Kelly’s Olympian – Old but Still Chipper and What a Great Name!

Kelly's - Operating since 1902!

Kelly’s – Operating since 1902!

Those of you who have followed Thebeerchaser know that notwithstanding the name, this blog is not a rigorous journalistic or academic study of beer.   Although, I love microbrews, I am always pleased and will opt for a $2.50 Happy-hour PBR rather than an esoteric and more expensive craft beer.

Darwin's Theory - a wonderful dive bar in Anchorage
Darwin’s Theory – a wonderful dive bar in Anchorage

Rather, this blog chronicles my journey to what is now over a hundred bars, taverns and pubs in the last four years in Portland and the far reaches of Oregon, Alaska, Colorado, the southeastern US and several countries in Europe.

Dive bars are preferred, but regardless, this investigation involves dissecting the history and character of the watering holes, interviewing the bartenders and regulars and commenting on the distinguishing characteristics of each establishment.

The tavern at the summit of ___ foot Mt. Schilthorn in Switzerland
The taverne at the summit of 9,744 foot Mt. Schilthorn in Switzerland

And one of the most enjoyable parts of these junkets has been the companions with whom I raise a mug. In many cases this has been Janet, my wonderful spouse of 35 years, (one reason she was named 2014 Beerchaser-of-the-Year) but others have included lawyers, investment analysts, academicians, consultants, retired friends and just plain folk (although no animals) to this point.

From left: Thebeerchaser; Jack, Amy and Charlie Faust, Jim Westwood and Jennifer Johnson

From left: Thebeerchaser; Jack, Amy and Charlie Faust, Jim Westwood and Jennifer Johnson

 

 

The most recent Beerchaser event was at Kelly’s Olympian – a unique (and I use that word with mindfulness of hyperbole) dive bar right in the heart of downtown Portland. Fortunately, my five companions that day were as fascinating as the bar in which we gathered.

Let’s begin with the bar. Kelly’s, opened in 1902, is the third oldest bar/restaurant in continuous operation in Portland and per the Kelly’s website:

The name was derived from the name of one of the original owners, “Kelly”, and the Olympia Brewing Company, which was involved in the inaugural opening so that it could sell its product, Olympia Beer. It was originally called “The Olympian Saloon”.  The name “Kelly’s” was added a few years later…..

In the early days, it was a popular gathering spot for locals as well as visiting timbermen, sailors, shipyard workers, longshoremen and others passing through. In addition to being a popular bar, it had the reputation for having one of the most well known card rooms in all of Portland…and was truly a landmark.        

Downtown on 4th and Washington

Downtown on 4th and Washington

Legend has it that there used to be several secret entrances to the Shangai Tunnels, where Chinese immigrants and dockworkers lived and made their way about the underground of Portland.

……In one section of the basement is a peculiar patching of the wall and remnants of an old tile floor, from a rumored “speakeasy” that existed during the Prohibition years of the 1930′s. 

The Bar at Kelly's

The Bar at Kelly’s

So what’s changed from the early 1900’s and is Kelly’s still imbued with the personality chronicled in its archives?  Or is it just another old bar struggling to survive given the advent of shiny brewpubs and corporate establishments proclaiming the 99 beers on tap available to patrons.

This excerpt from Barfly provides evidence (and I believe our group would concur) that it is the former:

There’s no longer a piss-trough down the foot of the bar……. After more than a century, adjustments have to be made to any establishment. Women can come and go these days, the cellar tunnels to the port have been sealed, and, a few years back, once three generations of family ownership changed hands, a dozen vintage motorcycles were hung from the ceiling.  

Weird, that – sorta awful, sorta crazy – but, beyond niggling details (HD screens, paint job, more-than-edible food), it’s the same old bar. Servers still descend the trapdoor behind the bar to get ice. (Verified with Lucia, the Manager, that this is still the case and that’s where their kegs are also stored – see the picture below.) 

