(External photo attribution at end of the post #1)
Although, after a diminished effort the last three years, I’ve resumed Beerchasing with a vengeance in 2023. And my last three Portland water-hole discoveries have been awesome and deserve affirmation.
The Basement Public House, the Jolly Roger at John’s Landing and the Tabor Tavern – all in Portland, helped to validate why I started this hobby in 2011 – although I really didn’t need a lot of reinforcement….
They were great visits and I had wonderful Beerchasing companions to enjoy the ambiance with me. (Click on the links above to see the reviews.)
But All is Not Well in the Rose City!
Hospitality industry businesses, most notably at least for me – bars and breweries – have had extreme challenges surviving. The pandemic starting in 2020 and the next three years was the death blow for many Oregon establishments although a lot of them had been struggling prior to that time given the vagaries of the NW economy.
An April 2023 article in Portland Eater – a credible website – was headlined:
“At Least 1,000 Oregon Restaurants Have Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic, According to an Industry Group”
It went on to assert that:
“Factoring in the closures and openings in 2021, the ORLA estimates the net loss to be 600 to 800 permanent closures of restaurants across Oregon.”
So I looked back in my Beerchasing files – filled with clippings on bars and breweries – many that have opened since I started this hobby in 2011. I was shocked at the number of closures. Some, including Bridgeport Brewing, Sloan’s Tavern and the Ash Street Saloon to name a few, had thrived for years.
The photos below are just several of the establishments that no longer pour draft beers, canceled leases (or defaulted), painfully disposed of the old beers signs and memorabilia, and made their final “last call” – this time for the bar itself.
(Clockwise – The Lost and Found, Cruise Inn – Lincoln City, Lompoc Tavern, Black Squid – Lincoln City, Slabtown, Hair of the Dog Brewery, Oregon Public House, The Tanker, Ash Street Saloon, Burnside Brewing.)
Now a major factor in the closure of many was the pandemic – it challenged the fortitude, entrepreneurial creativity and perseverance of even the most well-managed hospitality establishments.
As stated above, but worth emphasizing, a number of those were already perched on that sudsy precipice and toppled quickly in 2020 and shortly thereafter..
While there were many “old-line” watering holes on the list, the problem with some of the newer short-lived venues – the owners and management didn’t “learn the ropes” before they ventured out on their own.
Two good Portland examples of how current successful bar owners worked their way up and were fully aware of the commitment and grit required before opening their own taverns are: (Photos #2 – Jackson Family and #3 – Zig and Wife, Kristen)
- The Jackson family – owners of the Sports Page in Beaverton and the Jolly Roger bars – the most recent reviews on this blog.
- Ken “Zig” Naffziger and his wife, Kristen Siefkin, co-owners of the Tabor Tavern and Swift and Union.
How many of the now defunct watering holes started off on a shoestring, by partners who had a passion for cooking, brewing beer (often in their basement) and who frequented their favorite bar or brewery and said to themselves or their partner after too many beers:
“I (we) could do that!”
I was struck by this quote from a John Sandford novel (Bad Blood) when protagonist Virgil Flowers, asks a watering hole owner:
“‘ Do you like owning the pub? ‘I used to,’ she says simply. ‘Not any more. I’m tired of it. The grease, the stench, the drunks. You see a lot. Sometimes early in the evening, when people stop in for a beer on their way home and there’s the companionable feeling in the room.
But then it gets edgier. More sour. And the work never ends. Cooking and cleaning, purchase orders, deliveries messed up, the staff drinking up all your profits, the breakage. It’s a hard business.’
All right he says, but neither of them moves and they sense the dense yellow light filling the little kitchen, glinting off the pots and pans, the grill, the steel sink, the stack of empty steel barrels, the racks of mugs, the towers of plates and saucers, the mound of freshly washed silverware, the cracked wall that had once been white, the scrawl of penciled phone numbers on the wall by the phone, the battered old yellow phone, the battered dish washer……..'” (Photos #4 and #5 above)
I’ve been waiting for months to use that excerpt and it may be overly dramatic, but perhaps it serves as at least a reasonable contrast to the romanticized version of owning a bar held by some naïve, but now past owners.
That said, pandemic factors, including the often well-intentioned but inept attempts by Governor Brown of Oregon on access (and closings) to bars and restaurants, landlords’ inflexibility on leases, lack of available staff and inflationary wages all contributed to operational nightmare’s for even the most well-managed and capitalized establishments.
Although they were trying to react in uncharted territory, the Portland City Council and Mayor Ted Wheeler were not much better in handling the pandemic and concurrent protests and civil disorder. Michael Schmidt, the Multnomah County District Attorney wasn’t much help.
According to an article in the April 4th 2023 Portland Business Journal:
- In a survey of restaurant owners, hiring software maker Poached found that 97% of the more than 100 respondents don’t think the City is headed in the right direction to have a thriving food industry.
- Eighty-three percent said their businesses had been broken into, and 90% of that group said they had break-ins in the past year.
In the next post, I’ll share a case study of one upscale Portland bar that opened at the end of 2016 with much fanfare – only to quietly close about eighteen months later. And the establishment which replaced it immediately afterwards is thriving. Why?
External Photo Attribution
#1. Wikimedia Commons (File:Gordmans – Three Rivers -CLOSED- (50383975587).jpg – Wikimedia Commons) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Kzoo Cowboy – 24 September 2020.
#2. Jolly Restaurants Facebook Page (https://www.jollyrestaurants.com/jolly-history)
#3. Swift and Union Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/swiftandunion/photos/pb.100033225804742.-
#4. Wikimedia Commons (File:New Phone is an Old Phone.jpg – Wikimedia Commons) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Author: Billy Brown – 6 September 2010.
#5. Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons (File:Dirty dishes.jpg – Wikimedia Commons) I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide. Author: User-Mysid – 26 November 2004.
#6. Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Governor_Kate_Brown_(27497566614).jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Source: Oregon Department of Transportation – 30 June 2016.
#7. Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ted_Speech.jpg) Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. Author: Hcraddock – 5 December 2015.