Fan the Flame at the Firehouse Pub

(# External Photo Attribution at the end of the Post). #1

The City of Lake Oswego is a burg of 40,400 about five miles south of Portland, Oregon.  It’s an affluent locale surrounding the 405-acre Oswego Lake with a prestigious country club and good schools.  The town was founded in 1847 and incorporated as Oswego in 1910. It was the hub of Oregon’s brief iron industry in the late 19th century

The median household income was $108,927 (second in Oregon) compared to $76,554 the comparable statewide figure in 2019.  It houses an educated group as 71.4% of the residents have four year degrees.  https://www.ci.oswego.or.us/community/demographics   (#2 – 3)

Oregon City, where I went to school in junior high and high school was a blue-collar mill town.  OCHS (The Pioneers) and Lake Oswego High School were then in the TYV League and we always had a zealous desire to “Sink the Lakers” – kind of an elitist high school mascot and one you couldn’t sink your teeth into like their competitors – Lions, Dragons, Tigers, Grizzlies and, of course, The Cheesemakers (Tillamook). 

Counterintuitive?

It therefore seems like having a classic dive bar right in the heart of the LO commercial district – at the intersection of State and A Streets would be out of context.  But the wonderful Firehouse Pub is right there and packs them in.

From a conversation with the friendly bartender, Ira, it has a long history although an extensive search of media found no reference, they have no website and their Facebook page has nothing about the origin or annals.  

Photo Nov 26 2022, 5 46 29 PM

Ira did say that they were lucky to survive the pandemic and the bar was closed for two years during pandemic events. One other person said that the bar was once named “Cheers” and the owner is a tax accountant who just enjoys owning a dive bar.

By contrast, the Gemini Bar and Grill, owned by Lordean Moran is only one block away around the corner on State Street and is a notable drinking establishment, but much different from the Firehouse. 

The Gemini, which I reviewed in Thebeerchaser in 2019, has expansive space for bar and table seating, pool tables and a stage for jazz and other musical gigs. The performers play to sold-out crowds on most weekends. 

“Since 1982, The Gemini has been the premier live Music Venue in Lake Oswego.”

2017-10-26 19.04.53

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The Firehouse Pub has a cozy hole-in-the-wall ambiance. This 2014 Trip Advisor review is apt:

“This place offers a respite from the other establishments in the LO area. One can just cozy up to the bar and order from their wide arrange (sic) of beverages and enjoy some quality time. The décor is, surprisingly, firehouse themed. (Note: Of course, this begs the question, given the name of the establishment, why that surprised her!)

The staff goes above and and beyond to make you feel at home and create new cocktails for you. The food menu is simple and unpretentious. I highly recommend this place to relax.” (#4)

There was one interesting reference in the news media about the bar which went back to 2015:

“A Lake Oswego woman who received a courtesy ride home from police officers last week was arrested after driving her car back to the Firehouse Pub, police said.”

Since the Firehouse does a good job celebrating events ranging from the Super Bowl, to Mardi Gras to the Kentucky Derby, I thought it would be enjoyable to hit the watering hole after the Oregon State vs. Oregon Civil War Game on Saturday November 25th with my friend, Rus Jordan.

Rus Jordan 1967

As is the tradition with other Beerchasing companions I introduce for the first time, some background below on Rus is below and he’s an interesting guy.  I first met Rus about five years ago when we were in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF).

 I thought it appropriate to celebrate the Civil War Game because Rus was not only a fellow midshipman at Oregon State (one year ahead of me), but a member of the famed Oregon State Giant Killer Football Team in 1967.  He was in the Sigma Nu fraternity and I was an SAE and we didn’t know each other in college.  In retrospect, given the challenge I had in second-term Calculus, that’s too bad as I would have hired him as a tutor….

Rus is a great example of the guys on that legendary team as described by my fraternity brother and friend for many years, Jud Blakely, a foremost authority on that ribald group:

“The Giant Killers of Oregon State. Epic. Recalled so often––and honored so often––for all the right reasons.  You were ‘grace under pressure’ again…and again…and again.  You were the Laws of Physics in action again…again…again.  You epitomized the marvel of a ‘team.’”

