portland bars, has made the list of top bars – usually around 100 establishments – each of the last five years.   Now this may be in large part due to Korfhage’s long tenure at the weekly paper.

*Note:  Since he wrote a majority of the reviews in the Bar Guide, he is an expert and has written the piece on The Standard each year.   And you can see below that his favorable opinion has not changed.  Whether The Standard will hit a sixth consecutive year in 2019, may be in doubt since Korfhage wrote his last column for WW in April.

Korfhage – writing will be missed.

This reporter, who in 2017, was awarded first place for his columns on food writing by the American Association of Alternative Newspapers, has lived in St. Louis, Chicago, Munich and Bordeaux.

He just moved to Hampton Roads on the East coast to become the Food Editor for the Virginian Pilot. It’s Virginia’s largest daily newspaper.  His excellent writing will be missed in Portland. 

As can be seen by viewing his first two months of columns in Virginia, he continues his interesting and creative, if not somewhat unhealthy lifestyle, writing about bars and restaurants on the East coast. For example, his May 26th column was entitled and ends the first paragraph with this sentence.  “I sacrificed my own health to try hot wings at 22 spots all over Hampton Roads and picked the best.”

But you can see below, his praise of The Standard was unwavering through the years:

Bartender Tyler checks the reflection…

2014: “The Standard is what it says it is, ‘A neighborhood standard.’”

2015: “But The Standard is pure of heart, from its owner through its bar staff through the longtime patrons who took up a collection to buy a scooter for the retiring cook and bartender…” 

Friendly staff appreciated by the regulars.

2016: “It’s the best little bar in Portland, and I won’t hear otherwise.”

2017: “The bar is cheap, no-nonsense fun in a way that takes all comers and yet is loving towards its long-time regulars.  These days in Portland that makes The Standard not very standard at all.  It makes it a GD treasure.”

The Standard has a wide variety of games and was even recognized in the website “Four Square Lists” as one of “The Best Fifteen Places for Bar Games in Portland.”   And it has a bunch ranging from Big Buck Hunter to the traditional Pac Man to pool tables to classic pinball games including Terminator 3.

Classic pin-ball machines to Big Buck Hunter

Last Call – Not in the Top 50 but…..

It even has a video puzzle arcade game named “Last Call.”  While not on the list of the Top 50 which includes classics such as Trash Panic, Tetris Attack and Super Scribblenauts, it will probably keep you interested and occupied??!!

Or you can pick one of the many “treasures” in a vending machine that has everything from old Playboy Magazines to heart-shaped sunglasses to Nutter Butter candy bars to a mystery package which says “Porn Pin – Probably.”  

(The only similar machine I’ve seen in eight years and visiting 120 Portland bars, was at Slab Town – a NW PDX dive bar with a once stellar reputation as an old-school rock and roll venue visited by Thebeerchaser in 2013).

Unfortunately, it became one of the classic Portland bars which poured its last PBR and hosted its last concert in 2017.  In the Slab Town vending machine, you could even buy guitar strings and drum sticks – not the kind you eat……!

On the left “Porn Pin – Probably”

You can also have your picture taken in one of those old-fashioned photo booths.

 

 

 

Visiting The Standard that day with me were Beerchasing regulars, Jack Faust and Jim Westwood, both former Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter based on their compelling stories. They did outstanding appellate work during their careers at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt and Stoel Rives respectively.

From left – Shannon, Charlie, Chuck Jack and Jim

In addition, three other friends added to the late afternoon gathering – Charlie Faust, a mortgage loan consultant and Jack’s son; Chuck Mitchell, another retired attorney and a trial lawyer who showed skill in the courtroom and Shannon Asato, who works in the Accounting Department at the Oregon Food Bank.

Shannon was the only Beerchasing neophyte and her good humor and competence when she worked with me for a number of years at the Schwabe law firm, made her a welcome addition to our crew.

