The Marathon Taverna – What’s(a) in(a) a Name(a) ?(a)?

Not what you might expect!

Not what you might expect!

While working in downtown Portland for over thirty years, I would often promise myself that I would pay a visit to the Marathon – a bar housed in an interesting looking building on W. Burnside not too far from Providence Park (aka Civic Stadium).  I figured it was a dive bar with an eclectic group of regulars with a storied history – like some of the classic dive bars I’ve reviewed – Joe’s Cellar in NW Portland and the Ship Tavern in Multnomah Village were stellar.     P1020721

Perhaps it will keep you from reading the remainder of this post, but I was sorely disappointed by this watering hole – a pseudo sports bar with a paucity of character and little to distinguish it.

We should have instead opted for the nearby Cheerful BullPen, which has more character or Claudia’s with a rich history.

The saving grace was being accompanied by Beerchaser regular and Beerchaser-of-the Quarter Jack Faust and his son, Charlie.  Their company and conversation could make a discussion on the Rule Against Perpetuities seem interesting or make a soccer match ending in a scoreless tie, stimulating.  (I would get into trouble by suggesting more globally that such would be the case for any soccer match…..)

Faust & Son with Thebeerchaser logo

The Fausts with thebeerchaser logo

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but one or both have joined me for great trips to the Buffalo Gap Saloon, the Grand Cafe and Bailey’s TapRoomJack’s daughter, Portland radio personality, Amy Faust (99.5 The Wolf), recently Beerchased with us at the Rookery (review still pending).

Upon entering the Marathon Taverna, I raised the question as to why there was an “a” at the end of the word tavern. A taverna is defined as a small Greek café or restaurant.

Not the character or ambiance one would expect on West Burnside

Not the character or ambiance one would expect on West Burnside

There wasn’t any moussaka or souvlaki on the menu and no retsina wine or even ouzo or Mextexa Brandy to drink.  Alas, the only things Greek in this watering hole were Faust who was a Sigma Chi at Oregon, Thebeerchaser – an SAE at Oregon State and a few gyro sandwiches.  Socrates would not be impressed with that line-up.

And what’s with the name Marathon?  The website mentions that the bar – opened in 1974, was originally located in the Acropolis Tavern – also a well known Portland strip club, but whether this heritage is accurate could not be verified.

To better understand the lure of the Marathon, Charlie Faust suggested that instead of driving, we start in Marion County in the city of Donald.  A run to Portland with a short side-trip around Forest Park – would yield a route of 26.2 miles.   We would therefore honor the Greek soldier Pheidippides – who was reported to have died in 490 BC after his run from Marathon to Athens to proclaim the Greek victory over the Persians.  Before dying, he shouted, “We have won!”

I thought this would be fitting, since these are the same words Jack uttered when he represented Bing Russell and the Portland Mavericks in the now famous arbitration with Major League Baseball in the 1970’s and chronicled in the great new documentary, The Battered Bastards of Baseball.”

Jack Faust ordering a beer from the Marathon Bartender
Jack Faust ordering a beer from the Marathon Bartender

Jack, however, based on his undergraduate and law school days at the University of Oregon, countered with the suggestion that we each drink 8.75 pints of beer to arrive at the 26.2 milestone.  Looking at the photos below will demonstrate that his idea could offer some synchronicity, but his son and I demurred.

Jack Faust drinking a beer at the U of O after a 26 mile swim

Jack Faust drinking a beer at the U of O after a 26 mile swim

 

But we digress.  What was good about the Marathon Taverna?  Well, they have free popcorn – not a Greek dish, but still very good.  There are also a lot of TVs with different sporting events, if that’s what you like with your beer.  A small, but ardent group of  Portland Timber supporters was watching a match on one of the TVs –  20 high definition and a giant 92-inch monster.

Not Mediterranean, but free.
Not Mediterranean, but free.

There are nineteen reasonably-priced beers and also cocktails on their menu – but neither is listed on their website.

A number of reviews are positive about the gyros and the cheeseburgers – and their $2.00 breakfasts served until 2:00 P.M.  But the rather agressive and surly attitude of the staff was also mentioned multiple times in reviews – a downside, especially as you enter.

