Those of you who have lived as many decades as Thebeerchaser probably remember watching William Bendix, the loveable wing-riveter at a California aircraft assembly plant, who was the star of the television show, Life of Riley, which ran for five seasons in the late 1950’s.
Only a few of the group who had a great lunch at this Portland bar recently were even born at that time. But the majority were tax lawyers from Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt and probably didn’t watch TV when they were kids anyway.
They were drawing images of the IRS logo with crayons, which served them well as five of the six lawyers present that day, in addition to having their law degrees and passing the Oregon State Bar went on to get an LLM – essentially a masters degree in tax law.
While Thebeerchaser’s only other experience with a dive bar in the Pearl District was less than memorable (the Low Brow Lounge), Life of Riley Tavern (hereafter LoR) was a very good venue – not only for the lunch we enjoyed, but when I returned for a beer several afternoons later. An apt description is this one from Yelp on 3/26/2015
“Amazing bar, exemplary staff. I don’t usually find myself in The Pearl but I do make it down here at least once a week because of the great service, free billiards, shuffleboard, and darts in the basement nightly.
The upstairs is nice as well, but the basement feels more homey. Both the upstairs and downstairs have great TVs for sports viewing…..the music in the basement is top-notch…..Oh yeah, they’re happy hour is ridiculously awesome.”
So let’s start with the upstairs portion of the bar – one reviewer compared it to a ‘50’s diner, which is not too far off. There’s only a small bar and some small, round bar tables with the rest of the seating as tables for the restaurant. In fact, I didn’t even realize that they had a great bar space downstairs until I read some of the reviews after my first visit.
The food is a strength. I had a scrumptious and plentiful serving of Cajun Mac & Cheese (which required a long workout after lunch out of guilt….) and the remainder of our party of eight all were very positive about their lunches ranging from the Riley Burger to the Pulled Pork Sandwich.
As Megan, our friendly server explained, “You should try our barbecue – its’ awesome,” and the traeger, right outside of the bar is well employed. She also was justifiably proud of the fresh sauces and dressings – their own recipes and made fresh each day. The prices are typical of Portland and a bit lower than you would expect in the Pearl.
But it’s the lower level that really defines LoR. Down the steps into an intriguing, dark basement space with just a few small windows – it reminded me of the fallout shelters the government promoted when I was a kid. (They also told us with sincerity during drills that we should assume a position under our desks in order to avoid the impact of a nuclear warhead…..)
And I had a great conversation with Dave, the bartender, who has been there for ten years – a former carpenter who helped build the bar and with construction after the current owner purchased the building …….
Dave draws rave reviews from customers and he told me about the 22 beers on tap and let me sample a few – free, which was nice after our experience at Hair of the Dog Brewpub where you had to pay from $1.25 to $3.50 for a 2 ounce sample.
He stated that his clientele includes a bunch of regulars who work in the Pearl to neighbors who show up in hordes especially when there are Blazer or Timber games or when March Madness is running. Dave also stated that one thing that distinguishes the bar is that all the games including pool, darts and a great shuffleboard game are free.
Almost all of the comments about LoR on social media were positive although speaking of the Timbers, a rant is in order. It demonstrates the reason why a number of Portlanders who think soccer is boring and should be confined to Europe, also get upset at the pretentiousness of some Timber fans.
While this comment goes back to August 2011, here’s the remarks by a guy who trashed what he admitted was a great bar simply because of one objection – and he signed the review “Anonymous.“
“What a shame. Great beer, lovely TV projection screen, decent food but totally cynical staff with the ‘no sound during a Timbers game’ attitude. Come-on owners! This is Portland, Home of the Timbers.
My friends and I were amongst the 15 people watching the game vs the 4 that were at the bar with no interest and the staff insisted that there was not enough people in the joint to put the sound of the game on. I am very disappointed with the patriotism of Life of Riley. You disappoint your patrons and you disappoint Portland. Shame on you!”
No, you misfit! Shame on you for not having the guts to even identify yourself and for your myopic perspective.
A little due diligence revealed that the Timbers played 34 games in 2011 in which they scored a total of 42 goals. Games are 90-minutes and assuming no overtime matches (which may not be totally factual, but this is a bar blog….) that means one goal scored by the Timbers every 72.86 minutes.