“Standard” would not be an apt description for the exterior of the bar, and you might drive or walk right past it if you weren’t deliberately seeking it – in fact, Jack Faust was focused on joining us and drove past anyway.  He then called his son to find out where we were and took static for his lack of punctuality when he got there.  (Of course, he parked, before dialing his cell….)

A great covered patio for all seasons….

You walk in through the covered patio, which is vaguely reminiscent of the days before Oregon’s smoke-free legislation passed in 2008 and the interior of every dive bar had a hazy, smoke filled environment, which would be hazardous for anyone without pristine lungs. (The smoke was pretty minimal, however.)

Individuals and groups sit at the picnic tables chatting or working on computers – often accompanied by their dogs and drink cheap beers or stiff well drinks.

“Abbreviated” shuffleboard

The inside of the bar is also spacious and filled with the type of stuff which endears us to this type of venue.  Besides the old-style pinball machines and games, a pool table and a curiously-short shuffleboard, there are old beer signs, tacky art, an idiosyncratic (or bizarre) cracked mirror the full length of the bar behind it and, well, just a lot of stuff that makes you feel at home….

Careful – they sneak up on you….

There are too many features at The Standard to name them all including Jello Shots for $1, alcoholic Slushies, Sunday craft beers for $3, and a Crappy Book Club – “Bring your crappy books, and trade them for other crappy books!” 

And like a number of storied watering holes, the bar is a community unto itself.  For example, there’s traditional Christmas decorations in season (also Santa Claus horror movies), an annual Chili Cooking Contest – the proceeds in 2018 went to Friends of the Columbia River Gorge – a Kentucky Derby Party and occasional golf tournaments – the proceeds last year went to the Oregon Food Bank.

Call for schedule of Santa horror movies

Another distinguishing characteristic is a noticeable affinity for Hamm’s Beer.  This is manifested in its Wednesday all-day $1 Hamm’s pints, numerous logos and a notable stuffed “Hamms’ Bear” over the bar wearing a Portland Trailblazer jersey.

Trailblazer fan from Wisconsin

An affinity for Hamms

Don’t forget the sign on the two unisex bathrooms stating, “One at a Time,” possibly a concern that those imbibing in the $1 brews or jello shots may think they can join the “Mile High Club” without leaving terra firma. 

And I don’t think you will ever see The Standard take the appalling route of one of Portland’s other bars – Saraveza.  In 2015, perhaps to be trendy as quoted in New School Beer on 11/5/15:

“‘For seven years we have honored the world of domestic beer by always pouring a pint of Hamm’s alongside some of the best craft beers in the world.

It was important to me to acknowledge the industry that created a springboard for our recent craft beer revolution,’ said Sarah Pederson, owner of Saraveza Bottle Shop & Pasty Tavern. ‘Breakside’s Wisco Tavern Beer does the same thing for us, but with a new twist that we are proud to stand behind.’” (emphasis supplied)

Really???  (Maybe you want to change, Sarah, but don’t suggest that Breakside can replace Hamms!)

Founded in 1865 as compared to 2010….

The last time, I had a draft Hamm’s on tap was at a wonderful bar – The Coyote Road House, in Door County, Wisconsin.  That’s right next to the “Land of Sky-Blue Water” which is home to the Hamm Brewery, founded in 1865 in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Another place to get Hamms on Tap

Now, when Faust and Westwood first got to The Standard, the practice ingrained in them for so many years — each worked in  different high-rises owned by Standard Insurance — got the best of them.  Both took out legal pads and started billing time as they drank their $1 Hamm’s.

The Standard Insurance Center – home for Westwood at Stoel Rives

Since Chuck Mitchell worked in a small plaintiff’s firm in Clackamas County, he took a more relaxed approach and talked the other two into just considering this a pro-bono engagement.

Mitchell on the left advocates pro-bono

And Jack always gets a kick each time the famous French opera bearing his name comes to Portland.  This time it was Portland Opera’s three and one-half hour rendition of French composer, Charles Gounod’s, “Faust,” in June.