Mary Kate opened the trap door and shows the steps descending to the cellar

Mary Kate opened the trap door and shows the steps descending to the cellar

Elderly regulars maintain their presence. The shoeshine stand disappeared, tragically, but a decent sound system lures rising bands and tastemaker DJ’s……  (the music started in 2008)…..(Barfly)      

       

Faust Beerchasing at the U of O

Faust (right) Beerchasing at the U of O

 

 

 

Before some additional comments about the bar, let’s talk a bit about my companions that day. Two of them (Portland lawyers Jack Faust and Jim Westwood) are former “honorees” as Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter by this blog. (Check the links on their names.)  In fact, Westwood is the one who suggested we congregate at Kelly’s).

Westwood with caricature of his hero - George Washington

Westwood with caricature of his hero – George Washington

After having worked at a law firm (Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt) with over 100 attorneys for twenty-five years, my concern that at least three lawyers are really essential for meaningful dialogue, was allayed when Jennifer Johnson, Dean of Lewis and Clark Law School joined the group.

Jennifer’s career is impressive and besides, she is a great drinking companion!  After law school, she was awarded a prestigious clerkship for Judge Alfred Goodwin in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

She then worked at the Davies Bigg firm (now Stoel Rives) specializing in real estate finance and land use, before joining the law school faculty in 1980, where her teaching awards are numerous and impressive including the Leo Levenson and Burlington Northern Foundation awards for excellence in teaching.

In 2008, Dean Johnson was named Jeffrey Bain Faculty Scholar in recognition of her exemplary teaching and scholarship in business law and was installed as the Erskine Wood Sr. Professor of Law.  She became Dean of the Law School in 2014.

An award-winning professor before becoming Dean

An award-winning professor before becoming Dean

I enjoyed talking to her when we first met at the Rookery, but heard from a friend – one of the 2015 graduating law students – how she distinguished herself at their graduation ceremony.

US Senator and Lewis and Clark Law School alumnus, Heidi Hietkamp, was scheduled to deliver the commencement address.  But thanks to the dysfunctional body which may be mislabeled as the “Upper Chamber,” she was detained in Washington D.C. because of a Rand Paul’s filibuster on the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

Lewis and Clark Law School Alum - Senator Heidi Hietkamp

Lewis and Clark Law School Alum – Senator Heidi Hietkamp

Jennifer found out on Friday that the North Dakota Senator would not be able to make it to Oregon by Saturday afternoon. So Jennifer, pinch hit after writing her remarks on what turned out to be a long Friday night.

When I attended a graduation party for the law graduate the next evening, he and his parents both raved about how Jennifer “hit it out of the park,” with her remarks.   They opined that it was the highlight of the ceremony.

Beerchasing at the Rookery
Beerchasing at the Rookery – no Charlie Faust but add Schwabe attorney, Jennifer Woodhouse (left)

 

And before discussing Amy and Charlie Faust who rounded out on contingent, we should digress and mention that the same group we had at Kelly’s had Beerchased about six months earlier at The Rookery – at that time a fairly new and classy bar on SW Broadway.

The contrast in environment at the Rookery is described in one September 2014 Yelp review as:

“….really charming, I have a fondness for restoration projects and they did a wonderful job. We were eager to sample local brews and dig into taste bites….We ordered the charcuterie plate, mac & cheese and corned beef stuffed Yorkshire pudding.…….The mac & cheese was one of the best I can recall in ages and I never thought about stuffing a reuben into Yorkshire pudding, but …….it was a wonderful blend of Irish and British.”                        

Entertainment more genteel than rock bands at Kelly's

Entertainment more genteel than rock bands at Kelly’s

 It’s a suave and sophisticated bar on the second floor of SW Portland restaurant Raven and Rose.  The dark wood panels, the clientele (mostly downtown professionals) and the menu are all good, but perhaps a little bit stuffy.

