Ash Street Saloon – Where the Locals are Rockstars!

My friend, attorney Scott Whipple (see Dixie Tavern post), and I decided to hit two venues on the same night since they were separated only by several blocks.  Located in between the two (Dixie Tavern and Ash Street Saloon)  in Portland’s Old Town is the infamous VooDoo Donuts.  Known for its baking creativity exemplified by such concoctions as the Maple Bar with Bacon, Voodoo is a Portland landmark.

America Asks “What’s for Breakfast”

A Portland Landmark

Since Scott is a former collegiate athlete (basketball and football at Grinnell College in Iowa) and in good physical shape, when I suggested we sample the fare, it led him  to quote deceased fitness guru, Jack LaLanne, “Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut.  No wonder they are sick and fouled up.”  Given that we were on a pub tour, I reminded him that the relevant slogan should instead be:  Beer – it’s so much more than just a breakfast drink….”

The Ash Street Saloon

The Ash Street Saloon like the Dixie Tavern is in a very old building with purportedly historic roots.  One reviewer stated:

“Before the Ash Street Saloon started in 1994, it was a Korean Restaurant, before that a Mexican joint, and long before that it was a bookstore, and sometime around that era a barbershop as well. The place has worn many faces.

There was a restaurant called Hesse’s Cafe in the 1915 and 1930s next to it, they used to pass out tokens for meals to all the sailors and port workers. It also had a card room in the back that few knew about. But it all started as the Bickle Building, built in 1885. This was where the Portland City Council would meet up stairs… below was a confectionary (candy store).”

Bartender Tracy, Scott Whipple and thebeerchaser Logo

The bartender was a very nice lady named Tracy – originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, and now a confirmed Portlander.  It was a little rocky at the start when she asked Scott, “Do you have any ID.”   Scott responded in lawyer mode by asking, “About What?”  Fortunately, she brushed that off and then told us about the great half-pound burgers they offered, Happy Hour from 4 to 8:00 PM each day and the good live music seven nights of the week.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The reputation for live music is this venue’s main attraction.  Although the bar area itself is very small, there is ample room for bands and people to dance.  One review stated:   It is a large dark space with a strange little bar….The Ash St. Saloon has a true, deep love for supporting music. This place is a haven for touring and local artists. The venue has great sound. Ask any musician in Portland and they’ll rave about the sound engineer, everyone in town loves her.”

If it were not for the music, Ash Street could be considered just a dive bar.  The building is old and quirky – for example, old deteriorating wood floors on the bar floor and brick walls in the band area.  Some have raised concerns about it being grimy:

A Tradition for Live Music

“The bathrooms are sometimes sketchy. ”  Perhaps “sketchy” was exemplified by another person who stated, “The bathroom has one of those old-school, and I’m betting, very unsanitary rotating pieces of cloth towels and the women’s room had weird oil marks on the cloth towel.” 

Another asked what might be considered  to be not just a rhetorical question:

Was that a large rat scampering across the floor or a small nutria?”

Old and Quirky Furnishings

However, after getting a $1.25 cold PBR draft, both Scott and I agreed that each of our personalities was at least as  blemished as the Ash Street setting and we would return.  We also both remembered with fondness when rolls of cloth towels in public restrooms were the norm.

We ended our tour of Ash Street with Scott reminiscing about the good old days in college.  Of course, I raised the question as to why any rational person would go to college in Iowa even if they were on an athletic scholarship.  Scott countered with a quote from Iowa Congressman, Leonard Boswell:  “Iowa is home to teachers, farmers, lawyers, factory workers, and many others who work hard every day to provide the best for their families and their future. “

Midwestern Higher Education

I then reminded Scott about the role that Iowa farmers played in the substantial increase in whisky prices based on  the fallacy of ethanol as a solution to the US energy crisis with a quote from Rolling Stone magazine

Ethanol  is not just hype — it’s dangerous, delusional bullshit. Ethanol doesn’t burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. It consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double.” –Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone Magazine (issue 1032)

A “Shot” to the Economics of Whisky Production?

As  you can see, thebeerchaser tour not only explores the ambiance of Portland’s many bars and taverns, but involves pseudo-cerebral discussion on public policy, dietary issues and, of course, the ongoing debate about the long-term future of the letter M in the alphabet.

Ash Street Saloon225 SW Ash Street “Where the Locals are Rock Stars!!

Dixie Tavern – Portland’s Authentic Rock and Roll Tavern???

