One of the earlier bars reviewed on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Pubs and Taverns was the historic Cheerful Tortoise in 2012. This noted sports bar adjacent to the campus at Portland State University is owned by Amy Nichols – also the proprietor of the Cheerful Bullpen – located right across from Jeld-Wen Field (news flash – now Providence Park.) The Bull Pen reportedly has had five previous owners and been around for 66 years.
I was accompanied by Denny Ferguson, who also Beerchased with me at the Tortoise, and persuaded Amy to join us – a good decision. Amy is a great story, herself, and has owned both bars since 2008.
Denny, who served as President of JBL&K Risk Services, before becoming Director of Business Development at Portland State University, is a Portland “institution.”
He is a formidable golfer and tennis player and a great human being – so positive that he sings along with the music in elevators. His initial months in college at Santa Clara University were a little traumatic because it was the first time he had been away from home —-other than serving in the Marine Corps…..
The name of this bar evokes memories of what once was in Portland – The Portland Beavers, established in 1903 and playing in Vaughn Street Stadium, then Multnomah Stadium and ultimately Civic Stadium before it became a soccer venue. That’s when there was actually a bullpen at the stadium across from the Cheerful Bullpen!
The Beavers, although only a Triple A farm club for the Cleveland Indians in the 1960’s, had a rich history. Future major leaguers such as pitchers “Sudden” Sam McDowell, Luis Tiant and left-fielder and then Major League manager, Lou Pinella, thrilled Portland fans and the antics of player/manager Frank “The Flake” Peters (now proprietor of the Grand Café) are legendary.
I have fond memories of taking my daughters to Beaver games. Some consider the fact that one now has to travel to Hillsboro for minor league baseball to be a tragedy. Given the preponderance of current Cheerful Bullpen patrons who are soccer fans, there are probably those who would advocate a name to something like the Yellow Card Inn or changing to an Irish name such as Kitty O’ Shea’s. Don’t do it, Amy!!
But we digress – now back to The Cheerful Bullpen…Amy, grew up in Long Beach, Washington and earned her stripes serving as the “only girl deckhand” on an Alaskan fishing boat when she was thirteen, was a beer-cart girl at Heron Lakes Golf Course and then eventually waitressed at both Harvey’s Comedy Club and then the Cheerful Tortoise, where she worked her way up to manager.
Former owner, Pat Lockhart, was a mentor and sold the The Tortoise and The Bullpen to her in 2008.
She remembers scrubbing walls at The Bullpen to rid it of built up grease and cigarette smoke stains and investing to make it a quality sports bar experience – and that it is.
There are 21 TV’s, two pool tables, Big Buck Hunter video, two fireplaces and a very big patio which holds 50 -60 people – it’s especially popular after Timbers’ games or other athletic events at Jeld-Wen.
The twelve beers on tap that night were:
Bud Light – Budweiser Laurelwood – Widmer Hef
10 Barrel Rotator
Two Bullpen Bartender Choice Rotators
They also have a brisk “Beer-to-Go” trade with twenty-two different beers from all over the world in bottles, cans and available for growlers.
The Food – As with the Tortoise, the Bullpen offers its legendary $2 breakfast (2 pancakes and 2 eggs) all day. But their most notable menu item is the wings.
You can get 17 to 20 different flavors and on Tuesdays nights (Tightwad Tuesdays) six wings for $2 in addition to $1 beers. One patron who heard us talking about the wings called them “really amazing.”
As evidence, here’s an October 2013 Yelp review excerpt: “Every Tues starting at 8pm is Wing Night – wings of all flavors for $2…You want to get there before 8 to avoid a $3 cover, and to grab a table especially if there is a big game on. The list if flavors ranges from mild to “burn your face off.”
And on Saturdays – there’s all you can eat pasta dishes from $6.95 (noon until midnight). Otherwise you’ encounter a full menu with burgers, fish and chips, pizza, etc.
Buffalo!!?? If you go to the Bullpen on Sundays during football season, you will encounter scads (as many as 150 – 200) Buffalo Bills fans rooting for their team – an arrangement Amy brokered in 2009.
Every time the Bills score, the group breaks into song. (In 2013 – 339 points scored (21.2 / game) or 22nd of 32 in the NFL) – so the songs are infrequent enough not to be disruptive!!)
The Buffalo Sabres hockey team also has a fan group as does the American Outlaws soccer team.
Now evidently this doesn’t square with one guy who wrote a Yelp 2012 review and was irate because, “….I found myself here on a Sunday, so everyone else was here to watch football. Yuck. I don’t think the baseball games were on any screen and I’m pretty sure there would have been a brawl if I had requested a channel change on even just one TV.” (He could have just gone to The Cheerful Tortoise)
Reviews of the Bullpen were good although some complained about delays after Timber games or summer events at Jeld-Wen when the 60-seat patio and the bar are both filled – to a certain extent, something one would expect. Based on the staff we saw, they are good people who work hard.
Amy Nichols is an entrepreneur, a good marketer and a Portland success story. She keeps her establishments hopping with events such as Wednesday nights Pub Trivia through the “Geeks Who Drink” organization, monthly VIP Blazer Packages and sponsors periodic charity events such as golf tournaments.
And when you visit the Bullpen, you just might get to say hello to Denny Ferguson – although he will probably greet you first!