Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive

Thebeerchasing group - minus Cheryl Rath at Bill Rays on MLK Blvd.

Thebeerchasing group – minus Cheryl Rath at Bill Rays on MLK Blvd.

When I saw the March 9, 2016 Portland Mercury article entitled, “Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive: A Springboard for Bad Decisions,” I knew I had to make this great dive bar, the next stop on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs.

P1040531And one of the distinct pleasures of my Beerchasing hobby, has been sharing most visits with companions who like beer but perhaps concurrently have poor judgment as evidenced by the three gents in the picture above.  The photo also affirms the assertion of the Mercury reporter who also gave some evidence – the best example:

In ’47, two men hailed a Broadway Cab outside its doors, produced a revolver and submachine gun, and forced the young driver to whisk them to the hinterlands of SE 145th and Foster. They argued—drunkenly—about who should tie up the cabbie. They fled with the cab.

The trio in the photo above are Brian (Brain) King and Brien Flanagan, members of the Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt Natural Resources Group and John Mansfield, an intellectual property lawyer, who has his own firm – Mansfield Law is on the right.  Cheryl Rath, also a lawyer, joined us on the great patio in the back of the bar, but not in the picture is an Assistant Professor of business law, sports law and sports management in the Business School at Concordia University besides practicing law at her firm, Rath Legal.   More about this quartet after some of the scoop on Bill Ray’s:  P1040536

“Billy Ray’s has occupied that long, skinny building only since around the turn of the millennium….., but the ghosts of those past dives—of Marv’s, and the Montana, and who knows how many others—still clatter their empty mugs against the copper bar top. For me, it is the Portland dive bar…….

B. Ray’s is still maddeningly, charmingly a cash-only establishment that refuses to serve decent food (take your pick from an assortment of TV dinners, peanuts, or chips), although they welcome any outside fare you might bring in. The Medieval Madness pinball table upstairs is still somehow working. The re-entry policy—’You may re-enter Billy Ray’s once per day’—is still in force, and ‘Surfin’ Bird’ is still on the jukebox. The smell of stale beer still hits you well before you walk in.” (Excerpt from March 9, 2016 Portland Mercury article)

Having fought Portland’s ugly traffic, which redefined the meaning of gridlock (By the way, Mayor Hales, “Better Naito” doesn’t work…..) I was late.  Brian King, however, concerned about his carbon footprint and also based on his premise, “You meet very nice people on the bus after dark,” took the MLK Tri-Met Line 6 both to the bar and back to the firm late that evening.

An intellectual crew with Thebeerchaser logo.

An intellectual crew with Thebeerchaser logo.

After walking through the long, narrow and dark bar interior, I joined the others  on the patio. Brian and Cheryl were downing Tekate in cans, and I asked them why they didn’t try one of the four beers on tap (PBR, Jonny Utah Fresh Hops from Georgetown Brewing in Seattle, Lagunitas IPA and Worthy Easy Day Kolsch).

Only four beers on tap, but a lot of options in cans...

Only four beers on tap, but a lot of options in cans…

Brain responded for both of them:

“Based on the Presidential campaign, we empathize with our Mexican friends, and if Trump is going to build a wall, we think it should be with cans of our favorite Mexican beer. (empty cans I assume…)”

schwabe logo

Concern about Presidential candidate bias.......

Concern about Presidential candidate bias…….

 

 

I might add that all four lawyers were at Schwabe while I served as the Chief Operating Officer and the firm, besides having excellent lawyers, is known for its amiable culture and sense of humor.

For example, Mansfield, who last went Beerchasing with me at Church (where the bar’s motto is, “Eat, Drink, Pray, Repent”) suggested we again pin a copy of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on the entrance to Billy Ray’s.  Not to be denied, he argued that since Billy Ray’s was on Martin Luther King Blvd. it would still be appropriate.  

"Eat, Drink, Pray, Repent and remember the 95 Theses

“Eat, Drink, Pray, Repent and remember the 95 Theses

Although many IP lawyers have undergraduate degrees in Physics, Mathematics, Chemical Engineering or other hard sciences, Mansfield is more culturally refined having received his degree at the U of O in Music (theory and composition) before earning his Masters in Political Science at Portland State and finishing his education with his law degree at Cornell where he graduated Magna Cum Laude.

