The Woodsman Tavern Strikes a Chord

Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs has resulted in visits and reviews of over 200 establishments since its inception in 2011 – not only in Portland, but all over Oregon, the US and even a few in Europe.   Therefore, its logical that the Woodsman Tavern – a Portland icon, of sorts, would make the list.

That said, I try to avoid venues that are primarily restaurants with a bar as kind of an ancillary feature.  It’s not that these establishments don’t have good beer or cocktails or attractive bars.  They just don’t have the character and ambiance of a stand-alone watering hole, especially that evidenced in dive bars!

The McMenamin’s bistros generally fall into the former category although I have made a few exceptions.  Beerchaser visits to The Fulton Pub, the White Eagle Saloon and the St. John’s Pub were splendid.  These all, however, had historical significance or distinguishing features.

For example, The Fulton was the site at which Hammerhead Ale was originated (and I consumed my first beer with the late NW author and Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Brian Doyle) and the White Eagle is on the National Historic Register – its history is replete with tales such as a prostitute being murdered and it being haunted by ghost-like apparitions on the second floor.

Notwithstanding its title, the Woodsman Tavern is an example of the former category i.e. more restaurant than bar.   While our two visits were well rewarded, it had the look and feel of a high-end restaurant.  That said, let’s look at why it is getting great reviews – it has a new chef, an expansive menu of cocktails and whiskeys and the food – most notably, the fried chicken is superb.   (Note also that most taverns do not have a “chef” per se’.)

The Woodsman is also one of the few places that I’ve visited where the Oregonian’s food critic, Michael Russell has authored a detailed review.  (He’s probably never been in the Reel M’ Inn – twenty blocks down Division Street and also known throughout the Northwest for its fried chicken. According to one article, it fried up an estimated 52,000 pounds of chicken in 2016.  But it’s a completely different ambiance….)

The Woodsman is in an old building in Southeast Portland and has a bright and attractive entrance with classy dark wood interior.  When opened in 2011, it was evidently a hot spot in the Portland food culture – known for its high-end dishes such as roasted trout.

Eateries run in cycles.  Social media reviews until recently started trending negative on the food and service.   That appeared to change late last year evidently because one of Portland’s noted chefs, Doug Adams, temporarily took command of the kitchen and menu:

“Suddenly, the Woodsman Tavern is once-again among the hottest restuarants in town.”   (1/1/18 Review by Martin Cizmar of Willamette Week.) Adams made his mark at Paley’s Place among other restaurants and is waiting for a new restaurant in downtown Portland to open.

The Bar Itself

The dining room is separated into two large rooms with booths and tables.  The bar is a long L-shaped counter with about twelve stools at the back of the east section.

It has an impressive display of hard liquors and twelve cocktail options ($12) with names such as “Dog Will Hunt” and “Married in a Fever,” and includes their trademark “Old Fashioned.”

For the bourbon and whiskey connoisseurs, I counted 120 options on the menu ranging from a pour of Jim Beam for $7 to Wild Turkey Tribute 15-Year Bourbon that will set you back $180.  (Perhaps this is economic validation of the distillery’s 2011 ad campaign entitled, “Give’em The Bird.”)

They have a nice selection of wines and fifteen beers on tap including five by one of my favorite breweries – Block 15 in Corvallis.  On our first trip to the Woodsman when we had dinner, I had a pint of Block 15 Double IPA and on the second trip, where we just sat at the bar for drinks during Happy Hour, I could not resist a cold Rainier for $2.

The east side of the restuarant

Let’s get back to the food, which should be the guiding rationale for a visit.  I will talk more about the food critics’ reviews below, but The Oregonian stated, “For food fans, this might be Portland’s best sports bar.”

Since there are only two televisions over the bar – both with sporting events when we were there, I guess this is his subtle way of promoting the Woodsman’s Double Cheeseburger and implying that the food in most Portland sports bars, sucks! 