This begs the question, “What would the narration have added in a game that probably ended either in a scoreless tie or one with fewer than two goals scored?” (That’s a rhetorical question….) I think this rant is justified especially in light of one other comment on Yelp: “……… music in the basement is top-notch and suited for whatever crowd may be in at the time.”
One other very dated and interesting complaint from Portland Barfly dating clear back to 2008, again demonstrates the wisdom in the Oregon Legislature’s 2009 expansion of the Oregon “Smoke-free Workplace” Law which provided that bars and taverns could no longer permit smoking on or within ten feet of the premises.
“I visited Life of Riley for the first time this friday night, my friend and I hung out downstairs because I love smoky dens. It was a pretty cool place – the servers were quick and friendly and stayed on top of things even though it was packed. The drinks were good and strong. We managed to meet some cool people……
Now I hate it when people bitch about how smoky bars are and… I am a smoker and I love smoky dives, but holy shit!! This was by far the smokiest space I have ever been! Our eyes were burning! And this feeling lingered the next day. My advice to the owner: crack a few windows when it gets that busy….. You gotta have a little more circulation in there.”
Thebeerchaser appreciates this law because having reviewed about 175 bars since late 2011 – many of which I visited multiple times, my health and possibly my lifespan would have been adversely impacted by the second-hand smoke, especially given my preoccupation with dive bars. The tobacco lobby at the time, taking lessons from the NRA in opposing reasonable legislation, maintained:
“Cigarettes don’t kill people. It’s the tars, and toxins in the smoke.”
Look back at the comments from a prior post in this blog (check the link below) to see what the pre-2009 bar environment was like:
The Horse Brass Pub: “We worried that (the new law) would spell the end of …(the) venerable Brit Pub…Not because the 33-year old bar…wouldn’t retain its loyal patrons, but because we assumed its billowing, milkshake-thick clouds of cigarette smoke were load bearing structural elements of the building without which the sprawling pub would collapse.” (“2009 Willamette Week Drink Guide”)
And finally, a couple of comments about my companions at LoR. Now one might think that tax lawyers, especially those who have over-achieved and gotten their LMM, might be boring company, but they are a great and interesting group.
Roy Lambert, now retired, is an active masters competitive swimmer with some regional records. In retirement, he audits courses in medieval and Renaissance history at Portland State.
Marc Sellers, besides majoring in chemistry as an undergrad, he was the first attorney in the U.S. to obtain an award of attorney fees against the Internal Revenue Service under the IRS Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998.
This courtroom mentality may have been derived from his dedication to martial arts for many years where he competed at regional and national championship levels. He was also an accomplished mountaineer and volunteer in mountain rescueand for years was a member of Mt. Hood Mountain Rescue.
Besides that, Marc has a remarkable sense of humor which he regularly demonstrates on firm e-mails such as the following:
“This week’s Tax Department Employee of the Week is Peter Osborne. Peter was recently recognized by Firm Management as the ‘Lawyer Most Likely to Get the Correct Answer’ with respect to issues arising under Internal Revenue Code Sections starting with the number three.”
Pete Osborne, who was accompanied by his spouse,Terri, is described by his colleagues as one of the smartest, if not the smartest, tax lawyer in Portland. On occasion, he has been known to return to Portland with both a big smile and winnings from the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas – Senior Division…. He’s also a talented artist. (See another of his works in the post about Brannons’ in Beaverton.)
Jennifer Woodhouse, besides being fluent in Spanish, is a mentor at Lewis & Clark Law School where she graduated cum laude and leads Schwabe’s Women in Business group
Dan Eller received the prestigious Joyce Ann Harpole Scholarship and other law school honors at Lewis and Clark. He is an skilled outdoorsman and cyclist and frequently cycles around the base of Mt. Bachelor – active in numerous civic boards and a scout leader for his kids.
Katherine Van Zanten is an avid skier and a girl scout leader for her kids. Also active in the Oregon State Bar Tax Section.
And don’t forget one of Portland’s best legal secretaries, Gretchen Reuter, who has the technical expertise, interpersonal skills and patience to manage the workload of several of these people concurrently.
Having lunch with the Tax Group was enjoyable. And Life of Riley is a really good bar with good food, a friendly and knowledgeable staff (with enough common sense to mute the sound during a sporting event to play great music) and an awesome cellar that you won’t find too many places in Portland.