At Kelly’s, our group’s personality adapted to our environment.  We were rowdier, drank cheaper beers and were less attentive to Jack Faust’s stories even though they are always captivating – but more so in a “dignified and staid” environment than in a dive bar with classic motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and tatted patrons.  P1030757

What about Jack Faust’s two offspring – Amy and Charlie?  Given their engaging personalities and interesting backgrounds, I knew that it did not take three members of the Faust family to ensure riveting conversation.

Charlie Faust with his Dad

Charlie Faust with his Dad at Bailey’s

Charlie is a Portland mortgage broker.  After graduation from U of O, he traveled for a year in Europe and SE Asia, then worked as a staffer for Senator Bob Packwood.

That prepared him to weather the storms when he worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration including the experience of being on the crew of a NOAA hurricane research plane during Hurricane Gloria in 1985 – peak winds of 155 mph. He has Beerchased previously at Marathon Taverna and Bailey’s Tap Room.

Charlie flew through Hurricane Gloria

Charlie flew through Hurricane Gloria

Amy is a talented writer and popular Portland radio personality and the female half of the Mike and Amy Show on KWJJ The Wolf.

She has an interesting background and after graduating from Scripps College – one of the five prestigious Claremont Colleges in Southern California, she moved to New York where she both met her husband and even sang in an all-female alternative country band (negotiations to get tapes are underway at time of publication…).

The Mike and Amy Show, after thirteen years of great ratings, was unceremoniously canceled by station management in September of 2012.  This was ironic because their show was one of five nominees for that year’s County Music Association Media Personality of the Year in the major markets.

Amy and Mike - the dynamic morning duo at KWJJ - The Wolf

Amy and Mike – the dynamic morning duo at KWJJ – The Wolf

Although it is unusual to hear management in any industry admit that it erred, in June 2014, based on listener demand and the poor ratings since the action, the duo returned to the airwaves and KWJJ Program Director, Mike Moore, announced:

I want to speak to you about a mistake that ‘The Wolf’ made back on Aug. 6, 2012”

Mike Moore’s description on Linked In states, in part:

Tenacious program director with 15+ years of experience in providing strategy, vision…..developing and executing on-air and online strategies that provide cost-effective programming that positively impact bottom line without compromising quality.

He is still with KWJJ and perhaps his ability to reverse course is one reason.  Typical of the responses to the return of the show was this one:

I am so very thrilled to have them back.  It’s nice to listen to the radio again. (Yes, I haven’t been a listener since they were fired — I was brought up on KWJJ and have listened to that station since about 1972).

Former colleagues - Amy and Mary Kate

Former colleagues – Amy and Mary Kate

Amy also validated the cliché about Portland being a “small city” when she discovered that our friendly and competent bartender was Mary Kate, a former colleague from the Entercom who Amy ran into when Mary Kate was a bartender at Dukes – a bar on Division and then at another bar on N. Mississippi Avenue.

 

Now the current owner of Kelly’s is not without some celebrity.   According to Willamette Week in its 2013 article on Portland Hydro Hogs,” Benjamin Stutz is a lawyer and besides being co-owner of Kelly’s he develops condos and also owns a drive-thru pizza joint in Hillsboro (Motopizza).  His wife Dr.Cynthia Gulick, is an osteopathic physician working in medical bariatrics.

They were “featured” as the top Portland “Water Hogs” in 2013, with residential consumption of 1,006,060 gallons. “(Their) apple tree-lined driveway (enters) a 3.3-acre property’s tennis court, swimming pool and a small vineyard of pinot noir grapes and also averaged 1.02 million gallons in the prior two years.”  (Willamette Week 4/21/13)

For those who enjoy an occasional cold beer, this 2013 consumption would equate to 64,907 kegs of PBR – a small fortune even at Happy-hour prices.

Enough water in 2013 to fill almost 65,000 of these puppies!

Enough water in 2013 to fill almost 65,000 of these puppies!