And this may be because of the physical layout confronting you when entering the bar – the only such arrangement I have seen in visiting over 50 bars in Portland.

There is a bouncer – a security guy, of sorts – sitting at a dias or throne-type arrangement which makes him look – and possibly act like Alexander the Great.  The “welcome” signs shout out, “No soliciting and “No Trespassing.”

Power hungry??

Power hungry??

Portland Barfly sums up this issue and the overall atmosphere of the venue quite well:

The  loyal shift of elderly patrons and the unsmiling doorman – those regulars may have been arriving every morning the past fifty years, but they’d best have their ID on hand to enter – are the only traces of The Marathon’s rather-more-dangerous past.

Plenty of TVs, but where are the grizzled regulars?

Plenty of TVs, but where are the grizzled regulars?

Weekend nights have largely been overtaken by a large, tight-knit, metal-happy, pool-playing, irritatingly-attractive group of twenty-somethings seemingly brought en masse from Beaverton for reasons beyond our imaginings.”

 A sentiment echoed by this excerpt from a City Search review:   Great place with horrible irrational staff – This used to be one of my favorite places until the last two times I’ve gone there, the bouncers have gotten extremely aggressive and kicked me out for no reason.”

Now perhaps the bar’s management feels that they need this type of defensive screening based on its Burnside location although the only altercation I could find occurred in 2008, and did not seem to be too savage.  As reported in Willamette Week:

A University of Portland grad is suing a Vancouver man for subjecting him to an uninvited bear hug outside a dive bar on West Burnside Street. In a lawsuit filed Sept. 10 in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Patrick Geraghty claims that Brian Yoakum and his friends were standing outside the Marathon Taverna on Sept. 13, 2008.

Yoakum, “without warning, clutched [Geraghty] in a ‘bear hug’ and twisted [Geraghty’s] body after securing said hold,” the lawsuit says. Geraghty suffered a broken right foot as a result, according to the lawsuit. The suit, filed by Portland lawyer Sanam Dowlatdad, seeks seeks $75,000 for medical bills and lost wages, plus $500,000 for pain and suffering.

We don’t know if this suit settled or was tried, but for those wondering, Sanam Dowlatdad, after graduating from Willamette Law School, worked as Multnomah County Deputy DA and then at the Cosgrove Vergeer Kester law firm, before establishing her own firm in 2011.

Charlie Faust and Thebeerchaser - good company but no ambiance.

Charlie Faust and Thebeerchaser – good company but no ambiance.

No Greek national flag either.....

No Greek national flag either…..(Faust and Son)

And the only other egregious conduct recorded is that of Welches area con-man named, David Wilson.  Several years ago he purportedly tried to scam those at the Marathon and nearby establishments by stating that he was desperate for a loan because he’d lost his wallet at a Timbers game and couldn’t get his car out of the parking lot.

 

I guess if you just want nothing more than a cheap beer and to watch a sporting event, hit the Marathon.  But unless you can get the Fausts to join you or maybe start running from a mile and one-half east of the Vista House on the Columbia River Highway – it would allow your marathon to finish at the Marathon – it may not be fulfilling.

 

Marathon Taverna           1735 West Burnside

 

 

 

 

 

The Horse Brass Pub – Pinnacle of Perfection

The Horse Brass Pub - One of America's 100 Best Beer Bars

Thebeerchaser at The Horse Brass Pub – One of America’s 100 Best Beer Bars

Although the power and prestige of England have diminished since the days of Admiral Nelson’s exploits for the Royal Navy in the 18th century and Winston Churchill’s fiery oratory during World War II, one is reminded of the superiority of the Brits when it comes to pubs.

It is doubtful that English poet, John Milton, was referencing drinking establishments when he stated in 1643, “Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live”.  The Horse Brass Pub in Portland, however, does a wonderful job emulating the classic English public house and is worth a visit by every Portlander. “Arguably, holding the title of Portland’s best bar since in opened in 1976…It’s a tribute to all thing English.” (Willamette Week’s 2012 “Our 105 Favorite Bars, Pubs and Clubs.”)