In a deal with Mephistophele’s – the Devil, (a baritone in the opera), the protagonist, Faust, trades his soul for a chance at a second youth and the prospect of seducing a beautiful young maiden,

Mephistopheles is a baritone…

Charlie Faust became worried when he heard his father, quoting some lines from the opera, to wit:

“When will death free me from this burden?  I curse happiness and knowledge, prayer and faith.“ 

We had to convince the younger Faust that his dad was not depressed, but just showing his erudition and cultural refinement in addition to his tendency to share his philosophy on the human condition, temptation, redemption, Goethe and the Oregon Supreme Court’s latest opinion on the Gun Control Initiative.

But we digress….The Standard is not going to be your go-to place for quality pub food.  It’s line-up is limited and confined to items such as chips and salsa, a few sandwiches, mini-corndogs and fried ravioli(?)

Limited but cheap selections

They also have a drink special every day which includes the aforementioned Hamms’ special on Wednesdays.

Daily Drink Specials

The Standard was a great addition to the bars I have visited and all of us gave it a thumbs- up.

And you have to look hard for a social media review which is critical.  Almost all reviewers love the character, sense of humor and charitable heart of this saloon.  The few critical ones seem to be malcontents who didn’t like the service – kind of an anomaly when it is a self-service bar or maybe a bartender wasn’t as friendly as they would have liked.  Or take this one going back to 2012.  (I guess that’s not too bad…..):

“I have a hard time with this review. The location is really good and the people seem really cool. On the other hand their well rum was by far the worst rum that I have been in near proximity with.”  (Yelp – 4/9/12)

Now Portland has over 700 bars, breweries and taverns, but if you haven’t been to The Standard, you should remedy that.  And it does redefine the meaning of the word “standard” as there is nothing ordinary or typical about it.

While they have some good craft beer on tap, in the interest of history and honoring the character of this bar, belly up to the bar and ask Tyler for a draft Hamms’.   If it’s Wednesday, it will only set you back $2 – a buck for the beer and a buck for Tyler. 

The Standard         14 NE 22nd Ave.     Portland

Jello Shots – Even better with pop rocks on top…

 

Beerchasing in Wisconsin – Part II – Door County

We drove north from our first night in Wisconsin – in downtown Milwaukee – up the peninsula separating Lake Michigan and Green Bay into Door County.   What a beautiful drive – rolling farmland with historic barns, small communities and all one identifies with rural America.

And Door County – surrounded by water and with over 300 miles of shoreline has a Cape Cod-type ambiance in the heart of the Midwest.   We stayed with my sister-in-law, Pam, in Sister Bay, and toured nearby towns , the names and heritage which could be portrayed in Mark Twain’s or any novelist’s work who wrote about small-town values and culture.

Janet and Pam at sunset in the heart of Sister Bay

Bailey’s Harbor, Turtle Bay, Egg Harbor, Fish Creek, Gill’s Rock, Sturgeon Bay, Ephraim, etc.all of which beckon vacationers who want to relax in a scenic, welcoming environment – and oh yes, one in which there are some great bars and breweries.

There are also some small wineries, but based on our limited sampling, the grapes are such that the wines tend to be pretty sweet and make an IPA a much better bet.  We visited four watering holes on our Beerchasing tour.

Door County Brewery – this establishment was recommended by multiple parties as having great beer. Located in a small building outside the wonderful village of Bailey’s Harbor (“BH is…..truly a place where everyone knows your name—and then some. We like cool breezes, water sports and parades with a drumming rabbit who thinks he’s a chicken. And beer.  Lots of beer!”)

A cool logo

The enterprise was established in 2012 by four family members.  Brady, the bartender told us that the brewery specializes in Belgian beers although they have some other nice options available with the ten on tap.  We tried their Pallet Jack Cruiser which is a good Session IPA.

Kyle, the brewer, was in and we had a nice conversation and learned that they will expand this summer to new quarters in the heart of Bailey’s Harbor.  We felt like we were regulars and met a wonderful guy named Buzz a high school coach who regularly vacations in Door County.