Rus, like the other members of that team I’ve featured in Thebeerchaser including Craig “The Dude Hanneman (1968), Billly “Rabbit” Main, Duane “Thumper” Barton and Gary Barton (1968) – Thumper’s Brother.

They were not only outstanding athletes, but possessed admirable character and integrity.  (Photos left to right clockwise below- Jud Blakely, Craig Hanneman, Billy Main and Duane and Gary Barton) 

Rus graduated from Beaverton High School in 1965 as a three-sport athlete – football, basketball and track.  He played linebacker and fullback and was a member of the Metro-State Shrine Football Game the year he graduated. (I might add that one of Rus’s traits is his modesty – I had to coax this biographical info out of him!)

Like current Beaver Football Coach Jonathan Smith, Rus Jordan was a walk-on at OSU, made the team and earned a tuition scholarship his last two years in college.  The Viet Nam War was raging at that time and Rus enrolled in the two-year NROTC program.   His teammates, Billy Main and Duane Barton were also in that NROTC class.

Upon graduation in April, 1970 Rus was commissioned as a Navy Ensign and reported to Communications School at Newport, Rhode Island. He subsequently served on the USS Taluga (AO62) based in Long Beach on the West Coast. 

The Taluga was a Cimarron-class fleet oiler acquired by the U.S. Navy during World War II. (It’s shown refueling the USS Iwo Jima in the  photo below). (#5)

After teaching for a year at Sheldon High School in Eugene where he was also an assistant football coach following his discharge from the Navy in 1972, he went to graduate school at both the University of Oregon and Washington State University in Pullman where he was awarded his Master in Math Education

Rus then worked for two years at The Navigators – an International Christian non-profit, followed by Multnomah Bible College while concurrently serving as football coach at Portland Christian High School.

He jokes about “fully employing” his degree for the next eleven years as a products plant manager for Georgia Pacific making doors including tasks such as driving a forklift – a job he loved.

But anyone who gets to know Rus, will discern that he has a heart for teaching and natural skills in education.  He taught math part-time at Portland Community College for five years while also driving charter buses for Raz Charter and working at a resort in the summer before becoming Vice Principal at Portland Christian High School for four years.

After getting married in 1998, teaching high school math while assistant coaching was his full-time occupation for a combined total of fifteen years at Century High School (5 years) and then Hillsboro High School (10 years).

Rus has some artistic talent and would generally give his class a warm-up problem with an illustration projected on the board.   This inspired one of his students to respond with his own illustration:

He returned to PCC as an adjunct prof and still teaches one or two math classes each term.  Exploring the internet allowed me to find out some opinions of his students on his teaching ability. 

Now anyone who has either viewed one of the Rate Your Professor sites knows that most of the reviews are negative.  College kids are too preoccupied to participate unless they have a gripe about the prof and/or want to warn others.  I was therefore astounded to see following distribution of the 72 ratings:

Awesome (56)     Great (11)    Good (2)    OK (2)     Awful (1)

Rus could provide the standard deviation of these stats, but what’s more interesting is to click on the link above and see the comments – all from 2018-2022 – a few which are shown below:

“Rus was honestly one of the best, if not the best, math professors I’ve encountered. He is very kind-hearted and his teaching is very clear. He always cracks jokes and his way of teaching makes the class easy!”

“I love Mr. Jordan. He is a sweet, caring man who genuinely wants his students to succeed. He’s full of cheesy jokes; he helps take the stressfulness away from math. He is positive and always accessible, willing to come on days he’s not scheduled to. He answers any and all questions without hesitation and his quizzes and homework are great cushions!”

“Rus is an absolutely AMAZING teacher! He’s kind and patient, and genuinely wants to see you succeed. If you get something wrong he’ll tell you why and then give you another way to look at it. His experience really shows in his teaching style. He always tells random, funny little stories, making the whole class laugh. Go out of your way to get Rus!”

(The awful rating was by a guy who flunked his course and not because he didn’t like his sense of humor – or at least he didn’t mention that.)