Sign at the Entrance to the Horse Brass Pub

Sign at the Entrance to the Horse Brass Pub

Along with five other Portland bars, the Horse Brass Pub (HPB) made the honor roll of the 2012 Draft Magazine’s “One Hundred Best Beer Bars in the USA”:

“….Founder, Don Younger…claimed, ‘If it were any more authentic, you’d need a passport,’ he wasn’t kidding….Bric-a-brac adorns the nicotine-stained walls (from the old smoking days) of this dimly-lit, wood-paneled pub, perfectly recreating the neighborhood haunts of England….

HBP has championed the craft beer movement since 1976, and with its legacy still intact as perhaps the best bar in the nation, it isn’t just a destination in Portland, but a bucket-list item for any beer lover.”

Horsebrass

English Horsebrass Featuring Gloucester Cathedral

My San Francisco friend and consultant, Dave Hicks, and I hit the HBP for dinner and then traveled a short distance to another one of Draft Magazine’s 100 Best – Belmont Station (See Beerchaser Review posted on 4/17/13)

Princeton graduate, accomplished singer and beer drinker, Dave Hicks

Princeton graduate, accomplished singer and beer drinker, Dave Hicks

Hicks has traveled all over the world and commented on the authenticity of the pub except for one missing element — pervasive smoke which permeates the Anglican pub environment — or at least used to before the House of Commons passed a smoking ban in 2007.

Based on the 2009 expansion of the Oregon “Smoke-free Workplace Law bars and taverns could no longer permit smoking on or within ten feet of the premises.  We are confident that the cigarette 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.”  

Wikiemedia Commons Adverse_effects_of_tobacco_smoking_svg

Graphic of a typical bar worker’s internal organs prior to the 2009 Oregon Smoking Law

Nevertheless, this law had a dramatic impact on the environment within such establishments as the Horse Brass Pub as can be evidenced by these excerpts from my favorite annual Willamette Week resource on bars:

“Surgeon General’s Warning:  Smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema and shriveled testes.  (The new law) also leads to outdoor drinking, rain or shine, which can lead to frostbit, melanoma and accidental arousal from rubbing against another addict while taking refuge under a tiny awning….”  (“2009 Drink Guide”)                 

     Wikimedia Commons

“There used to be two types of customers here (HBP): smokers and chain smokers.  The 2009 smoking ban devastated regulars. (They all died said a bartender).  (“2011 Drink”)                 

“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 Drink Guide”)

 

Coffin nail or structural element?
Coffin nail or structural element?

“What will become of Don Younger’s sprawling pub in 2009?  After the encyclopedic beer list and heart-stopping English breakfasts, this slice of Britain on Belmont is best known for air so thick with smoke, you could bottle it.”  (“2007 Drinkers’ Bible”)

Another often-cited difference in beer served in the US and the typical English tavern is the temperature of the beer.  For example, Hicks and I had wonderful chilled mugs of Portland Brewing’s Rose Hip Gold and Caldera Brewing’s Dry Hop Orange, which if served 4,928 miles to the east, would not be quite as frosty.  (Although it is a misconception that British beer is served warm, beer in the UK is usually served at cellar temperature – 50 to 57 °F. – Wikipedia).

This is not to suggest that English beer is bad as exemplified by this commentary from Voltaire on both British citizens and their beer:, “They (the British) are like their own beer; froth on top, dregs at bottom, the middle excellent.”

Rose Hip Gold --- Even Better on Tap

Rose Hip Gold — Even Better on Tap

The 50+ different beers on tap at HPB, including 28 rotating or guest taps, create dissonance for an indecisive drinker.  They reflect what was purportedly Don Younger’s motto, “It’s not about the beer.  It’s about the beer.”

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A Comment on the 2013 Willamette Week Bar Guide (Horse Brass review continued below)

A Valuable Resource for Thebeerchaser Tour
A Valuable Resource for Thebeerchaser Tour

As evidenced above, an important resource for this blog is the Annual Willamette Week Drinkers’ Bible or Bar Guide.  Indeed, Thebeerchaser’s printed copies for the last five years of this annual list of favorite Portland bars is a valuable resource.

