Multnomah Village is a small community with a bustling, albeit small business district about five and one-half miles south of downtown Portland. It was annexed by the City of Portland in the 1950’s. “The community developed in the 1910’s around a depot of the Oregon Electric Railway.” (Wikipedia) For many years, it’s been relatively off-the-radar except for those who like to visit the Annie Bloom’s Books or O’Connor’s Restaurant – a nice little bistro owned by Montana natives who have been serving good food for the last twenty years.
It is also home to one of Thebeerchaser’s favorite dive bars – The Ship Tavern – reviewed in 2012. https://thebeerchaser.com/2012/12/10/all-hands-on-deck-at-the-ship-tavern/.
Based on my two recent visits, I have added another memorable dive bar to my list of favorites – Renner’s Grill and Suburban Room, a well-known watering hole that’s been around since 1939.
Don’t be misled by the title and most notably the words “Suburban Room” – the “Room” is a small, dark chamber in the back of the bar to which many of the regulars gravitate.
And Renner’s for years had a reputation for being a tough place with stiff drinks and regulars who don’t welcome strangers. In fact, one person told me that it was the hangout for those who were too tough or unrefined for The Ship.
The Village has changed, however. It’s becoming gentrified and a great location given its proximity to Portland yet largely retaining its small-town ambiance. Property values have soared, there are new stores and restaurants e.g. a Lucky Labs Pub, in an old building that used to be a Masonic Temple. It’s now a challenge to find a parking place even on a weekday evening.
Renner’s has also changed, as you will see below, however, it has definitely retained it’s character and ambiance. This excerpt from a May 23, 2017 Willamette Week review describes it well:
“…..This little hole-in-the-wall tucked among the century-old buildings of Multnomah Village is the epitome of a dive bar, minus any of the pretension about being a dive bar you’d get closer to the center of the city.
It’s dark, it’s a little gritty, it takes forever to get a drink, Fleetwood Mac is somehow always playing and the food is greasy in the best way possible……The wells are a dollar instead of the drafts, and as every night, they’re the strongest you’ll get west of the river.”
The Multnomah Villager blog quoting the Portland Tribune in October 2005 stated, in part,:
“Renner’s is built into the side of a hill. It feels like the dining car on a Depression-era train, and it’s about that big. A lunch counter and a few raised booths fill the front.
….. Art deco lamps hang from the uneven …….The back wall is lined with photos, like the signed celebrity photos in many historic dining rooms. But here they are all pictures of loyal customers.”
Even the sometimes cynical Portland Barfly opines: ”With some sixty-odd years under its belt, Renner’s vintage charms beckon a surprisingly diverse array of regulars. It’s a shining example of the endangered neighborhood bar.”
As one approaches Renner’s, the sign, which looks similar to an old Rexall Drug Store sign, beckons you into what is a very tight and intimate space – very different than some of the spacious classic dive bars reviewed previously on Thebeerchaser such as Gil’s Speakeasy or Bar of the Gods.
But Emmie, the cordial bartender, who is a McMinnville girl like Thebeerchaser’s spouse of 37 years, gives a friendly “hello” and expertly goes through the list of eight drafts and six bottled beers available in addition to three Tall Boys – Ranier, PBR and Rolling Rock.
There are about eight or nine seats at the semi-circular bar and three booths with black vinyl seats in the front part of the bar with historic photos or newspaper articles on the walls of each. The first time there, I was accompanied by Beerchaser regular Walt Duddington.
Walt is a veteran of such bars such as the Lutz Tavern and more recently, Ancestry Brewing. Walt had a draft Total Domination IPA from Ninkasi Brewing and I couldn’t resist a PBR Tall Boy.
We talked to a nice guy named Steve Potter, an insurance adjuster and also chatted with two personable chaps who were in their coveralls and had just finished the day installing and maintaining HVAC systems. Their customer base includes a number of bars in Southeast Portland – nice fellows and typical of dive bar regulars.
On one of the two big screen TV’s, we watched part of the first round of the NBA draft wondering if General Manager, Neil Olshey, would pull off some kind of miracle to allow the Blazers to exceed the fifty-win threshold in 2018 and garner another trip to the playoffs.
Or alternatively, draft a tall, skinny kid from the WCC who wasn’t a starter the entire year before he turned pro…. maybe he should have opted for a Migration Brewing’s Terry’s Porter for his first draft choice (ABV: 6.7% IBU:42: Roasted chocolate malts with hints of herbs and coffee)
The next trip to Renner’s was for both beer and dinner with another veteran Beerchaser, my brother-in-law, Dave Booher. He has also accompanied me on two three-and one-half day Beerchasing fieldtrips through Central and Eastern Oregon in 2013 and the Central Oregon Coast in 2014.