An outstanding starter

The side dishes are ala-carte and either $3 or $5 and the bucket of chicken was $19, so we started by splitting what is a boring option in most places – a wedge salad.  And while a little spendy at $11, it was wonderful (bacon, big croutons and superb blue cheese dressing!)

I love fried chicken – that’s how I persuaded my wife, Janet, to go with me to the Woodsman.  It was a late birthday present.   There was no question what I was going to order. And it’s a fantasy – your own metallic bucket filled with five large pieces.  I am appalled that I was so enthralled that I forgot to take a picture!

Now let’s look at how some experts describe this one of six entr’ees.  Martin Cizmar, who for the last seven years has been the Arts and Culture Editor at Willamette Week, is succinct, but on point.  (I am sad to see him leave the weekly this month.  He wrote great reviews of not only restaurants, but every kind of bar, tavern or brewery in Portland and always creatively captured the character of the place.  (He’s moving to Washington D.C. to write for an on-line publication.)

You should read his entire review of The Woodsman:

Martin Cizmar – will be missed….but will still drink PBR (Photo courtesy of Willamette Week

He is a an outstanding writer and seems a lot less pretentious than his counterpart at The Oregonian:

“….the best fried chicken in town….(Adams’) ultra crispy recipe in which the honey is drizzled onto just out-of-the-fryer batter.”  (WW 1/1/18)

Now compare that to the more ostentatious description by Michael Russell:

“…..Adams’ fussed over bird , each crunchy piece wearing a shaggy brown coat reminiscent of a teddy bear’s fur, drizzled in honey and served with a clear glass bottle of hot sauce on the side.” (Emphasis supplied !??)

And not to get overly compulsive, but this one from a Thrillist ranking of the top 15 fried chicken places in Portland by Andy Cryza (9/2/15 – before Adams arrived…)  Woodsman was the top-rated option.  (Reel M Inn was #3.)

“…..Perfectly fried, with the juices locked into the premium bird, which is cut up into five generous pieces…..And the breading – occupying the zone between crisp and light – is kissed with a smack of honey which, when mixed with the salt, takes it into a danger zone hovering near meat-candy perfection.”

But if you don’t like chicken there are other worthy choices. I was able to persuade Janet, if I gave her a little bit of my chicken, to get the Double Cheeseburger ($16).  It was immense and the Canby, Oregon, Laney Family Farm’s beef scrumptious.  The fries were a perfect complement.

I described Michael Russell’s writing above as somewhat pretentious e.g. he started his review with the following: “…the restaurant has languished of late (last year) behind food that seemed to have lost its sense of place.” 

I changed my opinion – a little.  He was a little more down-to-earth when he wrote this about one of the Woodsman’s twelve starter options:

“Take the bologna sandwich.  It’s impressively thick cut of pink meat seared gently, surrounded by melted American cheese like fondant on a wedding cake and topped with sweet pickle on a sesame-seeded bun.  It’s a borderline obscene take on the classic….I’ve ordered it on every visit.” 

Fried chicken – “each piece wore a shaggy brown coat….”

At least he shied away from the toy creature analogy he made above with the fried chicken and didn’t compare the bologna to the Porky Pig stuffed animal he got at Disneyland……

And to affirm that this menu option may be worth the seemingly steep price ($12), let’s look at a non-foodie’s view – just your typical Yelp comment on 1/17/18:

“Now I know what you’re thinking, what the hell is in Bologna anyway, but this (sandwich) was freaking delicious.  I don’t know what’s in Bolgna, I probably don’t want to know.  But I’m on board.” 