Stutz was also on the Top Ten list of Hydro Hogs for 2011-12, but to his credit, has not “resurfaced” on the list since 2013.

And as for Body Art…..

As one might expect, the clientele at Kelly’s is diverse as described in a  Zagat review: ….”a mix of punks, business types and ‘street urchins’ gathers for Pabst and ‘strong’ pours of Jack Daniels…..”

And, of course, with the bike theme, you would be correct in assuming that bikers – a group known for sporting body art, comprise a portion of the regulars.

In addition, a January 2014 Trip Advisor review after mentioning the biker contingent, also stated: “Of course, everyone working there sports multiple tattoos and piercings. No wimps allowed.”

P1030758The make-up of our group did not consist of professions known for their ferociousness or intimidation, (in fact Westwood before his legal career was a TV weatherman at KGW).  We did not exhibit traits that allow  you to drink without trepidation in a dive bar.

Based on that fact, I asked Jim if he had considered our vulnerability when suggesting Kelly’s.

He casually lifted his left sleeve to show me his recent tattoo, and assured me that this decoration – the numerals “1783” – while not typical of the more graphic tats displayed by the bikers, ensured our acceptance and respect.  (Besides I was prepared to tell them that we knew Schwabe partner, Jay Waldron – no tattoos, but a former rugby player, biker and one who has kicked back more than a few beers with whiskey chasers at Kelly’s.)

Westwood - comfortable in his own skin - Still!

Westwood – comfortable in his own skin – Still!

Westwood, who has served for fourteen years as coach of the Grant High School “We the People”  Constitution Team, endured the pain from the needle after he delivered on a promise to his team members.  He told them that if they won the 2013 National Championship, he would get a tattoo to recognize the victory.

Grant High National Championship Team including Coach Westwood

Grant High National Championship Team  in D.C. including Coach Westwood

Westwood’s most admired historical figure is President George Washington and 1783 is the year of two of the most significant events in our first President’s storied career as a military and political leader.  We have to admire Westwood’s motivational skills and commitment as a coach.

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 The Kelly Motorcyles

The classic motorcycles are a distinguishing feature at Kelly’s. The description in their website does a good job conveying the effect:

Motorcycle at EntranceThe crowning glory is the collection of a dozen vintage motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and about, each restored to perfection. One of the owners is a motorcycle enthusiast and finally found a home for his impressive motorcycle collection.

Complementing the motor cycles are other motorcycle accessories, combined with museum quality neon signs, antique gas pumps and historic photos of Portland and motor cycles.   

The inventory of the classic cycles at Kelly's

The inventory of the classic cycles at Kelly’s

 

We had a great time at Kelly’s and you should try it taking into consideration this closing description by the Portland Mercury:

The neon, the road signs, the decorative motorcycles all scream “theme bar,” but Kelly’s Olympian manages to avoid the inauthenticity the décor would imply….. Kelly’s has the gravitas of a place that’s been around for over a century.

The food is… well… bar food, but the drinks are on the deep side, the tap list is long, and much of the clientele could probably tell you a thing or two about motorcycles. It’s not quite a grim and gritty biker bar—but it’s not faking anything, either.     

Due to the length of this post, we have not covered the quality bands which make Kelly’s a destination in the evenings.  Check these out on the link to their website shown below.  And check out the over 20 beers and one cider they have on tap at their Happy Hour from 4:00 to 7:00 each day and 11:00 to 1:00 on Thursday through Sunday.

(If you run into Jay Waldron, buy him a beer!)

Cleans up pretty well and still has cred with bikers....

Waldron – Cleans up pretty well and still has cred with bikers….

Kelly’s Olympian              426 SW Washington Portland

P1030539

The Yamhill Pub – A Dive Bar with Character or Grunge?

the Yamhill Pub - Dive or Grunge - or is there a difference?

The Yamhill Pub – Dive or Grunge – or is there a difference?