Dave and I started with a beer at the bar and then moved into the Suburban Room for dinner which I was anticipating with additional salivary gland adrenalin after talking for twenty minutes on my first trip with Josh, the co-owner, who also bears the moniker, “Uncle Stumpy.”
Josh, has been the co-owner for 2.5 years although he has worked at the bar since 2010. He is also a partner in another bar with great atmosphere in the Barmuda Triangle in Southeast Portland – the Hawthorne Hideaway which Thebeerchaser reviewed in the first full year of the journey.
Now one of the characteristics of many dive bars is cheap but not succulent food. One doesn’t expect a Steak Diane with your $2.00 PBR. For example, given the cost, I was happy with my Friday Special of Sloppy Joes and Chips for $1.50 at Gil’s Speakeasy, but it didn’t rank up there with the faire at some of Portland’s fine restaurants.
However, Uncle Stumpy has aggressively worked to make Renner’s menu attractive and the food one orders from that extensive document is superior and something that makes his clientele want to return. (I have not used the word “clientele” previously in a blog post about dive bars…..). Josh speaks with pride about his bar and stated
“Renner’s is 5.5 miles from downtown Portland, but it might as well be 100,” Josh asserts.
His goal is to “maintain the dive bar experience, but offer superior food from scratch and a neighborhood bar charm.” So far, he is succeeding. As evidence I offer our dinner experience and these recent reviews from social media:
“Cozy bar with INCREDIBLE food. Seriously, Renners has managed to elevate pub food to a whole new level. Their buffalo chicken thighs are so good (yes thighs not wings). I haven’t tried anything I didn’t like!” Yelp 5/7/17
They even have started a quality breakfast which is worth a trip:
“This historical bar serves a whoppin’ size breakfast that’s really good! Old menus and photos adorn the walls and good old village folks like the happy hour too!” Trip Advisor 8/12/15
Take a look at the five entree’s available during BBQ Month the night we were there, a number of which rotated during the week. These are supplemented on the regular menu by thirteen burgers including an elk burger and a peanut butter bacon burger which should probably be avoided unless your nickname is “Skippy.”
There’s also seven hot dogs and eight sammies from which to choose including “Connor’s Cardiac Arrest” which should come with its own defibrillator given the ingredients including brisket, pulled pork, bacon and barbecue sauce on a ciabatta bun. And if you’re not up for dinner, there are seven Happy-Hour items ranging from fries to tacos, cheeseburgers and sliders.
The Tapman opted for the Hangar Steak with corn-on-the-cob, fries and cole slaw ($15.75) and I honed in on the Bison Meatloaf Sandwich ($14.75) and upgraded to some wonderful onion rings. Dave said it was the best hangar steak he had eaten in Portland and my sandwich was excellent and large enough that it made a good follow-up lunch.
There were a few scattered and minor complaints about the bar on social media including the music being too loud and the pace of service: “….the music is way too loud. It’s excessively annoying. I can’t have a conversation with the people I’m with. If I wanted to listen to music, I’d put some headphones on at home. It’s terrible. Everyone around us is yelling because the music is so loud. Bad ambiance.“ Yelp 4/15/17
However, both of us and a number of others at the bar who were over sixty, can’t hear most conversation anyway and don’t try when any kind of music is playing.
Renner’s was filled the night we were there and Emmie did a wonderful job with our drink and dinner orders. No complaints on what was excellent and friendly service on both visits when the bar was very busy.
Overall, it was a great experience and Josh appreciates the historic ambiance provided by the turn of the 1900’s building including the small alley-walkway in between the bar and the next building.
He’s also being creative with specials and events. Up until July, 2017, you could get a draft OR a well-drink for a buck from 9:00 PM to close. Based on insurance issues, that was changed to $2 – still a good deal. Or you can visit on Wednesday, which is Bingo Night and gets great comments.
And on August 21st – during the celestial event: “All you can eat and drink during the eclipse.$25.00.” (I didn’t check to see whether this was during the two minutes and forty seconds of totality or for the two hours and thirty-five from start to finish in which case, it could be a good deal…..)
You should take the succinct but accurate advice of this couple and hit Renner’s:
“Quaint little neighborhood dive bar. The place looks well worn, but loved by the regulars. Stopped in for breakfast at 7:30 AM, there were about a dozen or so other patrons scattered around. Most were drinking and seemed to know everyone else. So a friendly place to meet and plan your day or your mischief.“ Yelp /23/17
And perhaps your “mischief’ should include a walk around the corner with a stop at The Ship for a beer chaser after your tasty breakfast at Renner’s.
Renner’s Grill and Suburban Room
7819 SW Capitol Hwy
*1 Keith Watkins blog: https://keithwatkinshistorian.wordpress.com/tag/james-david-duncan/ 3/4/14