“Absolutely AMAZING teacher”

Back to The Firehouse

When we decided to meet at the Firehouse after the game, I told Rus to avoid making any cheesy jokes like the student referenced.  (You can get beaten up…..) Given the score at the end of the third quarter, we almost decided to skip the fourth and meet earlier, but fortunately waited and saw a memorable Beaver comeback and victory.

The bar was filled – almost all of them Beaver fans based on their attire and conversations.   I looked towards a crowd of them, pointed at Rus and said, “Go Beavs! And this guy was even a member of the Giant Killer Football Team.”

A young guy in the group said, “I played football for OSU too – a kicker,” so I got a picture of Rus and Quinn Doan, now a regional sales director for a health-care education firm who graduated from OSU in 1999.

We drank our cheap beers – not too many on tap, but when one can get PBR on tap – that’s fine.  They have a limited menu as seen below and the food gets mixed reviews, but it’s fine for a dive bar. 

We sat next to a nice guy who was a 1998 University of Washington grad named Mike Strand.   He then got an MBA at Carnegie Mellon and is now a technology consultant.  Mike is a regular at the bar and agreed to take our picture. 

The Firehouse has a nice ambiance, friendly staff and is worth a visit.   I’ll close with another good summary from a Yelp review which conveys this well.

“If you are looking for a solid drink and good people in Lake Oswego, you need to go to this place.  It’s a dive bar– nothing fancy.  But the people you meet here are simply the best.  Many neighborhood regulars greet you with a smile and, after you know them, a hug.  There are lots of laughs to be had and you can enjoy video poker or a game of pool.

The staff here make sure its homey.  After one visit, most of them will remember your name and your favorite beverage….. I heartily recommend it as a chill place in a town that can sometimes be a little cold and hoity-toity.”

Merry Christmas from Thebeerchaser!

External Photo Attribution

#1. Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Patrick-hendry-438303_Flames_in_the_night.jpg)  Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.  Author:  Patrick Hendry  6 November 2017.

#2.  Wikimedia Commons (File:Lakewood Bay Oswego Lake.jpg – Wikimedia Commons) Llicensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense.  Author: Esprqii 2 April 2008.

#3.  2014 Winning Photos | City of Lake Oswego

#4. Firehouse Pub Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=543572160920447&set=a.543572120920451)

#5.  Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:USS_Taluga_(AO-62).jpg)  This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, it is in the public domain in the United States.  Source:  US Navy.

 

The Gemini – Maybe Not Your Sign – But Perhaps Your Bar!

There is a dearth of good neighborhood bars in West Linn and Lake Oswego.   Just before the end of 2018, however, I found a terrific new one less than three miles from my house in West Linn.

The Salty Rhino is a small, no frills, but superb neighborhood pub on Highway 43.   John Lyons and his business partner, Alan Blackwell, are doing a good job of establishing a clientele of regulars since it opened in 2018.

Lake Oswego is a different story.  While there are a few bars, the Gemini Bar and Grill (hereafter “Gemini”) stands out as one that has a lot to offer with an inviting environment.

As Portland Barfly, a credible authority on Portland area bars, states in its review:

“Really the only proper bar in Lake O with a local draw of friendly, mostly younger folks and the occasional monied types on the slum. Remodeled a few years back, ceilings raised, fire place alight. Outdoor seating. Pool x3, sports on multiple screens. 24 beers on tap.” 

While admitting that I’ve gone to this watering hole on State Street in the center of Lake O for years, I have essentially taken it for granted – occasionally just going in for a casual beer with a friend and then forgetting about it.

A gathering of brothers – (albeit old ones…)

It was only in the last fifteen months after attending two gatherings (the most recent two weeks ago) of my SAE fraternity brothers – a bunch of old guys who graduated from Oregon State in the early ’70’s and listening to their comments, then doing some research and afterwards talking to the owner and manager that I came to really appreciate it.

And these frat guys, having started their Beerchasing exploits while in college at legendary Corvallis bars such as Don’s Den, Prices and the Peacock, have strong credibility when it comes to evaluating such establishments..