He tried to show his expertise in environmental topics by stating, “You know it’s not pollution or industry that is harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water.”

Spacious game room upstairs....

Spacious game room upstairs….

There were only a few people inside – more on the patio – but it’s small enough downstairs that it seemed reasonably busy.  No one was in the spacious game room upstairs with ping-pong, old fashioned pinball machines and a pool table.  Both of the bartenders I met, Mara and Tammy were friendly.

To keep things from becoming "shady

To keep things from becoming “shady

I asked Tammy the rationale for the sign about re-entry and she replied, “So we don’t have anything shady happen, although we rarely enforce it.”  I guess I’m still confused about the policy; however, I do understand why they have a cash-only policy.

Tammy - helpful and friendly

Tammy – helpful and friendly

This excerpt from the Willamette Week 2016 Bar Guide, like the Mercury article, paints a great image:

“Like Benjamin Button, Johnny Cash and Greg Oden, Billy Ray’s was born old…….. the place looks like it was left abandoned on the side of a rural highway in the 1950s and reopened by squatters who have yet to figure out how a card reader is supposed to work. In truth, its current incarnation has only been around for about a decade. ……..

The sign out front reading ‘tavern’ seems permanently on the blink, the restrooms are a scared-straight program for anyone nervous about peeing in prison, and if you order food, it’s time to seriously re-evaluate some things. All this, of course, is part of the ramshackle charm…..”

P1040538The bar is owned by Portlander, Billy Ray Lenz, and although his picture hangs in the doorway, it is not named for former Portland Trailblazer, Billy Ray Bates.

The bar actually has some interesting art, most notably, the wood mural upstairs – a map of the US which was a collaboration of fifty employees, patrons and friends and for a period hung in former Mayor Sam Adams office.

Original and collaborative art

Original and collaborative art

Now back to my companions – Brien Flanagan, although he looks very youthful, has fifteen years of experience and is the Practice Group Leader for Schwabe’s Environmental, Energy, and Natural Resources Practice Group.

Given his surname, you will not be surprised that his undergraduate degree was at Notre Dame and he went on to graduate from the prestigious Georgetown Law School, where he met his wife, Nooby,

Flanagan resumeHe is a skilled litigator with a great sense of humor as you will see below.  Brien has handled all aspects of the development process including permitting; investigation and remediation of contaminated property; environmental compliance, including hazardous waste management and stormwater regulations. He knows environmental regs very well and is even working on permitting a gold mine and representing a coal mine owner in federal litigation.

At firm retreats, I used to make an award for the best e-mail each year and Brien won it in 2009 after he sent an inquiry to firm personnel for a referral to help him remove two trees at his house.   His response to the inquiries was as follows:

“Because of the number of responses I got regarding the importance of trees to the environment, please be assured that I am removing his tree purely because it disturbs the view from my living room window and it drops berries onto our patio that I find annoying.

I will be replacing it with a paved impermeable cement surface and invasive non-indigenous plants that I will treat with outdated and generally illegal pesticides.”

One would think Brien would be less naïve about asking for referrals after that although I guess he thought firm management was above some of the juvenile humor when he acted upon a facetious recommendation I gave him in 2010. He had been having some concerns with his heart and asked if anyone could recommend a Portland cardiologist.

Careful on what referral you accept on this.....

Careful on what referral you accept on this…..

As background, Portlanders (at least most who followed the news) were amazed at the media frenzy on Dr. Jayant Patel, a Kaiser physician who was labeled by the media as Dr. Death because of repeatedly botching operations and performing surgeries he was not qualified to handle.

He had previous trouble in New York and “Kaiser banned him from liver and pancreatic surgeries in 1998 after reviewing 79 complaints.  The Oregon Board of Medical Examiners later cited him for ‘gross or repeated acts of negligence.”  He was extradited to Australia where he went on trial and received a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to fraud.

Brien’s e-mail to me after he called Kaiser cardiology to set up an appointment with Dr. Patel stated,”The receptionist asked me if I was trying to be funny….”