One of the wide-ranging debates in contemporary society – rivaling that of climate change, the future of Congress as a viable institution and gun control is that of the definition of dive bars i.e. how does one determine if the PBR he is drinking is consumed in a true dive bar or a trendy hole-in-the-wall that tries to masquerade as one (or is there even a level below “dive bar”?)

Justice Stewart - probably raised a mug in some dive bars

Justice Stewart – probably raised a mug in some dive bars

Some will reference the late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart’s threshold test for obscenity when he wrote in his legendary opinion about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” 

Others try to identify specific dive bar characteristics,as exemplified by reference sources used by Thebeerchaser in his journey to visit bars, taverns and pubs in Portland – and subsequently, other locales including Europe, Alaska, Colorado, the South and Oregon regions east of the Cascades, and on the Oregon Coast.

seattle-dive-bars

An invaluable Beerchaser reference source

For example, my favorite from pages 9-10 of Seattle’s Best Dive Bars by Mike Seely:

“Some dives have vomit-caked toilet seats in the bathroom; others have cracked vinyl booths in the barroom.  Some have nicotine-stained murals dating back to the Depression; others have drink prices that seemingly haven’t wavered since then……..But really, no collection of characteristics can be melded to truly define what makes a bar a dive…..The term “dive’”is bestowed with a spoonful of love….What they have in common aren’t so much attributes, but a state of mind — you just know one when you see one.    

The Yukon Tavern - one of Portland's other dive bars

The Yukon Tavern – one of Portland’s other dive bars

Dive bars is one of the subsets of venues reviewed on the home page of this blog and of the approximately 115+ bars reviewed since August 2011, about fifteen have been so categorized including Portland’ dives the Ship Tavern, Bar of the GodsJoe’s Cellar, the Yukon Tavern and Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage Alaska to name a few.

And up North - Darwin's Theory in Anchorage

And up North – Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage

 —————

The Yamhill Pub in downtown Portland is the latest addition to the class, although I would submit that this historic bar may be submerged one additional step below “dive” to “grunge,” as discussed below.  In this scholarly discussion, I will first quote in full, the summary paragraph from Portland Barfly, because it so eloquently captures the “aura.”

“A genuine dive-bar lurking midst the downtown shopping arcade, the Yamhill Pub maintains an unreconstructed seediness through blaring juke, food…

Toilet No. 1

Bathroom No. 1

(and, for that matter, toilets) best avoided, actively-encouraged graffiti upon the smoke-stained walls, pennies-a-serving pitchers, and a fiercely-protective cadre of underemployed regulars (seniors, rockers, bike messengers) willing to throw themselves in front of Hummers to prevent the forces of gentrification. Intimidating for the first-time visitor, but that’s sort of the point.”

The bar at the Yamhill

The bar at the Yamhill

 And this excerpt from one of the Bar Fly reviewers in 2011 is edifying albeit puzzling,  “Yamhill IS the  bar in all of Portland, if not the world. I love it and will never stop drinking there.” 

You will not find the Yamhill Pub in the annual Willamette Week Bar Guide nor will it ever be one of the five Portland watering holes in Draft Magazine’s exclusive list of Best 100 Beer Bars in the United States

I visited the Yamhill three times – once with the Portland State University Athletic Department’s erstwhile, Denny Ferguson.  He also accompanied me at prior visits to the Cheerful Tortoise and The Cheerful Bullpen.  I also had an afternoon beer on my second visit with Merrill Lynch financial wizard, Mike Jones (also a Beerchaser at the Oregon Public House).

Beerchaser Regular - Dennis B. Ferguson (Fergy)

Beerchaser Regular – Dennis B. Ferguson (Fergy) with Thebeerchaser logo and PBR!

 

P1030195

Beerchaser and financial wizard, Mike Jones

 

 

 

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What “distinguishes” the Yamhill?

The Bathrooms – the bathrooms are most often characterized with adjectives similar to this description in 2010: “Bathrooms are disgusting,” and brought current by this Yelp reviewer in 2015: “The restrooms (were) just sick,” – both patrons evidently not disturbed by the fact that one of the heads has no lock on the door.

