I was ready to publish this post on March 15th, but decided in light of world events, that perhaps I should suspend Thebeerchaser.com. for some period. Offsetting this sentiment about being insensitive were quite a few comments from followers and family that by providing narratives that are on the lighter side right now might be appreciated and provide a diversion from the news.
With that in mind, I will do a few posts about some establishments that I visited months and maybe even a year or two ago, but never had the time to write – not the situation now….. You’ll also see updates on some bars and breweries that are adapting and still doing a good job of serving their customers now – in creative ways that comply with the Oregon’s regulations.
Such is the case with Rose City Book Pub, where owner, Elise Schumock, who you will meet below, is still open for “take out food, growler fills, and book sales.” Her new hours are 11 am until 10 pm. Check out the introductory paragraphs in her website which convey what she is doing and some great options you should consider not only for your own enjoyment, but to support a small business owner during this crisis. (I visited Rose City three times in the last year.)
And if you have any thoughts about if and where Thebeerchaser should “go” in the next weeks – other than to have a draft beer in your favorite watering hole, leave a comment. Don Williams aka Thebeerchaser
I have to admit that when I read about bars that have a dual function e.g. a tap room and also serve as a cycle or record shop, etc. it evokes reservations. The bars and watering holes I love (all 367 in the last eight years) are almost always characterized by patrons – especially the regulars in dive bars – engaged in active discussions and interaction.
Two quotes by Samuel Johnson reinforce this idea although I have used the first on this blog before:
“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
“’As soon,’ said he, ‘as I enter the door of a tavern, I experience an oblivion of care, and a freedom from solicitude : when I am seated….wine there exhilarates my spirits, and prompts me to free conversation and an interchange of discourse with those whom I most love.’”
Would a book pub be one where patrons immerse themselves in 500-page volumes of Tolstoy or quietly ponder philosopher and historian, Bertrand Russell’s views on nuclear disarmament with only an occasional sip of a brewski while deliberately refraining from any typical barroom banter?
Thus, I had some skepticism about the announcement of the new Rose City Book Pub (hereafter RCBP) when it opened in November, 2018. Part of that was from the fond memories I had at a Beerchasing event in 2012.
I joined colleagues who were members of the Schwabe Williamson law firm Environmental and Natural Resources group when County Cork was located in the same space on NE Fremont. It’s a charming space in a wonderful old building built in 1927.
We had both cheerful and weighty conversations and we liked the pub’s Irish theme. Brien Flanagan, who is now the leader of that group, a Notre Dame undergrad before law school, even told the joke about the Irish boomerang: “It doesn’t come back. It just sings songs about how much it wants to.”
Why Should You Visit the Rose City Book Pub?
After three visits and a great interview with the cordial and interesting owner, Elise, however, my reservations disappeared and I will return. The concept works quite well.
And since on two of the three visits to the new establishment were also with lawyers who are Beerchasing regulars (former Beerchaser-of-the-Quarter, Jim Westwood – and Bernie Stea), the company was equally stimulating at both County Cork and RCBP.
I say this as a non-attorney who worked with lawyers for forty years and as one family member said, was a victim of the curse, “May your life be filled with lawyers.” I loved my career in legal management, however, and as evidenced by these three examples, still spend a lot of time Beerchasing with lawyers – voluntarily…..
The RCPB has a very nice physical layout and ambiance. And in spite of my concern that it might tend to be a bunch of bibliophiles burying their faces in books, it was exactly the opposite.
Although there are some nice niches where one can cozy up with a book, most people are reading, socializing or working on computers at tables or booths which are an integral part of the large comfortable and bustling room or chatting at the bar. The book shelves on each of the far sides provide nice “bookends,” if you will, sitting against walls which are attractively painted.
What About Elise?
We should talk a little bit about Elise, who based on her outgoing personality, her entrepreneurial spirit and her interesting background deserves accolades.