Corvallis – the start of a life-long educational process…..and the Peacock is still thriving

The Gemini has a long history in this same location and before it was opened by Jerry Casey (whose astrological sign was Gemini) in 1982, it was a bar called the Open Seas.

Casey’s son, Shawn, now owns the building and sold the business to Lordean Moran seven years ago.  She is an attractive and personable lady who lives in West Linn and started as a bartender and then manager at the Gemini.

So why is the Gemini recommended and what distinguishes it as a good neighborhood den?

Besides having ample parking, which can often be a problem at Portland establishments, it’s spacious yet has a cozy atmosphere (two great gas fireplaces), an attractive long bar, two pool tables, a number of smaller spaces or niches to provide some privacy, if desired, and a variety of tables from small rounds to a long community table as well as a larger space in the rear for groups and for weekend music.

It has a kind of funky décor with holiday-type lights illuminating the exposed duct work and ample televisions to see the game you want, yet which don’t overwhelm and detract from the environment.

And don’t forget the deck at the rear, which appeared to be a sure bet in fair weather.

Besides the physical attributes, they have a good selection of beers and ciders on tap (15), specialty cocktails and some favorites which draw great social media reviews (Bloody Mary, Moscow Mule and Margarita).

Good selection of drafts – including PBR, of course.

Lordean also told me they are now offering CBD Soda – a hemp infused soda – the first time I had heard of this offering at a Portland bar although it is becoming more common.  The Gemini sells a lot of it and why not – it’s supposed to:

“…aid sleep, reduce nausea and vomiting, relieve anxiety and reduce contractions in the small intestines,” among other remedies….!

CBD Soda – Medicinal Qualities??

Perhaps this drink has redefined the meaning of the term “On the ropes…”

Then there is the good bar food, the friendly and competent staff, and weekly events including trivia night and popular Texas-holdem tournaments.  The Gemini is also well know for its weekend music.

I guess I could end the review here, but some amplification is fitting.   The first SAE function was in November, 2017.  About twenty-five of us were gathered including some spouses and April, the manager reserved the back room to accommodate us.

Our server was efficient and friendly in handling that size crowd and it was perfect for having a few beers and snacks and catching up after a number of years.

The most recent gathering…

Our most recent get-together was small – only six of us and we all fit at one table.  Grace, our server, was superb and based on the experience of several who make regular visits to the Gemini, she always reflects that customer-service attitude making us feel like we were the only customers in what was a busy bar. (see below for more about Grace)

Unlike many of the establishments I cover, I found no newspaper articles on the history of the bar or reviews by print media such as Willamette Week or The Portland Mercury.   Most of the social media reviews, however, are very positive.

Cozy cubby-holes and niches….

One can go back a number of years and see a few complaints about the sound system or the interior but they have remodeled a number of times over the years and upgraded the sound-system.

There now seems to be little room for complaint. (Yeah, there was one idiot on Yelp who was miffed because they didn’t have Pear Vodka…..)

And Fridays and Saturdays when they have live music, are the nights to hit the Gemini if you want a party-type atmosphere.

The space where the bands play can get filled up pretty quickly and you can reserve a table for a fee which essentially becomes a credit against your bar tab.  I liked this admonition by a Yelp reviewer (1/13/18):

“Plan ahead, save a space by the dance floor, live music is always the best depending on your likes, very talented musicians.  Food is good, service is good, but be patient on busy nights.  And don’t just sit yourselves down like you’re in a five star restaurant and expect to be pampered — not that place. This place  is a fun low key place with great music and a wonderful owner who really cares!

In January, the groups below had weekend Gemini gigs and although my knowledge of this topic is severely lacking, they appear to have good followings and play at some credible establishments in the Portland music scene:

Wild Heart, Kevin Selfe, singer/songwriter Jacob Westfall, Acoustic Minds.

Dancehall Days, My Happy Pill, Will Kinky

Curtis Salgado

Lordean explained that the history of music at the Gemini is rich and such premier NW musicians including Curtis Salgado and Linda Hornbuckle – the late matriarch of the Portland blues and gospel scene – made regular appearances in years past.