Finally, while the bistro is also known for its chilled seafood and a seafood tower for $95 along with “Oyster Hours” all day Monday and from 5:00 to 6:00 on other weekdays, I loved our meal there because the food was good but also plentiful.  The picture below shows the box that we took home with our leftovers (It was filled and some of which survived to lunch the next day…) 

As another Yelp review who shares similar views succinctly stated:

“The food big.  Big food.  Platters….Reminds me of a place when I was a kid.  Logger means, man.”  (Yelp 1/15/18)

Most of the recent social media reviews are very positive although some question the prices especially since it is an ala-carte menus.  Another complaint which rang somewhat true with us on our first visit was the physical spacing:

“I don’t mind sitting at tables or booths, but why does anyone think that being 6 inches from a stranger is comfortable.”  (Yelp 1/14/18)

However, if someone is going to do a hatchet job on the Woodsman Tavern, they will have to come up with something of more substance than tables being a little too close.  Besides, you should check out their fried chicken……….

The Woodsman Tavern

4537 SE Division Street


Beerchasing Miscellany – Pondering Suds, Suffrage and Civility

The Hitselberger farm near Seal Rock on the Oregon Coast

Wolf Tree Brewery

While staying in Lincoln City for a week recently, I read an article in Willamette Week about Wolf Tree Brewery – typical of Oregon’s great brewery stories.  Reporter, Martin Cizmar did his usual good job of conveying the story of Wolf Tree’s founder and owner, Joe Hitselberger’s small operation on his 600 acre cattle and timber ranch six miles east of Seal Rock. “A Tiny Coastal Brewery is Becoming the King of Sitka Spruce Beers.”

Since 2013, Joe has specialized in spruce-tip beer – it’s probably the only Oregon brewery to make it year-round.  As described by Cizmar in his article:

“With a mild cotton-candy and strawberry sweetness, Wolf Tree’s barrel-aged spruce bud ale, is the best I’ve ever had and I’m not alone in my opinion. Earlier this month, Wolf Tree came out of nowhere to win a gold medal for best ‘Experimental’ beer at the Oregon Beer Awards.”

Joe Hitselberger sampling some of his spruce tip beer

Since I had some spare time, I called Joe and he agreed to let me interview him and take some photos.  Coincidentally, two guys from Boise who had tasted his beer, showed up at the same time and we sampled both his Spruce Tip Ale and the Camille’s Golden IPA – named after Joe and Taryn, his finance’s, late golden retriever.  The beer is part of their Ranch Dog Series:  

“We created the Ranch Dog Series as a tribute to our furry friends who live here at the ranch.  A portion of sales for these beers will be donated to the Heartland Humane Society in Corvallis.”  

Camilles Golden IPA from the Ranch Dog Series

I’ll cover this brewery in more depth this summer, when they open the planned tasting room on the south side of Newport’s Yaquina Bay Bridge.  But the six mile drive on Beavercreek Road after I left Highway 101 was amazing – including the herd of 25 Roosevelt Elk I discovered grazing in a field just off the road.

Until the taproom is opened, Thebeerchaser will head to Belmont Station, one of four Portland distributors of Wolf Tree’s beer.

Update on 2017 “We the People “Competition

Some members of the Grant Team with Rogers and Westwood on the right

Beerchaser followers were previously informed that the Grant High School Constitution Team won the Oregon competition and was headed for the nationals in Washington DC.

Well, that April trip was successful since they placed second – quite an accomplishment.  More remarkable is Oregon’s record in the last six years in the national competition as shown below:

2012 – Oregon (Lincoln) first place  2013 – Oregon (Grant) first place

2014 – Oregon (Lincoln) first place  2015 – Oregon (Grant) first place

2016 – Oregon (Lincoln) first place, Oregon wild card (Grant) third place

2017 – Virginia first place, Oregon (Grant) second place (10 points behind, out of 1800), Indiana third place (85 points behind Grant)

In fact, those who subscribe to conspiracy theories, have wondered if prior results by both Grant and Lincoln High Schools, persuaded the judges that a school from another state should get some of the glory……

Alice and the proud parents at Washington DC competition

The Grant team has a double Beerchaser connection since team member, Alice Eden Fischer, is the daughter of Amy Faust and Kevin Fischer.   KWJJ Radio personality, Amy, is the most recent Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter.