———–

Bathroom No. 2 - also no paradise!

Bathroom No. 2 – also no paradise!

These hieroglyphics are not of an intellectual bent...

These hieroglyphics are not of an intellectual bent…

The Graffitias you can see from the picture, every conceivable space in the one-room bar is covered with words and phrases accumulated through the years since it’s opening in 1939, and the same is true on the bathroom walls.

While some neat classic beers signs and one for Camel Cigarettes were displayed, there was a real paucity of the good memorabilia – okay junk – that typifies many dive bars and adds to the character because there are usually stories behind them.  Unfortunately, the graffiti, rather than offering the usual range of intellectual expressions and philosophical albeit trite drivel, was either indecipherable scribbling or obscenities ranging from one or two words to more graphic short phrases.  P1030321 P1030324

The only exception I found, notwithstanding a zealous search, was this truism which might be a suitable campaign slogan for Hillary Clinton:

“To be one with your weaknesses, is your greatest strength.”

And immediately below this phrase to add context –  if not a verifiable scientific hypothesis:  “You smell better when you are asleep.”

The Clientele – unlike a number of social media comments suggested, we did not find a group of hostile regulars who resent any new patron as an interloper. The approximately fifteen-seat bar was filled on each visit with a diverse group (male and female and a broad age demographic) ranging from tattooed punkers, a jovial drunk, some blue-collar serious beer drinkers to a few office workers – presumably downtown employees.

P1030325

On my third and final visit over the lunch hour, I sat at the bar next to a guy who was on his second Rainier Tall Boy when I sat down.  After spilling a good part of the second can on the bar which went on to his t-shirt, he told me that he was “getting ready” for his 1:30 court appearance for second degree trespassing.  (I did not suggest to him that the judge was probably not going to be impressed with his pre-function.)

The bartender on each visit was friendly and his conversation with those at the bar was ongoing. Unfortunately, it was difficult to the point of unattainable to carry on a conversation because the rock music pumping out of the juke-box was so loud.

The Food and Beer – Most of the dive bars reviewed at least have decent grub which helps one appreciate the usual lack of selection of quality beers; however, at the Yamhill, there is a microwave for popcorn or for a limited menu of frozen “treats” such as wings, corn dogs, chicken strips or lasagna and mac & cheese (the latter two obviously to be avoided).

Kevin, the owner and bartender, told me that you can also bring your own food in although besides a Subway and the YUMM Chinese restaurant, there’s not much near by.   (Warning – you might get beaten up if you bought food in a YUMM container.)

And by the way, don’t look for a website with their menu, the beers on tap or anything for that matter.  They do have a surprisingly decent selection of beer with ten on tap, including Blue Moon, Widmer Hefeweizen, Georgetown Porter, Oakshire Amber, Sam Adams Nitro Stout and Alameda’s Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA.  (Mike and I downed draft Blue Moons – as expected, the standard orange slice on our class was missing!)

The Standard at Yamhill!

No. 18 in North America in 2012!

Denny and I had PBR’s – $1.50 during Happy Hour and the bartender affirmed the astounding claim that the Yamhill is the top seller of PBR in Oregon (“We have four kegs of it on tap daily“).

Not only that, but at one time in the ’90’s they were #5 in North America!!  Before I could scoff, he pointed out this PBR sign from 2012 – Number 18 in North America in PBR sales.  Perhaps it’s the special they advertise “$3 for a pint of PBR and a shot of Old Taylor Whiskey.”

Thebeerchaser has used more quotes than typical in this post; however, they are so rich that they are worth sharing and it is fitting to close with the following two:

“The Yamhill Pub is a glorious sh*t crater. It’s a hole, a mess, a f*ing dive. The walls and floors and sundry surfaces are more graffiti-ed than not, and the pub certainly came by every squiggle honestly. Plastic cups do for the dirt-cheap well drinks, and the very idea of ordering any kind of cocktail seems vastly inappropriate.