The enormity of the challenge of a comprehensive tour of Portland bars, pubs and taverns hit home when I read the 2013 publication.  WW listed 121 favorite bars visited in the last year.  This compares with 41 establishments since Thebeerchaser blog commenced in August 2011.

Of WW’s favorites, Thebeerchaser has only frequented nine to this point as shown below:

Brooklyn Park Pub     Coalition Brewery     Beer     Prost     Laurel Thirst     Lutz Tavern

Goose Hollow Inn     Sasquatch Brewery *     Horse Brass Pub

* Visited, but not yet reviewed and posted on Thebeerchaser blog.

To quote Alfred Lord Tennyson, “So much to do, so little done, such things to be.”

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Horse Brass InteriorThe rich history of the Horse Brass Pub, established in 1976, can be found on its outstanding website and gives a more thorough chronology than can Thebeerchaser, but the decades of founder, Don Younger’s impact, are evident throughout.  His dedication to the fledgling craft beer industry in Oregon is his legacy.

Memorabilia enhances the Ambiance

Memorabilia enhances the Ambiance

It would be a stretch to label the food as “outstanding”; however, the menu is extensive and offers numerous English-type options.  My bangers and mash were good and ample and Dave Hicks had a similar reaction to his steak and shepherd’s pie.

And oh yes, before ending the review of the Horse Brass Pub, a recurring theme on this blog bears iteration.  Just as with the Ship Tavern and Jakes, the HBP was purportedly the scene of a simultaneous gathering of approximately twenty Portland police cars one summer night in the ’80’s.

Members of the Portland Rugby Club and the team from New Zealand they had defeated in their match that day, capped off the day with food, drink and “revelry” — Film at 11:00 ….!

The Horse Brass Pub                    4534 S.E. Belmont

Reflecting on Oregon’s Urban-Rural Divide – The Embers Brew House in Joseph, Oregon

In the Heart of Joseph

The Embers Brew House

Thebeerchaser’s bar tour was in a slight rut.  Fascinated by the contention of Kip, owner of Bar of the God’s contention that his establishment was in the midst of Portland’s Barmuda Triangle, I realized I had been sucked into the vortex and had focused too much on SE Hawthorne establishments including:

      Bar of the Gods      Hawthorne Hideaway     Gold Dust Meridian 

Claudia’s   (visited but not yet posted)

As a result, in October I visited the Ship Tavern (not yet posted) in  Multnomah  Village and decided that an Eastern Oregon pub visited on a mini-road trip in late September should be included in my blog.  Thebeerchaser and spouse took a wonderful trip to Eastern Oregon and spent two nights at Wallowa Lake Lodge in Joseph, Oregon.

Wallowa Lake Summit Tramway – Notice the Haze from the Smoke

The scenery was wonderful  – the only problem was that the enormous brush fires in Eastern Oregon and Washington caused a haze which made beautiful Wallowa Lake gray rather than its normal crystal blue.  The smoke even made the view at the top of the Wallowa Lake Tramway impossible to see the other beautiful Eagle Cap peaks.

However, we had a wonderful time at the Embers Brew House (EBH) on a Saturday night in Joseph after dinner at the Terminal Gravity Brewery in Enterprise.

Brew and Dinner at the Bar at Terminal Gravity Brewery and Pub

A Great Place to Visit in Enterprise, Oregon

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It was after the tourist season in Joseph and on a Saturday night those at the EBH were mostly locals, hunters and a handful of tourists like us.   Why did we love the Embers?  A clue is in its website:

“The Embers past is firmly rooted in the history of early settlers, business people and today’s locals.  A fire at the present adjacent site of a local grocery store destroyed that property, but The Embers withstood any damage and remained intact, thus the name “The Embers” was born.”

What else made our visit to the EBH memorable?

  • It was the hot-spot in town and the local folk were lively and friendly – a close knit community.  This sign, shown below, posted by the bar embodies the philosophy:

    Not Just a Quote on the Wall…

  • The food was outstanding.  Teresa, the cordial owner and her crew, turned out an absolutely incredible number of pizzas and burgers for the large crowd.
  • Everyone was waiting to either see the Ducks vs. Arizona football game or listen to the Jimmy Bivans Band – a wonderful Boise country-western group that rocked the patio and beer garden area for several hours (you can hear them at three different McMenamin’s from January 12-14th, 2013).