And one of the long-term coaches and team advisors is Portland lawyer, Jim Westwood, who received the same recognition from Thebeerchaser in March 2013.  (To read about these two interesting people, click on the link over their names.)

Westwood (second from left) and Padrow on the right

In fact, this story of Oregon in national competition is reminiscent of another remarkable run by an Oregon school – that of the Portland State College team that set records in 1965 in the television competition (The GE College Bowl) that captured the nation as recounted in this article. (Portland State Alumni Association News – May 2, 2005)

“The 415 points scored in their final match ties them for fifth-highest single-game total achieved, and their 1725 points total set a new record at the time, and is fourth highest overall. The March 26, 1965 issue of Time has an article on how the College Bowl victories helped change Portland State’s image as “the flunk-out school” for University of Oregon and Oregon State drop-outs…”

If you look closely at the picture of the Grant Team above, you might recognize the same guy in the Portland State photo.   Yes, that’s the same Jim Westwood who was the captain of the PSC team and possibly learned some coaching techniques from the late, Ben Padrow, who brilliantly guided the four students to their records.

I’m not sure that Padrow went as far as Westwood, however, when the Grant coach for the last fifteen years, promised his team in 2013 that if they won, he would get a tattoo to memorialize (so to speak) the victory.  To get the story on the significance of the 1783 date, check out Thebeerchaser post

“Stamp” Out Complacency

And having some idea how much effort all the students in the “We the People” competition put forth, I cannot help but again shake my head with the Oregon Legislature’s misguided effort to increase voter turnout encompassed in Senate Bill 683.  The same concept was defeated in 2016, but unfortunately returns in the 2017 Session, thanks to the sponsorship of Senators Richard Devlin and Michael Dembrow.

If passed into law, voters would no longer have to put postage on their vote-by-mail return ballots.  The State of Oregon, which ironically faces a projected $1.6 billion deficit, would cover the forty-nine cent cost of a stamp in each election at an estimated cost of $650,000 to $1.3 million price tag for each biennium.

Original use on (

The symbol of the “Stamp Culture”

Ironically, Devlin is the Senate’s chief budget writer and tried to justify the bill because its tough for some would-be voters to afford the cost of a stamp.  Dembrow stated:

“This is especially true for a lot of young people who don’t use stamps.  They’re just not into the stamp culture……”

Original use (

Crossing the Delaware to fight for our right to have postage-paid return ballots.

Perhaps someone should explain to those who are not into the stamp culture, that they might want to consider the walking culture,” since libraries, city halls or courthouses are all locations where ballots can be returned without postage and are usually within a few miles of most voters’ residence.

Thebeerchaser subscribes to the assertion that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”  I guess that premise is no longer operable and it’s just $.49.

The Anarchists Tried to Get Their Act Together

Newspaper stories these days are never surprising and the irony of this report in the Oregonian on March 14th makes me shake my head.  A group labeling itself Portland Anarchist Road Care, “working anonymously with one person wearing a mask….” actually filled potholes on Southeast Salmon Street.

The group said it is now exploring alternatives to patching potholes including mobilizing people to fix roads in their neighborhoods.  ……..“By creating structures (emphasis supplied) to serve the same purpose as state structures, organizations such as ours have the ability to show that government is not necessary for society to function.”

From the Chicago Haymarket Affair

While I realize that anarchists sometimes do advocate societies based on voluntary institutions, this seems a bit of a contradiction in terms.   And it begs the question:

If government is not necessary for society to function, who is supposed to control the masked thugs who threw burning objects, blocked streets and damaged buildings during the May Day Parade in PDX? 

Lawyers are trying to figure out the liability issues if the Anarchists don’t fill in the potholes correctly and cause accidents or vehicular damage.  Perhaps they should heed the advice of Mitchell Kapor (the founder of Lotus Software) who advised:  “Inside every anarchy, there’s an Old-Boy Network.” 