2016-07-28 20.25.12Brien redeemed himself that night by recommending that we eat at Russell’s Barbecue, less than a block away from Billy Ray’s.  We had PBR in old-fashioned bottles and each of us loved the food served by our friendly waitress, Heidi Mae seen in the picture below.

2016-07-28 20.26.57I might add that I was curious about a line of about 200 people across the street from Russell’s which appeared to be outside Bunk Bar.   John Mansfield, who represents some marijuana enteprenuers, however, informed us that they were lined up to get into the Wonder Ballroom for the free concert on the Leafly Comedy Tour.   P1040542

Cheryl Rath, the other person at Billy Ray’s although she opted to “see history being made,” when rather than joining us at Russell’s, she watched Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech for the Democratic nomination.

Hillary in acceptance speech while Milania in the hat listens along with Cheryl....

Hillary in acceptance speech while Milania in the hat listens along with Cheryl….

Cheryl, besides being a great lawyer and a talented professor is also an amazing athlete.  Both she and Donald Trump are graduates of the University of Pennsylvania and then she earned her Master’s Degree in Sports Management at the University of Massachusetts before graduating from law school at the U of O.

An outstanding jump shot....

An outstanding jump shot….

——-

 

 

She was named the outstanding female athlete at Penn in 1989, where she played lacrosse and basketball and had stints as Assistant Basketball Coach at both Penn and Lewis and Clark before starting law school.

And finally, just a few words about “Brain” King, who deserves more and will be addressed in a forthcoming Beerchaser post about the Stanley Rod and Gun Whitewater Saloon in Idaho.  Brian played a key role in  my two visits to that fabled dive bar.

But he is an excellent attorney in all aspects of environmental law.  As has been implied by this post, he also has an advanced, albeit irreverent, sense of humor.  If you want a great example, read the essay he wrote that was published in Oregon Live in 2009, when he and his wife were in Denmark http://www.oregonlive.com/travel/index.ssf/2009/12/only_the_strong_survive_julefr.html

It’s about Julefrokost, a Christmas lunch normally held in December with traditional Danish foods and lots of alcohol.   It will make you laugh in your aquavit or Tekate. For example: “One of my Danish friends told me that one of his favorite Julefrokosts,  featured a tank of helium and a karaoke machine.”  

Aquavit - Skoal!

Aquavit – Skoal!

Brian “anchors” the firm’s Corvallis office – his wife is a full professor at Oregon State University where she teaches Business Law.  He went to undergraduate school at Colorado State in Fort Collins, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa notwithstanding his propensity for frequenting the same bars that Thebeerchaser found compelling when we spent ten days in Colorado.  https://thebeerchaser.com/tag/the-town-pump-fort-collins/

His law degree is from the University of Colorado and Brian’s practice focuses on environmental and worker safety law.

Brain King offers a prayer up to his favorite beverage

Brain King offers a prayer up to his favorite beverage and the gods of Julefrokost.

And Brain likes beer, admitting that he and his wife occasionally like to drink wine, but to avoid the impression that he is not loyal to the malty brew, he often puts his empty wine bottles in his neighbor’s glass recycling bin in order not to give the wrong impression.

Upon reflection, perhaps my thirty plus years working with attorneys emanated from my experience in second grade at Miami Hills Grade School in Madeira, Ohio.   I told Miss Whipple, the teacher, that I thought the characters in our reading primer – Ted and Sally and their pets, Boots and Tuffy were boring and acted like wimps, whereupon she yelled at me, “May your life be filled with lawyers!”  

That turned out to be true and has worked out pretty well.  At least she didn’t utter the curse, “May you have visions of narcissists with orange hair…..”  I think that would have made me move to Canada……

P1040533The robust juke box added to the ambiance of Billy Ray’s and overall, The Beerchaser concurs with the premise advanced by the Mercury reporter: “Billy Ray’s is a hell of a dive!”  You should find out yourself.

Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive Bar     

2216 NE Martin Luther King Blvd.

Beerchaser Miscellany – Five Years of Thebeerchaser

The first bar on Thebeerchaser Tour in August, 2011

The first bar on Thebeerchaser Tour in August, 2011

The Bars in Portland

Measuring Up Against a Standard

My retirement hobby – Thebeerchaser Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs started in August 2011.  The original intent was to restrict my visits and review of watering holes to Portland venues (after all, there are over 750 establishments and more breweries per capita than any other city in the world) but retirement travel opened new options.