Since one of the benefits of the beerchaser tour is visiting bars that I would otherwise never frequent, it is helpful to peruse some reviews before I drop in.

 

One should be cautious in giving credence to bar reviews (except for this site….)  As was the case with The Dixie Tavern, the contrast in sentiments is remarkable.  For example:

  • “The appropriate way to describe the scene at Dixie Tavern – remember your worst middle school dance, with less sexiness.” (Comment – Was this person a classmate of the beerchaser at Thora B. Gardiner Jr. Middle School in Oregon City?)    

    

Nothing has Changed Since 1962 – Even the Dances??

  

The Main Bar at Dixie’s

“Dixie isn’t too bad. I like this bar a lot more during the work week when it’s not a full on meat market. Then you can actually talk to the bartenders who are nice and make good cocktails, listen to some good rock, order some tasty food, and just relax in general…….

Once the weekend hits it turns into a meat market. It turns into a completely different bar – it goes crazy with girls dancing on the bar, drunk as *&#@ people scattered everywhere, lame/plastic people.”

The second review was spot on.  Dixie was very low-key on our first visit – a Thursday night around 7:00 P.M. The place is immense with the main bar downstairs seating about twenty-five and a second bar on the same floor having about twelve seats.  There is a third bar upstairs for the weekends. Only the main bar was occupied at the time.

Karlin – “That’s like George with a K”  was wonderful informing us about the bar including its happy hours -Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 7 PM. Our first question was “How many beers on tap?” to which she replied, “None.We only serve beer in cans!”  (about 20 options)  That’s right –  they have no beer on tap! – we paid $2 for a can of PBR at Happy Hour.  We also learned that the bartenders’ motto is “Dixie has great cans….”

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • It has activities almost every night ranging from karaoke to goldfish races. (Karlin explained that these are wild and the “jockeys” use squirt guns to spur their favorite marine creature to win.)       

Notwithstanding the intensity of the contests, we did not see any PETA representatives or their aquatic equivalents there at the time, which was good because it reminded me of the quote, Fish die belly upward, and rise to the surface. It’s their way of falling.”

  • There are probably about a hundred bras  hanging from the ceiling – which of course leads one to contemplate whether the idiom “In the Cups,” had its origin at Dixie rather than in the 1500’s in an English pub.  (“Because of its euphemistic and literary tone, this phrase is usually used jocularly.Source = THE DRUNKTIONARY)

No Floaters at Dixie’s Goldfish Tank

There were also about an equal number of baseball caps on the ceiling which I assume were worn by the male patrons chose not to wear a bra, but didn’t want to feel left out.Evidently, when female patrons dance on the bar – a tradition at The Dixie – they inconspicuously  remove their bras and attempt to throw them on the antlers of the large moose-head hanging on the wall.  Then each year, Dixie’s donates $5 for each bra on the ceiling to the Susan Komen Race for the Cure – a great cause.

A New Meaning to “In the Cups”

Of course, this led my friend, erudite Portland attorney, Scott Whipple to wonder out loud, “It is interesting that the plural of the singular ‘goldfish’ is identical — ‘goldfish’, and that is also the case with ‘lingerie’.”

  • Dixie’s has good food.  The loaded Tater Tot and the Southwest Chicken Salad were outstanding and the cook was a great guy.

Of course, the bar was totally different on a Friday night.  There was a line to get in and a mediocre disk jockey – no cover charge.  It was noisy and there was a large but orderly crowd – thanks, in part, to the bouncer – a friendly chap named Jessie, who checked ID and the temperament of patrons at the front door.

Who’s Going to Mess with Jessie?

He is the guy in the T-shirt (it was about 30 degrees that night.)  Jessie was good at his job and looked really tough —

How tough?” you ask….“Well, he was so tough that during his break, he ate a live lobster and killed it by hitting himself in the stomach on its way down.”

The bar’s website states, “Dixie rocks Old Town Portland every weekend; we start early and end late with the craziest ladies night in town every Thursday, and a rockin dance party every Friday and Saturday.”

The Smaller Bar Downstairs

It is questionable whether a bar without live music can claim that it is “Portland’s Authentic Rock and Roll Tavern

however  Dixie is worth a visit when you are frequenting Voodoo Donuts.  The staff is friendly and helpful, the patrons interesting and the food good. Just don’t mess around with Jessie!   Dixie Tavern       32 NW 3rd Avenue