Live Entertainment from Boise – Jimmy Bivins and Friends

  • Mike, a local guy I bonded with wearing a blue Notre Dame sweatshirt, was watching the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game which went down to the wire before the Irish won.  I had listened to the Beavs beat UCLA earlier that day and we talked about both of our alma maters’ undefeated seasons so far      – not realizing what was to come in the next weeks……

Mike, whose daughter also was a ND graduate, was a cool, rugged guy.  He had no airs and was drinking white wine with ice from a plastic cup!   The Notre Dame game ran over a few minutes into the Oregon game, but nobody was going to ask him to change the channel.

Some brief excerpts from reviews on Yelp give an idea why the Embers bustles:

“My husband and I spent the week in Joseph along with 4 other couples. We made it into Embers on 3 different occasions.  The food was excellent; the beer cold, but most of all we enjoyed the staff.”

“Eating a spectacular Greek classic pizza with fresh basil and kalamata olives, outdoors, with a view of the Eagle Cap mountains, while enjoying a beer. It doesn’t get better than that!”                                              

The Bar at the Embers

“We earned our Embers visit with a multi-day backpacking trip in Eagle Cap’s beautiful Lakes Basin. The pizza was a welcome relief after backcountry dehydrated meals. Embers offers plenty of options for the discriminating vegetarian. Their beer list is surprisingly extensive.”

We had eaten dinner earlier at the Terminal Gravity Brewery in nearby Enterprise, which also had a lot of character.  Try their macaroni and cheese and their ESG (Terminal Gravity’s Rye beer, “Extra Special Golden,” might be described as an American golden ale.)

Joseph has several other pubs and even its own brewery.  Take a look at the photos below::

The Hydrant — Where Beer Flows in Joseph

 

             

The Outlaw Saloon and Cafe – Another Joseph Bistro

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The Stubborn Mule Saloon in Joseph

Mutiny Brewing in Joseph, Oregon

Elkhorn Saloon in Sumpter, Oregon

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On our road trip to Wallowa Lake we also went by several old taverns in other Eastern Oregon towns, but did not have time to visit them.  For example, this picture above of The Elkhorn Saloon in Sumpter is a classic old saloon.

It enables one to envision the scene when one western bar patron, named Mike Fink, in the 1800’s unsuccessfully tried to shoot a tin cup of whiskey off the head of his friend – a guy named “Carpenter,” who ended up with a bullet in his head.  Fink became the master of understatement by stating, “Carpenter, you have spilled the whiskey!”      (“Legends of America” – Old West Legends)

Seeing the entrances of the establishments below convinced thebeerchaser that an Eastern Oregon segment of the Bar Tour should be on the agenda next year.

The Lostine Tavern in Lostine, Oregon

It also reminded me of the bar joke about the dog who limps into the bar in Wallowa and yells to the bartender and drinkers:

“I’m looking for the guy who shot my paw….”     

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Leave a comment if you know of a bar in Central or Eastern Oregon that should be included in this future Beerchaser Tour.  Shown below are some of the other saloons that beckon:

The Oxbow Saloon in Prairie City

The Range Rider Tavern in Enterprise – Notice that Hunters are Welcome!

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And let me conclude with my final western bar joke:

The sheriff bursts through the door of the western saloon and yells:  “I’m looking for Paper Bag Bill – he’s a wanted man.”

A guy at the bar says, “What’s he look like?’ The sheriff says, “Well he has paper bag mask, a newspaper shirt, a crepe paper scarf and a paper bag chaps.”

The bartender asks, “What’s he wanted for?”

The sheriff says, “Rustlin!”

Paper Bag Bill — A “Rustler”….

—————–Eastern Oregon was a great road trip and we will be back to visit the Embers Brew House.  Some people deabate Oregon’s Rural vs. Urban Divide.  Having a beer at a good tavern is just as good in Joseph or Enterprise as it is on SE Hawthorne!

The Embers Brew House    204 North Main Street     Joseph, Oregon