Brian Doyle – Beerchaser Eternal

Brian at the Fulton Pub (drinking his favorite pinot gris.)

“Many of my friends are people I’ve never met; I counted Brian Doyle in that group.”

The above quote – from a piece by the editor of the Georgia Review the University of Georgia’s journal of arts and letters, was one of hundreds of laudatory comments from all over the world paying tribute to this literary icon and remarkable human being.   The breadth of Brian Doyle’s literary talent and speaking ability are evident based on the diversity of the novels, essays, short stories and presentations cited in these accolades..

And those reading his work could not avoid feeling the personal bond referenced by the literary expert above.  Just by reading several chaoters in Mink River, The Plover or Marten Martin, the reader quickly discovers Brian’s love of nature, his imagination and his fascination with the mundane details in life most of us take for granted.  He spoke to his readers in the true sense of the word.   

I was profoundly saddened by the passing of this author, award-winning magazine editor, family man and unforgettable personality, on May 27th.  Brian was diagnosed with brain cancer last November and his solid faith sustained him through the surgery and post-operative time with his wonderful family.

He had an expansive group of friends who marveled at his creativity, wit, compassion and charisma.  As Father Mark Porman, the President of University of Portland, where Brian worked for twenty-six years, stated:

“He was a man filled with a sense of humanity and wonder, who was interested in everyone’s story and who saw everyone’s potential. His warmth, humor, and passion of life will be deeply missed and his loss will be acutely felt here and beyond.”

Artistic talent demonstrated with this self portrait

I only knew Brian for three and one-half years and we first met after I wrote him a letter about the Brian Doyle Humor Scholarship awarded annually at UP.  I thought it was creative, inspirational  and a credit to both him and his university.

Having recently started this blog, I told Brian that I wanted to “honor” him by naming him my next Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter – an accolade he could put on his resume right below Notary Public.   All it required, was to meet me for a beer and an interview.

To my surprise, he agreed and our meeting at Fulton’s Pub on Macadam – one of his favorites – was the first of a number of mug-raising sessions, although he usually drank white wine (and an occasional Hammerhead Ale on very hot days).   I inevitably left those sessions feeling better about the human condition.   My wife, Janet and I  had the pleasure of meeting his wife, Mary, at one of those get-togethers at Maher’s Pub in Lake Oswego.

Favorite watering hole…..

The chorus of those paying tribute to Brian Doyle is loud and prolonged and the inventory of his attributes cited reads like one of Brian’s lists in Martin Marten.  I enjoyed all of his novels – I’m half way through Chicago now and the manner in which his characters convey the essence of that great city make it my favorite so far.  (I have to admit that I even kept notes while reading each of his previous books so I could remember some of the many memorable phrases or metaphors.)

I could also talk about his love of nature; his poignant essays (e.g. his 2009 work, “The Terrible Brilliance,” based on the art therapy work Mary does for young children with serious illnesses at Doernbecher) or the quality of his conversations ranging from the ocean or the village of Zig Zag, to basketball, faith, Edmund Burke and younger days – we found out that we were both born in Merrick, Long Island, New York.

But I want to focus this narrative and my best memories of Brian, on his imaginative, idiosyncratic, dry and incomparable humor.  The following are examples of why I will always smile when I think of the bearded Notre Dame graduate.

“On Being Brian”

In 2002, he wrote letters to 215 other Brian Doyles he found in a national directory to learn more about them:

“Tell me a little bit about yourself, I wrote us recently. How did you get your name? What do you do for work? What are your favorite pursuits? Hobbies? Avocations? Have any of us named our sons Brian? What Irish county were your forebears from? Where were you born? Where did you go to college? What’s your wife’s name?

He spoke to or corresponded with 111 and his essay, “Being Brian,” was published in Harper’s Magazine“Oddly, we were all neurotic about getting to airports early (at least two hours) and all had terrible handwriting.”   (I have a feeling Brian would have undertaken this endeavor even if his name had been Jim Johnson or maybe even Alexi Fronkiwiecz……..)

He said that he was often mistaken for the Brian Doyle, who is well-regarded Canadian children’s author and I kidded him because in doing the research for my blog, I noticed that Portland’s Brian Doyle’s bearded countenance is shown in the summary caption of the Wikipedia article on the Canadian Brian Doyle!  Check it out – that’s still the case. https://www.bing.com/search?q=brian%20doyle%20author&qs=n&form=QBRE&sp

“On the Misuse of Adverbs”

Since we were both New Yorkers, I loved his essay about an altercation in which he and his five brothers “engaged” a male patron in a one of the city’s pubs. This piece demonstrates Brian’s love of the language and his imagination (he maintained this spat really happened, but some of the details could be storyteller’s license).