The only thing that clashes with the Yamhill’s perfect image of a dive is the surprisingly decent collection of taps. Even in the midst of punk squalor, Portlanders still demand a decent IPA. The Yamhill Pub is amazing. It’s perfect. Never go there. You’ll ruin it.”  (Joe Streckert – Portland Mercury)        

Any bets on the five-year scenario?

Any bets on the five-year scenario?

And this one from a regular I chatted with briefly about Thebeerchaser blog. He ended our conversation with the lament, “Mark my words, this place will be gone in five years and that will be a tragedy.”

Although the Yamhill Pub is a grunge pit – He’s correct.

The Yamhill Pub

223 SW Yamhill

Thebeerchaser Does Alaska – Anchorage – Part 1

Mt. McKinley - the tallest peak in North America

Mt. McKinley – the tallest peak in North America

Alaska is not the only place in the United States where one can still find pristine wilderness, but the magnitude of the expansive unspoiled forest, glacial fiords, diverse wildlife AND good bars make it a worthy trip – one which Thebeerchaser and his spouse experienced for eleven days in late June.

2014-06-22 16.34.45 HDR

Boarding the Statendam in Seward

 Robert Louis Stevenson said, Old and young, we are all on our last cruise,” and since we had never been on a cruise, we decided to take the Holland-America Inside Passage cruise on the Statendam – a wonderful decision.

We flew into Anchorage and had a day in this picturesque city, before a day train trip to Denali National Park for two days.

The bar in the ___ Brew Pub

The bar in the Glacier BrewHouse

Of course, it was important to get a feel for the bars in Anchorage – not that I could deduct the trip, but Thebeerchaser has a reputation to uphold.  So for lunch in the city, we stopped at a brewery recommended by the hotel – The Glacier BrewHouse – for a good salad and split a Glacier Brewery Imperial Blonde – it was good and rejuvenated us after the flight.  The Brewery produces more than 4,500 barrels per year.

Adventurous spirit was not required to find the next bar – since it was a half block from our hotel, but Darwin’s Theory will go down as one of my favorite bars on this trip and on the three-year Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.  After dinner, while Janet rested, I walked to this wonderful institution – one that had NO draft beer, wine or hard liquor, but free popcorn, a great jukebox and an outstanding environment.  Read two Yelp reviews which were spot on!

Survival of the Fittest embodied.....

Survival of the Fittest embodied…..

“When you step inside, you’ll realize that this is no hipster dive bar.  No sir!  This has been a dive bar since inception and doesn’t appear to have changed.  Beer in the bottle, great service, and interesting patrons round out the perfect dive-bar experience.” Yelp – 11/13 by Eric from Nevada City, CA

On a Friday night, the place was jammed and I sat next to a guy named Bill – in his fifties and an oil field worker, in addition to having fished in the Bering Sea and running marijuana from Mexico to the East coast in the ’70’s. “I had an old Lincoln with really big fenders….”  I asked him about bars in Anchorage and he said to be careful because in the last few years there had been a few shootings at bars close by.

The "patio" outside Darwin's

The “patio” outside Darwin’s

I thought he was exaggerating, but checked out stories on the internet and he was correct.  To wit:

At J.J.’s Lounge on  Oct. 10, 2011 – two people killed.

  • Three men shot and injured outside a downtown Anchorage nightclub – the Anchor Pub in June 2013 – three blocks from Darwin’s.

November 11, 2013 – A shooting wounded a woman and left a man in critical condition outside of the Office Lounge, a Midtown Anchorage bar.

One of the reasons, I felt safe in Darwin’s was the bartender – Barbara Jean – who told me that the bar was 30 years old and she had worked there 29 of them.  She was friendly and her patrons loved her, but she was tough and would not tolerate rowdiness.  She put me on the Darwin’s mailing list and didn’t hesitate when I asked to take her picture with Thebeerchaser logo. (Darwin, the last name of the owner celebrated his 70th birthday that Saturday – and there was going to be a big celebration.)