Janet with our new friend and coach, Buzz.

Besides having a great logo, the attitude reflected on their website is evidence of why they have won the hearts of their community:

We value family, friendships and community above all else and create one-of-a-kind craft beers to bring these all together…..The root of our brand is the authentic story of a small community who cares about the passion, hard work and significance of every day.….So welcome. We are glad you came and hope that you enjoy our community of friends, family and beers. Now let’s have some fun!”

Now in expanded space although this was quaint….

They moved to a larger building on July1st which will have a nice beer garden and more room for the crowds attending their Saturday night entertainment. Typical of the reviews was this one on Yelp – a couple visiting a little over a month after we did:

“We stopped in during a walk……The staff was very friendly.  A great atmosphere and vibe makes the patrons happy.  Might have something to do with excellent, easy flowing craft beer also. “

What better place for a dive bar???

AC Tap this was my personal favorite and a great dive bar.  Half way between Sister Bay and Bailey’s Harbor in the middle of some farmland on Hgwy 57, the setting of this bar drew me like a magnet and we were not disappointed.

Now one typically does not hit a dive for the food – it’s the cheap beer, the signs on the wall, the crusty regulars and pool (darts also at AC Tap).

And what a great sign!!!

Well, AC Tap has all of these and food that could shame some of the established bistros – in a kitchen that could fit in a closet.   Because of limited time, we did not have a chance to partake of the food, but let’s look at the reviews starting with this summary from a 9/9/15 Yelp reviewer:

“The Tap is an amazing place because they serve food all day everyday until bar close! The kitchen is always open until last call and the Tap does bar food the right way. They have a two-page menu along with a homemade special and soup each day. Mondays they do 50 cent wings and a beer special.

Tuesdays they do homemade sushi rolls. In the winter, Thursday nights are usually all you can eat homemade spaghetti. Friday of course they have fish fry specials– perch or shrimp (sometimes lawyer or blue gill) and Sunday nights they do 1/4 baked chicken and dumplings.”

And almost every review raved about a different food item:

“……you can’t go wrong with anything on their menu (and) great wimpy burgers,” “a juicy hamburger and delicious homemade French fries,” “tastiest fried perch ever,” “The fish and chips were good, the fish cakes were great,” “Best bar food around.”

There was a friendly group of guys who the bartender said were visitors from Illinois on a male-bonding golf trip who were totally immersed in a dice game which I later found out after a little research, is a staple at Wisconsin Bars – “Shake of the Day.”  No, it’s not an ice cream drink, but a fun opportunity to slam a cup with five dice down on the bar and take a chance on either winning a free drink or having to buy the entire bar a drink.  The following description is apt:

Who buys the drinks in Shake of the Day?

“This game can get pricey. The loser has to buy a round of shots for everyone playing, and if any player gets five aces, they’re buying a round for the bar. Them’s the rules…

..Of course, the rules tend to shift slightly from bar to bar. But one thing remains consistent — when the bartender loses, the bar buys all. It’s a big part of why people play; the odds of scoring a free drink are pretty high.” (On Milwaukee.com 2/12/09 by Julie Lawrence)  

Dive bar ambiance…

About the only complaints about AC Tap was that it was cash only, but get a clue.  If you cannot afford to throw down a twenty for several $2 PBRs (they have five beers on tap) and your dinner plus a nice tip for the bartender, you shouldn’t be frequenting dive bars.

By the way, the guys from Illinois, who had been there for quite awhile, left and said to the bartender, “We’ll be back in 90 minutes.  Keep the tab open.”   She did without hesitation.    We will definitely be back to AC Tap the next time we are in Door County – and for sure on a Wednesday night when we can taste what our bartender described as the owners personal  sauce he cooks for spaghetti night:  “Thick, spicey meat sauce with mushrooms.”

And the staff and owners are very nice people.