The Doyle brothers got kicked out of this New York City bar while defending a young woman and the proper use of the English language – from an aggressive suitor:

“Finally there was a moment when the young man leaned toward the young woman and gently covered her exquisite digits with his offensive paws and said:

‘Hopefully, you and I… ‘ at which point my brother Thomas stood up suddenly, launched himself over the balcony rail, landed with a stupendous crash on their table, and said to the young man, ‘Never, and I mean never, begin a sentence with an adverb.”‘

“In the Rain by the River”

Brian spoke at a dinner of the Lang Syne Association in Portland in 2015.  And as one Goodreads reviewer wrote in 2010, “He’s an insanely intense and achingly vulnerable speaker who laughs and cries at his own stories.”

His short and well-received address that night  focused on his five favorite Oregon writers with this eloquent preamble:

“……we rarely celebrate stories enough in public, but I will do so here, because after thirty years of writing I am convinced that stories are food, holy, nutritious, crucial, the muscle of citizenship, maybe even the subtle ways by which we can imagine and achieve a world where war is a memory and violence is a joke in poor taste and children are not afraid and humor and creativity are the common coins of our civic lives.”

He then provided one of his characteristic lists on these literary all-stars and a few other authors enumerating what they (and he) appreciated about Oregon.  Halfway through the list was this item:

“A thorough patience and even appreciation for rain and mist and mud.” (emphasis supplied)

The next time we had a beer (which was on a stormy, yucky day), I chided him about paying tribute to our never-ending precipitation.   I subsequently got a very short e-mail with only the words “Heh, Heh…”, and the above referenced essay attached – one that had been published in The American Scholar and included this excerpt:

“It has been raining so hard and thoroughly that the moss has moss on it. It has rained since last year, which is a remarkable sentence. Even the rain has had enough of the rain and it appears to be pale and weary when it shuffles to the lobby to punch in and out every day…….

Slugs — a new religion???

Slugs have congregated in the basement and established a new religion complete with tithing expectations and plans for expansion into Latin American markets. Mold is now listed in the stock exchange.”    

 

“Four Boston Basketball Stories”

I’ll conclude with the example below which was published in the Kenyon Review in the summer of 2012.  Brian loved basketball and this passion was reflected in his writing – just read the first few chapters of Chicago and you’ll get a flavor: 

Page 1:  ”I lived there for five seasons, leaving my street only to play basketball at a playground a couple of blocks away, or to run to the lake dribbling my worn shining basketball……..”

Page 20:  “I found a pitted basketball court three blocks north, in a school playground which turned out to be exactly on the borderline between the territories of the Latin Kings and the Latin Eagles……I tried to play there every afternoon, if I could before the sun went down…..I got in hundreds of games with the Kings and the Eagles, many of whom fancied themselves terrific ballplayers, and some of whom were.”

In his imitable style, he describes players named Monster, Bucket, Nemo and Not My Fault who:

“….despite being short and round, dearly loved to fly down the middle of the court with the ball, try a wild ridiculous shot in dense traffic, fail to make the slightest effort to claim the inevitable rebound, and then either claim he was making a visionary creative pass, or denigrate a teammate for note being in position to receive the supposed miracle pass.”

Brian was named to a city league all-star team in Boston in 1983 and had the jersey framed in his office.   How tough was the league in which he played???

“…. (it) was so tough that when guys drove to the hole, they lost fingers.  One time a guy….got hit so hard his right arm fell off, but he was a lefty and hit both free throws before going to the bench….

I heard that his team later had a funeral for the arm with everyone carrying the casket with only one arm as a gaffe, but they all got so howling drunk that they lost the arm and had to bury the casket empty and then they spent the rest of the night trying to remember every lefty guy in the history of sports……”

Award-winning magazine with only one editor for twenty-one years

At one of our last Beerchasing expeditions, Brian and his University of Portland colleague, Dr. Sam Holloway and I met near their digs in the historic St. John’s Pub – one of the McMenamin’s establishments. I arrived early and began downing a pint of their good Ruby Red Ale.  When the other two arrived, I was not surprised that Brian ordered his typical pino gris, but Sam, who is a well-known consultant on the business of micro-breweries and head of UP’s Master Strategist:- Craft Beer Business program,  also ordered wine – a temporary gluten issue…

At the St. John’s Pub – good conversation but failure to solve global issues…

We then had a deep discussion about the merits of each beverage which ended with me quoting one sage who asserted:

“Beer – because one doesn’t solve the world’s problems over white wine…..”