Thebeerchaser with Janet - a supportive spouse.....

Thebeerchaser with Janet – a supportive spouse…..

The hobby is successful, in part, because of my wonderful and supportive spouse, Janet, especially when we have traveled.  Posts on Thebeerchaser include saloons in Europe, Alaska and Hawaii and many other states within the Continental US and, of course, some great bars in Central and Eastern Oregon plus those on the Oregon Coast.

After five years, the count of Portland bars is 78 and those outside of Portland number 97 for a grand total of 175.

An invaluable Beerchaser resource - the Annual Willamette Week Bar Guide

An invaluable Beerchaser resource – the Annual Willamette Week Bar Guide

 

The annual Willamette Week Bar Guide has been an invaluable resource and to demonstrate the potential future grist for this blog, I have compared the Portland venues in the 2016 WW Bar Guide to those I have reviewed in the last five years.  Keep in mind that each review requires at least two visits in addition to my on-line research before the blog posts (150 to this point) are published.

The 2016 Bar Guide has brief descriptions of the reporters’ 167 favorite Portland bars.  I adjusted downward to eliminate strip clubs, wine and cider bars, and restaurants that have bars such as Higgins – none of which I include when I select bars (exceptions were made for two of the McMenamin establishments with historic bars – the White Eagle Saloon and the St. John’s Pub and the memorable Buffalo Gap Saloon) Thus, the 2016 net figure of potential Beerchaser options in the Bar Guide was 135.

Exception made to recognize historic establishments

Exception made to recognize historic establishments

Of the 78 Portland area bars I have reviewed, there are very few I did not like or wouldn’t recommend e.g. The Yardhouse in Pioneer Place (for a host of reasons, it didn’t ‘measure up….”) and the Pearl District’s Low Brow Lounge, which had a surly staff.  Yet only 57.7% of my bars made the Willamette Week list.

The Yard House - Ambiance of an Olive Garden......

The Yard House – Ambiance of an Olive Garden……

Perhaps I need to accelerate my visits in the second five years.  It is obvious that there are still plenty of opportunities for Beerchasing without return visits to those seen from 2011 to 2016!

To see the list of bars featured  both in Portland and outside the Rose City, check out the tab entitled “List of Bars” in the header at the top of this page. There is one post for bars outside of Portland and another for those in the Portland metro area.

Are Dive Bars Disappearing?

Seattle dive bars bookIn an April 15, 2016 article in the Seattle Times, reporter, Bob Young, asserts: “Seattle’s dive bars are becoming an endangered species.”  He justifies his premise by citing the fact that, “Thirty-one of the 100 in Mike Seely’s ‘Seattle’s Best Dive Bars’ have shuttered since the book’s 2009 publication.” 

Some have expressed the same sentiment about Portland.  For example, a December 2014 article in Willamette Week entitled, “Closing Time” with a subheading,2014 Was Barmageddon in Portland.”  The article maintained that the closing of the historic bars such as Slab TownTiga, the Matador and others is the “canary in the coal mine.”  It quoted one bartender as stating, Every good bar, everything you see is going under. Everything is going straight to shi%#.”

Slabtown - gone but not forgotten....

Slabtown – gone but not forgotten….

The Portland Mercury also did an article on March 9, 2016 entitled “The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society.” on the same theme and summarized brilliantly with this excerpt:

“Portland’s lost a bunch of dive bars recently. A few were absolute shitholes that deserved to disappear, but most were victims of circumstance and change. A number of other bars have changed ownership and been fancied up to suit the modern market. Dive bars, if not endangered, are at the very least under threat.” 

The article lists thirty-eight bar 2014 closures including institutions such as Slab Town,  the Grand Café (Frank Peters’ former establishment), the East Bank Saloon, Tiga, Pal’s Shanty and the Matador.  Although it was more of a restaurant than a bar, the picture below shows what is left of the long-term establishment the Macadam Bar and Grill which closed last year and was razed last week.   