Coyote Road HouseI loved the name of this watering hole on the shore of Kangaroo Lake on County Road E. a few miles outside Baily’s Harbor.   (We should have asked how the lake got its name….)  It was another quaint building and more of a neighborhood-type establishment than a dive bar:

 “We offer one of those everybody-knows-your-name atmospheres. Friendly service and tasty twists on traditional fare will win you over inside. 

We offer over 30 different bottled beer and about 10 on tap, from Guinness to Fat Tire, and a martini is not an unusual order here. If you like onion rings, check out our ‘heaping loaf’ of thin, delicately french-fried strands that practically melt in your mouth.” 

Outstanding and plentiful onion rings

Their claim on the onion rings is accurate and unfortunately, we did not get a chance to taste their specialty – the Kanga Reuben, which has corned beef cooked for six hours and the following mouth-watering ingredients:

2 Slices of Dark Pumpernickel Rye Bread,

2 to 4 Slices of Swiss cheese,

4 oz. of 1/8 inch Cut Slices of Corned Beef,

2 oz. of Sauerkraut,

1 oz. of Thousand Island Dressing.

And I celebrated our visit with a rare Hamms on tap while Janet and Pam had a Summer Shandy from Jacob Leinenkugal Brewing.  The Coyote has a great patio adjacent to the lake with a volleyball court and would be a great place to hang out any afternoon. 

The view from the patio

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cornerstone Pubour final venue in Door County was this neighborhood-type bar right in the heart of Bailey’s Harbor on the shore of Lake Michigan, which also gave Janet a chance to dunk her feet in this famous body of water for the first time. 

The Cornerstone in Baileys Harbor

A nice selection of beer included Spotted Cow a cloudy farmhouse ale from New Glarus Brewing which is only sold in Wisconsin according to Matt our bartender – a nice guy.   Reviews of this place are good as typified by this 2/27/17 Yelp submission:

“The Cornerstone is solid as a rock.  Happy folks serving really good quality pub fare. Clean and cozy. Partial views of Lake Michigan – outdoor summer seating. Locals and visitors love it. Can’t go wrong.”

And while you are in Door County, you have to experience a fish fry, for which almost every bar or restaurant takes pride and asserts that theirs is the best.   People liked the Cornerstone’s:

Matt talks about Spotted Cow beer

“Perch on the porch – look at Lake Michigan.” – “Man oh man… tonight I had the Whitefish Basket and it was great.  I never saw so much of the fish I love on one order.” 

“There were several fish fry options to choose from, including perch, haddock, whitefish, shrimp, or the Door County Fry which include a piece of perch, haddock, and whitefish…..The fish was all cooked perfectly and appropriately seasoned. “  

And by the way, you should also add fried cheese curds to your list of consumables – maybe not the same night as the fish fry, but while you’re in the Badger State.

Eagle Bluff Lighthouse

The next day it was a hike in Peninsula State Park to work off the beer and onion rings – a nice jaunt through wooded splendor, a stop at Eagle Bluff Lighthouse and then a meal at the “famous”  Al Jonhson’s Swedish Restaurant in downtown Sister Bay, which was okay but when we return will be far behind AC Tap on our preferred list.

As we were walking down the main street of Sister Bay to the restaurant, we turned a corner and there was former Portland Trailblazer, Joe Pryzbylla and his wife walking by.  Pam is a season ticket holder and Blazer Ambassador and she and I immediately recognized him (hard to miss at 7 feet one inch).   She said “Hi” and thanked him for being the enforcer during his seven seasons with the Blazers.

Former Portland Trailblazer, Joe Pryzbylla

The one thing that was interesting about Earl Anderson’s  was their sod roof, which had a goat chomping on it.  (There was an explanation of how they get the creatures up there in the restaurant.)

Cheap labor for lawn maintenance at Al Johnson’s

Our week in Door County was superb and we headed back for a final night in Milwaukee before returned to O’Hare for the flight home.  Next up –“Beerchasing in Wisconsin – Part III.”

Americana at its best…