Brian is no longer with us, but his legacy will long prevail.  And I can just imagine one of Brian’s first orders of business in the heavenly realm:

After retrieving two spare halos, he converts them into basketball hoops upon convincing God to let him be the player-coach of a team – we’ll call them the Divine Disciples who will ultimately play for the league championship.

In the huddle Brian uses his knowledge of scripture and cites Mathew 20:16 (English Revised Version preferred) “So the last shall be first, and the first last,” to describe a weak-side pick and roll play which will take advantage of the opposing team’s lackluster defense.  (The guy who lost his arm in the Boston game has a new and perfected body as promised in the New Testament and scores the winning layup with his restored limb and “Not My Fault” even admits culpability for several critical turnovers.)

I’m confident that Brian would never subscribe to the premise that “everyone gets a trophy” – even in heaven, and he and his team will toast their victory and raise both the championship trophy and mugs/glass in an ethereal pub.

We will miss you, Brian, and thanks for enriching our lives.

Original Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter post from February 2014

https://thebeerchaser.com/2014/02/24/beerchaser-of-the-quarter-author-and-wine-drinker-brian-doyle/

The St. John’s Pub – Beer and History

P1030763

While Thebeerchaser typically does not review bars that are directly connected with a restaurant, which means most of the McMenamen brothers’ lairs, there have been a few exceptions.   The White Eagle Saloon (see link to post in November, 2012) was of such historical significance that it made an interesting post.   The Buffalo Gap Saloon (see post in December, 2012 ) although not a McMenamin’s establishment, also has a very captivating story.

Brian Doyle at the Fulton Pub

Brian Doyle at the Fulton Pub

I recently visited the St. John’s Theater and Pub with two former Beerchasers of-the-Quarter – Northwest author, Brian Doyle and University of Portland Business Professor and noted micro craft consultant, Dr. Sam Holloway.

Brian is also the editor of the award-winning UP Magazine, Portland, and since both were on campus, the St. John’s is nearby, has a good line-up of beers and a rich history to check out.

I admire and respect what the McMenamins have done for the Oregon economy, historic preservation and beer in general since 1983, but going to their restaurants can often be kind of like going to the dentist – a nice receptionist or hostess gives a friendly greeting followed by what too often is a long wait and then either mouthwash or beer depending on which of the aforementioned venues you visited on that trip – you know the drill…..so to speak.

The entrance to the theater
The entrance to the theater

Most of their establishments get average ratings on sites such as Trip Advisor and Yelp and the following from a Yelp review of the St. John’s back in 2008, albeit dated, still sums it up well:

“Like all good Portlanders, I have a snarky and somewhat ruthless attitude about McMenamins. But it serves its purpose at times…..It’s a natural for your visiting relatives.  The food is overpriced, predictable, but tasty enough.  Booze is available.  The patio at this location is actually quite pleasant.”

Although one guy named, Aaron, a California resident and whose choice of fine eateries thoughout the globe is somewhat questionable, raved on Yelp in February, 2014, “Literally one of my 5 favorite restaurants in the world.”   Really Aaron!!?  Have you ever been to San Francisco??

One of the five best in the word!!????

One of the five best in the word!!????

That said, both the tater tots and their beer generally get very good marks and we were at St. John’s that day just to drink and converse rather than eat.

And I have learned that any bar or tavern experience can be enhanced by your companions, which was the case that day.  So before I talk some more about St. John’s, let’s find out a little more about Brian and Sam.   They are both very smart and gifted individuals and we have a lot in common – they both have written books and I have read books.

University of Portland Professor Dr. Sam Holloway

University of Portland Professor Dr. Sam Holloway

The book Sam co-authored was entitled, Organizational Learning and Knowledge Management. Volume I: Managing Learning and Knowledge, and besides his extensive work on business model innovation, he has published numerous articles and spoken at many forums on the business of breweries.

And while the above volume sounds a little dry, Sam and his consulting firm (Crafting a Strategy) have just published a new book which is a must read for any potential or actual entrepreneur in the restaurant trade , an Ebook on “How to Make Money with Food.”  It is available for only $4.99.  (see the following link)

Holloway consulting firm - advising the craft brewing industry

Holloway consulting firm – advising the craft brewing industry

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/crafting-a-strategy-presents/id1045821669?ls=1&mt=11 

While I typically read escapist trash novels, Brian Doyle’s books have become a staple although they are more cerebral than most – quotes from English philosopher and poet, William Blake, detailed character development and meticulous descriptions of the Northwest environment that Brian loves.

As one Good Reads reviewer asked rhetorically about Brian’s most recent novel (Martin Marten), “Did Bryan Doyle’s high school yearbook say, ‘The guy least likely to be attacked by a bear due to his extraordinary capacity for observation?'” 