The Grand Café is gone but back as Pour Sports Bar

The Grand Café is gone but back as Pour Sports Bar

(I mention this one only because it used to be a Mazzi’s Restaurant and my wife and I went there for our first dinner date in 1979!)

Macadam Bar and Grill - the remnants.....

Macadam Bar and Grill – the remnants…..

However, I would suggest that the concern is not as dire as it appears.  In Portland, we are fortunate to have entrepreneur’s such as Marcus Archambault and Warren Boothby who have totally renovated the historic Sandy Hut (or Handy Slut if you are a regular) and the Double Barrel.

There was concern that the wonderful Skyline Tavern would be razed and replaced by condos, but fortunately the owner invested additional capital and it was Willamette Week’s 2016 Bar of the Year.

Produce Row closed for about a year, but reopened and is thriving in the Eastside Industrial District.  Joe’s Cellar, one of my favorite NW dive bars, closed and like the proverbial Phoenix, rose again the next year and is pumping out draft PBRs like there is no tomorrow.  Both the Grand Café and Eastbank Saloon reopened as new bars (Pour Sports and the Bit House Saloon, respectively.)

New Copper Penny will turn into apartments....

New Copper Penny will turn into apartments….

But consider the recent loss of the venerable New Copper Penny in Lents, which after many years is closing as part of the Portland Development Commission’s ambitious goal to make Lents into a thriving mixed-use community.

New Copper Penny - history goes to auction

New Copper Penny – history goes to auction

What can you do?  Continue to patronize the many establishments which are truly bars and avoid the “fashionable” trend to get a beer at Starbucks or retail establishments ranging from ski shops to bicycle stores which put in a tap or two and attempt to reinvent themselves as a watering hole —-They’re Not!

Similarly, if you fly on one of the airlines now offering microbrews such as Virgin America (San Francisco’s 21st Amendment BreweryDelta (Sam Adams) or Southwest (New Belgium’s Fat Tire) and have a beer, you don’t have to tell your spouse that you stopped at a bar on your way home.

Not to be considered a dive bar or a pub......

Not to be considered a dive bar or a pub……

That said, don’t make the mistake of one Luke Thomas Watts (27) who on an Alaska Airlines flight from Sacramento to Seattle, locked himself in the bathroom and threatened to become violent if the flight attendants did not serve him a beer. The plane landed in Portland and Luke was removed.  He was indicted and went to trial in July!)  http://koin.com/2016/05/11/feds-man-locks-himself-in-airplane-bathroom-after-he-wasnt-served-alcohol/

These Brews Made the Cut….

While this blog, notwithstanding the name, is primarily about bars rather than trying to articulate the subtle taste differences between the hundreds of IPAs or analyze how hoppy a microbrew with an IBU (international bittering unit) of 60 is compared to a similar beer ten units lower, I do periodically mention beers.

Ryan popped the question - and a bottle of champagne at the summit of the South Sister in 2015

Ryan popped the question – and a bottle of champagne at the summit of the South Sister in 2015

My youngest daughter, Laura, and her fiancé’, Ryan Keene, are tying the knot on September 17th at Vista Hills Winery, right outside of Dundee. (My suggestion that the reception be held at one of my favorite Dundee dives – Lumpy’s Landing – was understandably rejected.) 

Rejected as wedding reception site....

Rejected as wedding reception site….

 

While Vista Hills has wonderful wine, there will be a few canned beers available and some family members recently got together for dinner and a blind tasting test to determine which brews would be offered during that celebration.  We tasted about ten beers that night and the following made the cut:

Oakshire Watershed IPA       Worthy Easy-Day Kolsch    Good Life Sweet As Pacific Ale

There will also be one cider – that being Portland Cider Co.’s “Hop’rageous.”

The tasting group and Wesley - making critical wedding decisions!

The tasting group and Wesley – making critical wedding decisions!

I told Ryan that his favorite professor at the University of Portland (where both of them graduated), Dr. Sam Holloway would be pleased since he sits on the Board of Eugene’s Oakshire Brewery.  Sam is also an internationally known expert on the business of brewing as documented when he was named Beerchaser of the Quarter for this blog – see link)

            ——————

What Would George Washington Think?