Betty Jean with Thebeerchaser logo
Barbara Jean with Thebeerchaser logo

 Another review from a Portland guy who visited Darwin’s in November, 2013 is worth quoting from Yelp.  Ryan P. said:

“ABSOLUTELY the the best bar I’ve been to in Anchorage! The ladies tending the bar were amazingly nice and welcoming and made me feel right at home. Coming from a local bar town like Portland, it was very nice to have the same type of feel in this place.

From the moment I walked in I felt completely comfortable and welcomed. I LOVE THIS BAR. I’ve heard it can be crowded at times, which is reasonable considering how small the space is, but the service is THE BEST. PLEASE VISIT THIS PLACE! They are amazing!”

I paid $4 for my bottle of PBR and the same amount for a Silver Gulch Brewery’s Silver Gulch’s Northern Light (Bill’s recommendation from a good Anchorage brewery) and paid in cash based on the sign on the bar: “We accept no out-of-town checks and damn few local ones!”

We did not partake at any other Anchorage watering holes, but embarked on a walking tour and took some pictures – it showed a number of interesting options:

P1020424Snow Goose Restaurant and Sleeping Lady Brewery – what a great patio on the roof overlooking the bay.    P1020425

 

 

The Pioneer Bar –  “As a connoisseur of dive bars this one ranks up there. To start off, despite what opinion you have of PBR, any place that serves 24 oz. cans of PBR has a lot of class. Not to mention all the Alaskan beers on tap and knowledgeable bartenders . (Colin from Anchorage on Yelp 7/2011  P1020427

In case you need directions to The Pioneer Bar....

In case you need directions to The Pioneer Bar….

 

 

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Humpy’s Great Alaskan Ale House – presumably named after the whale and not a patron – looked interesting and had “more beers than all the other bars in Anchorage combined,” on tap.   It has a sister pub in Kona, Hawaii  and got mixed reviews, in part, based on slow service and mediocre food, but does have live music.  It will have to wait for another visit, but had a lively crowd, expansive menu and looked intriguing.        P1020434

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The Gaslight Lounge – This is one that you might want to avoid based on violence reported above at other bars.  Four of the five reviews on CitySearch did not recommend this bar and two mentioned fights

 

Not recommended.....

Not recommended…..

“Trashlight Lounge – I worked next door for years and every time I regrettably went in, there was an absence of friendliness. Staff were mostly arguing with drunk customers. It became a joke to look out our back window and watch the fights roll out of the bar every night….it seems to revel in it’s low class reputation among downtown. (ja4vlink – pre 2014)

McGinley’s Pub – While one might be suspicious of a bar that advertises itself as “A touch of Old Ireland in the heart of downtown Anchorage,” they have a great website.  We ran out of time and just took a picture of the entrance – which looked a little boring –  but they have a bunch of dark beers and ciders on tap, serve corned beef and cabbage , sheppards pie, and bangers and mash in addition to standard pub faire.

Some questioned whether it was really an "Irish experience."

Some questioned whether it was really an “Irish experience.”

It got mixed reviews on Trip Advisor, which had them rated 161 of 674 restaurants in Anchorage based on the 67 reviews submitted – 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Glacier Bay Brewery and Darwin’s were definitely hits in Anchorage.

We embarked on the train the next morning for the seven to eight hour trip to Denali National Park through some wonderful scenery.  The bald eagles were magnificent and as we saw one dive successfully for a salmon out the window, I reflected on the observation of one Alaskan resident:

“Alaska in the summer, is a great place to be a bird.”     2014-06-20 16.48.42

Darwin’s Theory                             426 G St, Anchorage

P1020430

 

 

 

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Glacier BrewHouse  and Brewery   

737 W 5th Ave Ste 110, Anchorage