Martin MartenAs a brief example – the following from page 15 in which he describes the range of items that could be purchased in a general store in Zig Zag, Oregon – the setting for Martin Marten:

……(It) sells every single possible small important thing you could ever imagine you would ever need, if you lived on the mountain…..you can buy string of every conceivable strength and fiber. You can buy traps.  You can buy arrows.  You can buy milk and cookies.  You can buy tire irons and shoehorns.  You can buy false teeth and denture glue. 

You can buy comic books and kindling.  You can buy apples and pork tenderloin.  You can buy kale and rock salt. You can buy explosive caps for removing rubble from a precarious situation.  You can buy saws and drill bits.  You can buy nightgowns and shotgun shells.  You can buy old cassette tapes, and you can order iPads and iPods……

An Amazon review characterized this novel as a braided coming-of-age tale like no other, told in Brian Doyle’s joyous, rollicking style. Two energetic, sinewy, muddled, brilliant, creative animals, one human and one mustelid…come sprint with them through the deep, wet, green glory of Oregon’s soaring mountain wilderness.”    

Doyle - A "joyous, rollicking style" and a taste for good wine.....

A “joyous, rollicking style” and a taste for good wine…..

Note:   I had to look up “mustelid” and it is defined as a mammal of the weasel family (Mustelidae), distinguished by having a long body, short legs, and musky scent glands under the tail.”)

But we digress, now back to the St. John’s, but not before an appropriate William Blake quote on beer from his poem, the “Little Vagabond”:

“But if at the Church they would give us some Ale.       And a pleasant fire, our souls to regale;                     We’d sing and we’d pray, all the live-long day;             Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray,” 

I got there early and was downing an outstanding Ruby Red, (“an ale light, crisp and refreshingly fruity…..processed raspberry puree is used to craft every colorful batch.”)when they arrived from the UP campus.  Both Brian and Sam, to my surprise, ordered wine.  Brian, possibly after the intense research for his book The Grail  (“A year ambling & shambling through an Oregon vineyard in pursuit of the best pinot noir wine in the whole wild world”) – admits that besides McMenamin’s Hammerhead, wine has become his drink of choice.

Wind drinkers Doyle and Holloway

Wine drinkers Doyle and Holloway

With Sam, it was a temporary gluten issue and perhaps he was anticipating his trip in the next two weeks to visit breweries in Germany.  I reminded them both  of an anonymous but pithy quote:

“Beer – because one doesn’t solve the world’s problems over white white wine…..”

As an aside, I was the winner that afternoon, because my second beer was also a great seasonal brew – Copper Moon:

“The upfront hop bitterness…..is relatively low, complementing the malts nicely without being overpowering. The hop flavor and aroma are another matter, as the Citra and Chinook hops used in the latter stages of each batch intermingle delightfully to generate a dazzling citrusy, flowery and slightly spicy olfactory experience. All these things blend into a refreshing, flavorful and organic Summer Pale Ale.”

P1030767The St. John’s pub is a spacious and comfortable setting with a great outdoor patio and a cozy second-floor balcony.  The dark wood interior has interesting knick knacks and art work – typical of most McMenamin watering holes.

The history of this building is also remarkable.  You should check out their website to get the entire story, but here are a few highlights:

“Built in 1905 as the National Cash Register Company’s exhibit hall for Portland’s Lewis and Clark Exposition, this spectacular building was barged down the Willamette River after the expo to its current location, where subsequent incarnations included a Lutheran church, an American Legion post, a bingo parlor and a home for Gypsy wakes. The ever-evolving domed structure was later reinvented as Duffy’s Irish Pub and finally, St. Johns Theater & Pub.”  NCR_Building,_1905_(Portand,_Oregon)

St. John’s Pub website (http://www.mcmenamins.com/226-st-johns-theater-pub-home)

One can read about church scandal with the First Congregational Church (the preacher was accused of being a “traitor and a wife stealer”) and then the chronology involving a Lutheran Church (1931) before becoming an American Legion Post (with a bingo scandal), in addition to the stories involved with “saloons, billiards halls and traveling evangelists.”

I have often experienced poor service (possibly more accurately described as “slow” because of inadequate staffing) at McMenamins, and maybe it was because we were there at non-peak hour, but our server, Jessica, was friendly, knowledgeable and efficient.

Mural in the St. John's Pub
Mural in the St. John’s Pub

The St. John’s Pub is a very comfortable establishment for a few beers, some reasonable comfort food if you are not in a hurry and some fascinating history for those who have an interest.

 

The St. John’s Pub

8203 N. Ivanhoe Street

Portland