Thebeerchaser generally stays away from politics although the 2016 election cycle has made that more difficult.  Suffice to say that because of Beerchasing in Europe, at least unlike the Republican Presidential Nominee, I know that Belgium is a country and not “a beautiful city…..

But regardless of how tiresome the political rhetoric becomes, nothing will irritate me more than the opinion piece in Oregon Live on 2/26/16 written by the Executive Directors of the Oregon Student Association and the Bus Project entitled, Buying Postage is a Burden for Many Would-be Voters.” (click on link to see the narrative)

Usps-vanMario Parker-Milligan and Nikki Fisher, in their youthful wisdom and with righteous indignity, assert that voting by mail, “……assumes ample free time and a drawer full of stamps to get that ballot turned in….But there is a real – sometimes prohibitive (emphasis supplied)  cost getting to a post office during regular business hours….the last thing you should have to do is sacrifice needed income or time with your children to vote.”

Well Mario and Nikki, Thebeerchaser also doesn’t accept the premise that this situation is tantamount to a poll tax and suggests that rather than having urged the 2016 Oregon Legislature to enact Senate Bill 1586 to provide return postage for your ballots, that you just take your completed ballot and WALK to your nearest library or City Hall where you can return it without charge.

Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA-NYC,_1851

Washington crossing the Delaware. They were concerned about a Stamp Act far more significant than Senate Bill 1586!

And while you are in the Library, you might want to check out a book (it’s free unless you don’t have time to return it before the due date) and read about the sacrifices that George Washington and his Revolutionary Army made when they were fighting the British from 1775 – 1783.  I’m not sure they would have agreed with you on the definition of “burden.”

(It appears that SB 1586 was enacted on 4/4/2016 with an emergency clause, although according to the Secretary of State’s Election Division, the provision for postage was deleted from the final bill.)  Since the financial impact was estimated at $1.2 million annually if every registered voter took advantage (would obviously not be the case) that is fortunate.  Perhaps these funds can be diverted to civics education in the high schools!

And Finally Since we are Talking About Elections….

Thebeerchaser’s first full-time job in 1974 after naval service was as a clerk in the Clackamas County Elections Department, where we administered and conducted both the Primary and General elections in addition to numerous school and special district elections for bond issues, levies and board-of-director contests.

Although Mario and Nikki would be appalled at how onerous the burden, that was before Vote-by-Mail and each voter, unless they cast an absentee ballot, would vote at one of the approximately 120 polling places throughout the county.

Obsolete in Oregon, but not in many states

Obsolete in Oregon, but not in many states

Each location was staffed from 8:00 AM until 8:00 PM by four very dedicated and hardworking poll workers and one lead person who collectively reviewed the voter’s eligibility, had them sign the poll book and handed them the appropriate ballot.

They were generally retired ladies who worked for less than minimum wage and these great citizens were also responsible for ballot security since they returned the ballots and supplies to the Data Center in Oregon City after the polls closed.

Poll workers in an election polling location

Poll workers in an election polling location

In reviewing (and recycling based on the mandate by my spouse to “get rid of some of those outdated and unnecessary documents you have in multiple file cabinets in our garage,”) I came across one that also showed how conscientious these ladies were.

The letter below was written by Alta Bluhm, lead poll worker, at Clackamas High School during the Special School District Election on July 27, 1976 and signed by her co-workers:  Dora Burnwalt, Priscilla Coffa, Barbara Aldrich and Betty Jo Partridge:

Opal  L. Johnson (not her real name) entered Clackamas High School, became antagonistic toward the board, signed poll book  #1409, looked through poll book, received ballot #73, asked how to vote but was told we didn’t give out that information.  She hesitated a minute and then tried to leave building with (the) ballot in hand.

Our fourth clerk tried to stop her from taking the ballot from the building.  Opal Johnson then attacked her by striking her with her purse and transistor radio.  Ballot was retrieved and marked spoiled or void.”

I have a feeling that George Washington and other Founding Fathers would be justifiably proud of these five ladies and perhaps even Mario and Nikki would also share that sentiment….

Cheers - a Moretti at the Devil's Forest Pub in Venice in 2012

Cheers – a Moretti at the Devil’s Forest Pub in Venice in 2012