The Horse Brass Pub – Pinnacle of Perfection

The Horse Brass Pub - One of America's 100 Best Beer Bars

Thebeerchaser at The Horse Brass Pub – One of America’s 100 Best Beer Bars

Although the power and prestige of England have diminished since the days of Admiral Nelson’s exploits for the Royal Navy in the 18th century and Winston Churchill’s fiery oratory during World War II, one is reminded of the superiority of the Brits when it comes to pubs.

It is doubtful that English poet, John Milton, was referencing drinking establishments when he stated in 1643, “Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live”.  The Horse Brass Pub in Portland, however, does a wonderful job emulating the classic English public house and is worth a visit by every Portlander. “Arguably, holding the title of Portland’s best bar since in opened in 1976…It’s a tribute to all thing English.” (Willamette Week’s 2012 “Our 105 Favorite Bars, Pubs and Clubs.”)

Sign at the Entrance to the Horse Brass Pub

Sign at the Entrance to the Horse Brass Pub

Along with five other Portland bars, the Horse Brass Pub (HPB) made the honor roll of the 2012 Draft Magazine’s “One Hundred Best Beer Bars in the USA”:

“….Founder, Don Younger…claimed, ‘If it were any more authentic, you’d need a passport,’ he wasn’t kidding….Bric-a-brac adorns the nicotine-stained walls (from the old smoking days) of this dimly-lit, wood-paneled pub, perfectly recreating the neighborhood haunts of England….

HBP has championed the craft beer movement since 1976, and with its legacy still intact as perhaps the best bar in the nation, it isn’t just a destination in Portland, but a bucket-list item for any beer lover.”


English Horsebrass Featuring Gloucester Cathedral

My San Francisco friend and consultant, Dave Hicks, and I hit the HBP for dinner and then traveled a short distance to another one of Draft Magazine’s 100 Best – Belmont Station (See Beerchaser Review posted on 4/17/13)

Princeton graduate, accomplished singer and beer drinker, Dave Hicks

Princeton graduate, accomplished singer and beer drinker, Dave Hicks

Hicks has traveled all over the world and commented on the authenticity of the pub except for one missing element — pervasive smoke which permeates the Anglican pub environment — or at least used to before the House of Commons passed a smoking ban in 2007.

Based on the 2009 expansion of the Oregon “Smoke-free Workplace Law bars and taverns could no longer permit smoking on or within ten feet of the premises.  We are confident that the cigarette lobby at the time, taking lessons from the NRA in opposing reasonable legislation, maintained, “Cigarettes don’t kill people.  It’s the tars, and toxins in the smoke.”  

Wikiemedia Commons Adverse_effects_of_tobacco_smoking_svg

Graphic of a typical bar worker’s internal organs prior to the 2009 Oregon Smoking Law

Nevertheless, this law had a dramatic impact on the environment within such establishments as the Horse Brass Pub as can be evidenced by these excerpts from my favorite annual Willamette Week resource on bars:

“Surgeon General’s Warning:  Smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema and shriveled testes.  (The new law) also leads to outdoor drinking, rain or shine, which can lead to frostbit, melanoma and accidental arousal from rubbing against another addict while taking refuge under a tiny awning….”  (“2009 Drink Guide”)                 

     Wikimedia Commons

“There used to be two types of customers here (HBP): smokers and chain smokers.  The 2009 smoking ban devastated regulars. (They all died said a bartender).  (“2011 Drink”)                 

“We worried that (the new law) would spell the end of …(the) venerable Brit Pub…Not because the 33-year old bar…wouldn’t retain its loyal patrons, but because we assumed its billowing, milkshake-thick clouds of cigarette smoke were load bearing structural elements of the building without which the sprawling pub would collapse.”  (“2009 Drink Guide”)


Coffin nail or structural element?
Coffin nail or structural element?

“What will become of Don Younger’s sprawling pub in 2009?  After the encyclopedic beer list and heart-stopping English breakfasts, this slice of Britain on Belmont is best known for air so thick with smoke, you could bottle it.”  (“2007 Drinkers’ Bible”)

Another often-cited difference in beer served in the US and the typical English tavern is the temperature of the beer.  For example, Hicks and I had wonderful chilled mugs of Portland Brewing’s Rose Hip Gold and Caldera Brewing’s Dry Hop Orange, which if served 4,928 miles to the east, would not be quite as frosty.  (Although it is a misconception that British beer is served warm, beer in the UK is usually served at cellar temperature – 50 to 57 °F. – Wikipedia).

This is not to suggest that English beer is bad as exemplified by this commentary from Voltaire on both British citizens and their beer:, “They (the British) are like their own beer; froth on top, dregs at bottom, the middle excellent.”

Rose Hip Gold --- Even Better on Tap

Rose Hip Gold — Even Better on Tap

The 50+ different beers on tap at HPB, including 28 rotating or guest taps, create dissonance for an indecisive drinker.  They reflect what was purportedly Don Younger’s motto, “It’s not about the beer.  It’s about the beer.”