This Portland native, who attended Grant High School, and then Whitman College, where she majored in Education. She graduated during the recession and there were no jobs teaching Latin in the NW – her career choice – so she moved to LA in 2001. She then worked at an elite K-12 private school in which the annual tuition was $40,000. Her second week as a teacher started with the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City.
The neophyte educator tutored and taught Latin, which started a great conversation since Jim Westwood’s mom, Catherine, was both Jim’s and my Latin teacher for two years at Oregon City High School in the ‘60’s. I threw out the only two Latin words I remember – “pulchra puella” which means beautiful girl.
Her goal was always to return to Portland and after seventeen years, a friend, Matan Gold, had an conceptual idea about a “book pub” in Portland and she thought, “I could do that!” After a six-month search, she found the building “which perfectly matched my parameters.“
Is this used book store and pub the only such combination in Portland? Well, according to critic Michael Russell in Oregon Live:
“As noted by Eater PDX, which broke the bar news last week, this will be Portland’s first such establishment, joining Boston’s Trident Cafe, the Spotty Dog in Hudson, or Afterwords in Washington, D.C.”
They opened on November 3, 2018 and after starting months that saw packed houses, the first part 2019 “was pretty lean.” Since that time things have gone very well. (With that said, Elise, who goes by the title of Book Publican, like any small business owner is concerned about the long-term economic impact of the Corona Virus.)
So does the RCBP have the feel of a typical pub or of a bookstore that just offers some alcoholic beverages. Let’s look at Willamette Week’s well-stated description in January, 2019:
“It has all the makings of a Portland cliché: craft brews, staged poetry readings, rows of old, obscure books. But don’t be deterred by appearances. The simple bar manages to fuse two of the city’s trademarks—beer and used books—without a drop of pretension…..
This isn’t a bookstore you enter seeking something specific. It’s a humble, well-curated selection, presented for carefree browsing and happenstance discovery. Plus, the bar’s inviting atmosphere and free-flowing beer taps are a recipe for a rare Portland occurrence: chatting with strangers.” (Emphasis supplied)
What’s to Drink?
They have fourteen rotating micro and two nitros on tap in addition to two ciders and Kombucha. As you can see from the image below, the beers are diverse and comprise 3 IPA’s, a couple amber ales, a Kolsch and Pilsner and a sour ale. Elise reports, however, that her top single seller is the house red wine – one of four.
Bernie Stea, a member of the elite law school honorary, Order-of-the-Coif and not to be outdone by Westwood’s erudition in his reference to the Roman Empire, made a point of ordering one of Camas, Washington brewery Grains of Wrath‘s beer. He then quoted John Steinbeck – thinking we might see the connection:
“There is nothing in the world like the first taste of beer.”
And his preference for beer from the Camas brewery is understandable since Bernie and his wife, former Portland radio personality, Debb Janes, have a successful high-end residential real estate practice there – View Homes of Clark County.
What’s to Eat?
Elise on her website describes their menu as, “….cafe and bistro style with hearty, whole ingredients and bold flavors.”
And while I didn’t eat there, it appears to be pretty robust and offers more options than one would expect ranging from sandwiches, salads, appetizers and even some entrees such as roasted chicken and pork shoulder – the latter at reasonable prices of $12.50 and $16.00 respectively. Also deserts and a kids’ menu.
One Yelp reviewer commented that they should have more vegan options and Elise replied:
“Our vegan options are Mediterranean Sandwich, Quinoa Bowl, Pasta Puttanesca, Hummus Plate, Fries made in our gf and vv fryer. One of the rotating soups is always vegan, and several of our snacks are vegan, including olives, Chex mix, gf pretzels, hummus and carrots, apples and peanut butter, and ants on a log.
Elsie asserted the need for diversity in her menu by also stating, “Vegans have friends who are not vegan.”
(BTW,I didn’t know what “ants on a log” were and was relieved when I learned the snack is made by “…spreading cream cheese, peanut butter, ricotta cheese…..on spreads of celery and placing raisins on top.” (Wikipedia)
For those put off by the title, it’s better than one of the variations “ticks on a stick” – substitute black olives for the raisins. Elise asserted that ants on a log goes very well with a shot of whiskey.