A Precursor to the “Digital” Age

Since this is a blog about bars and beer, I typically refrain from political topics, but unless one has been living under a rock for the last eighteen months, it’s difficult to stay above the fray.  While the tripe that emanates from the West Wing becomes more unbelievable and dangerous each day,  one also has to hold the media accountable for the methods of coverage at times.

Source of alternative facts (to be polite…..)

One wonders if we can return to the civility and bipartisanship led by statesmen that characterized the Oregon Legislature e.g. Tom McCall and Hector MacPherson and the US Congress e.g. Mark Hatfield and Tip O’Neill in the 60’s and 70’s. 

Yet, based on the nature of the beast, there were times even in this more refined era (without 24-hour news coverage) when emotions overcame propriety – something which lent some humor and excitement to the news.

Such was the case on September 16, 1976, when Vice President Rockefeller was campaigning with Sen. Bob Dole, who had been selected to be President Gerald Ford’s running mate.   Some student in a group of hecklers gave the finger to the VP and he immediately reciprocated the gesture — with gusto!  I’ve kept the picture below from the newspaper for all these years thinking I could use it at some point and the excerpt below describes the incident: 

“At the time, Rockefeller’s finger flashing was scandalous and the gesture was referred to thereafter as ‘The Rockefeller Salute.’  Rockefeller refused to apologize for his outburst.

‘I was just responding in kind’ he said, neatly avoiding the point that the apology was not expected to go to the hecklers but to the general public.”

A veteran with a Purple Heart and a good sense of humor…..

Bob Dole was asked by a reporter why he didn’t join Rockefeller in “the salute”.  ‘I have trouble with my right arm,’ he replied. (Rarehistorical October 16,2016)

And in closing, perhaps we need to look at  the anger we see today from all parts of the political spectrum.  As conservative columnist, George Will wrote in a 2007  opinion piece in the Washington Post I saved, but is still relevant:

“Once upon a time, Americans admired models of self-control, people such as George Washington and Jackie Robinson, who mastered their anger rather than relishing being mastered by it. 

Today, however, proclaimed anger — the more vituperative the better — is regarded as a sign of good character and emotional vitality…..Today, many people preen about their anger as a badge of authenticity:  ‘I snarl, therefor I am.’  Such people make my blood boil.” 

Or the LA Times’,Tim Rutten, who in a  2009 column entitled, “A Crash Course on our Descent Into Coarseness” opened with:

“Incivility is the new secondhand smoke.  Everyone feels impelled to disdain it, but nobody is willing to do away with it entirely.”

Rather than ponder in frustration, “When will all the rhetorical questions ever end?”,  Thebeerchaser would suggest a small step to solve this dilemma harkening back to the 18th century — to one of the Founding Fathers, Ben Franklin.  In 1727, he formed the Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.”  (Wikipedia)

Ben Franklin – believed in civil dialogue

When they met they discussed issues of the day, debated philosophical topics and devised schemes for self-improvement.  In a description of the goals of this group, Walter Isaacson, in his 2003, 590-page book, Benjamin Franklin, An American Life states:

“Franklin stressed the importance of deferring, or at least giving the appearance of deferring, to others…… ‘When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.’ 

Instead, he would agree in parts and suggest differences only indirectly…. This velvet-tongued and sweetly passive style of circumspect argument would make him seem sage to some, insinuating and manipulative to others, but inflammatory to almost nobody.”

Franklin’s Junto was evidently open only to men and they drank coffee rather than alcoholic beverages, but adapting to the times, perhaps we need to have this type of discussion for members of all genders in bars, taverns and pubs while drinking Oregon microbrews.  And even if Ben Franklin, didn’t actually utter the words often attributed to him, the assertion still has merit: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”

Regaining Civility