A Comment on the 2013 Willamette Week Bar Guide (Horse Brass review continued below)

A Valuable Resource for Thebeerchaser Tour
A Valuable Resource for Thebeerchaser Tour

As evidenced above, an important resource for this blog is the Annual Willamette Week Drinkers’ Bible or Bar Guide.  Indeed, Thebeerchaser’s printed copies for the last five years of this annual list of favorite Portland bars is a valuable resource.

The enormity of the challenge of a comprehensive tour of Portland bars, pubs and taverns hit home when I read the 2013 publication.  WW listed 121 favorite bars visited in the last year.  This compares with 41 establishments since Thebeerchaser blog commenced in August 2011.

Of WW’s favorites, Thebeerchaser has only frequented nine to this point as shown below:

Brooklyn Park Pub     Coalition Brewery     Beer     Prost     Laurel Thirst     Lutz Tavern

Goose Hollow Inn     Sasquatch Brewery *     Horse Brass Pub

* Visited, but not yet reviewed and posted on Thebeerchaser blog.

To quote Alfred Lord Tennyson, “So much to do, so little done, such things to be.”


Horse Brass InteriorThe rich history of the Horse Brass Pub, established in 1976, can be found on its outstanding website and gives a more thorough chronology than can Thebeerchaser, but the decades of founder, Don Younger’s impact, are evident throughout.  His dedication to the fledgling craft beer industry in Oregon is his legacy.

Memorabilia enhances the Ambiance

Memorabilia enhances the Ambiance

It would be a stretch to label the food as “outstanding”; however, the menu is extensive and offers numerous English-type options.  My bangers and mash were good and ample and Dave Hicks had a similar reaction to his steak and shepherd’s pie.

And oh yes, before ending the review of the Horse Brass Pub, a recurring theme on this blog bears iteration.  Just as with the Ship Tavern and Jakes, the HBP was purportedly the scene of a simultaneous gathering of approximately twenty Portland police cars one summer night in the ’80’s.

Members of the Portland Rugby Club and the team from New Zealand they had defeated in their match that day, capped off the day with food, drink and “revelry” — Film at 11:00 ….!

The Horse Brass Pub                    4534 S.E. Belmont

Don’t Be a Clutz – Visit Lutz (Tavern….)

A Woodstock Neighborhood Retreat

A 1999 story from The Oregonian, stated, Lutz Tavern has more than 50 years of history soaked into its dark wood…….a tavern that’s been part of the community for decades.”

Dark wood and red booths retain historical ambiance – this also shows good selection on tap!

Ten years later, The Willamette Week 2009 Drink Guide echoed these sentiments by stating,A retreat for those turned off by the poshness of the Pearl and the affected low-rent vibe of Hawthorne and Belmont area drinking establishments, Woodstock’s (neighborhood) Lutz Tavern is a dive bar free of pretension and political correctness…..

When the Yuppie Zombies descend on Portland, the city’s blue collar workers will hole up inside and drink to the apocalypse with Miller High Life.”

and then

abruptly in 2010, Lutz, which originally opened around 1943, closed to the lament of Reed College students and the working-class group of regulars.


Back in Business

Lutz Tavern rose again  on 11/11/11 – this time with a new kitchen and patio and serving liquor in addition to the traditional PBR and four other tall-boys including Ranier ($2 and $1.50 during Happy Hour – daily from 4 to 6 and 11 until 2 AM) and Hamms on tap along with seven excellent micro-brews and eleven bottled beers.

At one time, the Lutz received a commendation from Blitz Weinhard for the amount of Blitz it poured.

Thebeerchaser and long-time friend and telecommunications guru, Walt Duddington, visited the Lutz on a Tuesday night and it is a great neighborhood bar – distinguished by its patrons and a very long bar with a light blue formica top, dark red booths  and a vintage phone booth with an ATM inside!

Shaun – excellent at food prep, Thebeerchaser and the Beer Tour Logo

Perhaps a call to Pennsylvania 65 – 000 would be appropriate – for those of you old enough to remember

Our bartender, Billy Jo, was great as was Shaun the cook, who opined that the best thing about the Lutz was “its multi-cultural regulars” who range in age from 21 to 65.

Billy Jo – a quality person and bartender

College memories with “The Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous”

I loved the old beer signs – most notably that from Schlitz – my favorite beer in college (Schlitz Dry to be specific) and the picture of Jackie Gleason at the end of the bar.

One of these days, Alice — right in the kisser!

It was also refreshing to note that the plasma-screen TV was off – people were playing pool, pinball or just talking in the bar and on the spacious deck rather than watching …. soccer??

Talk rather than TV…

The food was really good – we both had an excellent Lutz Burger with an incredibly big serving of shoe-string fries. (we declined the peanut butter that Billy Jo said is a popular topping with some regulars).  Perhaps we should have had the Pulled Pork Sandwich which draws rave reviews (“the bun was six sizes too small for the amount of pork”). If we had not had the beer, however, we would have opted for the $3 milkshake – “make it boozy and add a well shot for $3…”)                                   

I’ll take that Strawberry Shake with a splash of Crown Royal

Distinguishing Characteristics – Paradoxically, the Lutz fills this category by having no real distinguishing characteristics other than a lingering sense of history that fortunately did not die in 2011.  It’s worth a visit and say “hello” to Billy Jo and Shaun.

Lutz Tavern                       4639 SE Woodstock