She and her staff (Christine, Amy and John, the cook) are very friendly and helpful in explaining the food options and a very impressive tap list for a small, new establishment.
One thing I have noticed in the eight years of my watering hole travels is that the bars that appear to be successful and radiate a welcoming vibe are those that have become a “community” of sorts, not only within their neighborhood but for those who gather socially from other parts of the City.
Elise promotes this approach stating:
“We host all kinds of events: readings and live music, book clubs, fundraisers, and stuff for kids, We aim to build a community, and become a hub of sharing, discussion, and good times.”
And the Calendar-of-Events on their website is filled with gatherings such as Trivia Night every Wednesday from 7:00 to 9:00, affirms it. Live music also brings in patrons on the evenings its offered.
They also have a very nice back patio.
What’s to Read?
The inventory of books on the shelves and in niches throughout the large space is about 5,000 (with about another 100 boxes in storage) and Elise’s specialty is literary fiction. They also have kids’ books.
How are the Reviews?
Certainly, one way to get a feel for how things are going besides personal visits and talking to the owner, is checking out social media reviews. I always try to see if there are themes and if their are trends to the comments. Also, if there are any crazy reviewers which is often the case.
In the first year of operation, one would expect some negative reviews but other than one reviewer who complained that she thought it was too loud and another that he thought that it was too quiet and they needed music, many of the reviews were almost effusive (see below).
I was impressed that whenever there was a comment with even a mild criticism or some suggestions for improvements, Elise always responded – a smart move for any business owner. And I did find one from 12/7/19 that seemed at least at little bit crazy:
“Everyone here seemed nice, but snobby. I found myself to be the only one of 7-8 people grooming the book shelves in search of a life changing event. Most people keyed away on their laptops or tablets.
I really just didn’t like the kind of people in this place. Maybe it’s that I don’t fit in. I felt like I was surrounded by angry feminists and judgmental leftists. I was wearing business attire and the glares I got were uncomfortable. I just didn’t feel like I fit in. Otherwise this would be a 5/5”
I hope this person had a life-changing event other than the one all of us have experienced in the last few weeks, but in contrast, the comments below describe the ambiance of the pub:
“This place feels like a comfortable mix of a Powell’s and your favorite corner bar. People were sitting alone reading and sipping beer, playing games with family, meeting up with a friend or having a glass of wine while they worked on their computer. I got lucky enough to meet the owner, Elise, who is as charming as this pub. She has made a place that everyone can feel welcome.” (Yelp 12/29/19)
“Beautiful space with friendly ‘barbarians’ and a warm atmosphere. Will definitely be back!” (Yelp 3/11/20)
“I stopped in for the first time on my latest trip to Portland and absolutely fell in love! This place is basically Portland in a pub.” (Yelp 9/12/19)
“Only in Portland will you find a place as cool as this. Where east meets west, the place that defines PDX. If you thought Powells was cool, this place trumps it in all aspects.” (Yelp 7/22/19)
What’s Holding You Back?
And finally, another one that is more evidence that you should drop by and say “hello” to Elise and her staff:
“This place is pretty awesome! Do you ever have a book and want to read? Do you ever want to read with beer and or wine, maybe a cocktail? Not a bar, not some scene place, but some place where you can actually read. I’ve long wanted one and this is it.
It’s a mash up if you’re favorite small bookstore had food and drinks, this is what would happen. We came here for bookclub and it was so fun. We had a great discussion, their selection of beers on tap is extensive and they have several food options.”
And if you feel so inclined, you can even bring in and post some original writing or poetry for patrons to view which occupy one wall and add another nice community touch. This photo shows their “Take a Poem/Leave a Poem” feature. Some are original works, some are copies of published works. Another nice touch. (And by the way, if you want to help, the RCBP also takes donations of books.)