When asked for one of the distinguishing characteristics of the bar, the owner said without hesitation, “Safety for our women customers – especially on weekends.”

This assertion was affirmed at least in one of the more unusual Yelp reviews – especially since the bar is in the burbs and Lake Oswego is not the most menacing unless you are intimidated by BMW sedans…..

It makes a valid point, however, about an important issue for bars these days whether in the burbs or in the urban center.  It also helps differentiate the Gemini from many of its competitors:

“I was greeted by the general manager, April, and watched after, the security is watching for creepy guys and actually offered to walk me to my car, the excellence of taking care of female clients, more bars should take this precedent! Absolutely the highest level of personal safety for women!”  (11/24/18 – Yelp)

And Grace, who was effusively praised by the aforementioned fraternity bros. is mentioned specifically in three of the more recent reviews from 2017 and 2018, the most ebullient and yet succinct of which was: One word… GRACE!”  (11/12/17).

One Word — “Grace!”

April also draws additional kudos from social media plus the SAE’s as well and when I chatted with her, it was obvious that she takes pride in the bar she manages and has a great relationship with her customers.

April

Now without getting too compulsive on the Yelp reviews, this one (3/6/2018) sums it up pretty well:

“This place is the BEST! GREAT food, service, and a comfortable place! I recommend this place. You’re NOT going to find a better bar/restaurant in downtown Lake Oswego. I enjoy the dignity and service that is given to me. IT’S IMPORTANT TO FEEL GOOD, WHEN YOU GO OUT.”

Two parting notes:

First, when I saw the shelf of gnomes or trolls shown below in the wall opposite the bar, I initially thought it was kind of weird and tacky and not consistent with the setting.   But after talking to Lordean, it reinforced the idea of this bar as a “community” of sorts, as was the case with the aforementioned Salty Rhino and other great neighborhood bars.

Gnome Contest – perhaps garrish, but a great benefit to Children’s Cancer Association

She said that this “Gnome Program” started five years ago when a little girl named Lexie was diagnosed with cancer.  Lordean came up with the idea of buying the gnomes and having a contest to paint them.  The Gemini brings in “judges” to determine the winners, and all the proceeds go to help Lexie through the Children’s Cancer Association.

The program has continued and they have raised significant funds.  They also support fundraisers for Camp Millennium – a free camp in Roseburg for children who have received a cancer diagnosis.

Secondly, one of the six SAEs who was at the Gemini recently was not in the group picture because he volunteered to take it.  I remedied that by having someone else take the photo at the end of the post.  Craig (The Dude) Hanneman was a roommate for several terms at the SAE house in 1968.

Thebeerchaser and The Dude in 1968

The amazing story of this former farm boy from Turner, Oregon can be viewed in Thebeerchaser post I published in 2012 when he was named Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

Up to last week at the Gemini, the Dude and I were kind of even i.e. in 1969, I coached him through Dr. Edward G. McGrath’s upper-division political science seminar.

We plodded through topics such as the political economy of development and underdevelopment, social change, democracy, authoritarianism and regime change, nationalism and constitutional design.  (This was substantively different than him having to learn how to defend the Triple-Option Flexbone Offense when he was an All-American defensive tackle for OSU.)

Defending the Triple-option flex…..

In return, he taught me how to appreciate the lyrics, tonality and meter of Dean Martins’ Greatest Hits album, most notably what became my favorite song in college – “Thirty More Miles to San Diego.”

But that day at the Gemini, he inspired me with a new technique when toasting with a friend for which I am grateful and owe him.  It’s wise advise for all drinkers.  He said:

“Dirt, typically when people propose a toast, they look at the ceiling or have no focus with their eyes. 

From this day forward, whenever you toast, you should  adopt my practice of looking the other party(ies) straight in the eye when you say ‘Cheers.’  That way they know you mean it and it’s not an empty gesture.”

Astute advice from an old buddy…..

Make a point to hit the Gemini in the near future, if not for a musical group on the weekend, just to drop in for a beer and to say hello to April and Grace.   Tell them that Thebeerchaser sent you….

The Gemini Bar and Grill         456 State Street        Lake Oswego