The Doctor is in at T.C. O’Leary’s

In the six years of Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars Taverns and Pubs, I have found that while there are some bars which leave a bit to be desired (such as my last visit to Portland’s Slow Bar), there are none for which I regret my visit(s).  Most of the bars or breweries are admirable small businesses, which radiate warmth, character and are replete with stories of the owners, regulars or the trappings of the watering hole itself.

Such is the case with Northeast Portland’s “T.C. O’Leary’s – A Little Irish Pub.”  Located on 29th and NE Alberta, the pub has interesting space, an excellent patio, innovative music and activities, and the background of Thomas Christopher O’Leary, the owner/manager, including the story of how he got to Portland and his PDX connections, could fill a small book. 

Some people will remember this space as the former Branch Whiskey, which was also managed by Tom and was a favorite neighborhood spot known for its classy selection of hard liquor which Tom has retained.  As one Yelp reviewer opined in May, 2016, “Branch is an amazing spot for sophisticated food and cocktails in a casual atmosphere.”  

Tom has a strong background in managing bars and hospitality based on years working in bars in Ireland, New York City and Los Angeles.  When the opportunity arose in 2016, he with the advice and financial help of family connections who had confidence in the investment potential, became the owner and changed the name and theme to that of an Irish Pub.  The bar would be a family-friendly neighborhood gathering place and would not serve pub or bistro grub, but authentic Irish food.

Tom Kelly

And those “family connections” are some of Portland’s finest citizens ranging from his wife, Siobhan’s, mom and dad – Anne Kelly Feeney and Dick Feeney to uncles Tom and John Kelly and aunt Susan Kelly – all individuals celebrated for their sustained community and public service and entrepreneurship.

Neil Kelly Co. logo

(Tom is the President of the Neil Kelly Co. started in 1947 by his father with a $100 investment and which is now nationally recognized for its award-winning design and innovative practices in home remodeling).

Dick and Anne from article in the “Catholic Sentinel” magazine

Anne was the Multnomah County Auditor for two terms and later served as CEO of Loaves and Fishes.  I remember Dick when he was the Public Affairs Director for Tri-Met and a skilled and effective lobbyist for the agency in the 1970’s and I worked for the Clackamas County Commissioners.

Besides being an investor, Dick has stopped by the bar almost every day since its opening.  He stuck his head into the Snug that day to say “hello” to our group. The couple now devotes much of their time to charitable work.

In the short time since the bar’s “soft opening” – the day after Thanksgiving in 2016 – Tom and Siobhan O’Leary have taken big steps in achieving their goals for the bar.  Let’s look at two other Yelp reviews which reflect the overall sentiments of those commenting on the social media site: 

“This establishment is pretty fantastic….Ever changing specials, Guinness on tap and entertaining live music including a fiddler! You’ll find it here. The fish and chips are delicious. Their Shepard’s Pie is delectable and the service is outstanding. It is nice to know that you aren’t just a customer here, this is your friends and family. ”  (7/10/17) 

“Sweet addition to the Alberta neighborhood! Really nice genuine people own the place and their actually Irish- full accent and all! I have never eaten Irish food before. I really enjoyed the Vegetarian Blaa beet sandwich on soda bread and the fresh garlic and herb fries were pretty damn tasty!”  (6/30/17)

Chuck enjoying his fish and chips

And on my first visit with retired Portland lawyer, Chuck Mitchell, who had not been Beerchasing since our 2012 visit to 1856 – a NE Bottle Shop.   We both concurred that the fish and chips – one of T.C. O’Leary’s specialties – was superb.  Just looking at the menu with items such as Guinness Braised Beef, Bacon and Cabbage, Shepherds Pie and Haddock Chowder made my mouth water and made me come close to addressing Chuck as “Paddy…”

Besides those mentioned above, Tom talked about the compliments they receive on their bread roll and baked beans.  Their Saturday and Sunday brunch (Irish breakfast) is a neighborhood favorite with pork sausage and black pudding (pig) as favorite menu items.  They also have a good Happy Hour menu from 4:00 to 6:00  and all food items are $5, including a new offering of a half order of fish and chips and the “new O’Leary’s hot dog.”

A smiling Trinity coed

Adding to the Irish authenticity on my second visit was our server, a wonderful young woman named Caoiimhe (that’s the Gaelic spelling for Quiva) who is a third-year Trinity College student visiting and working in the US for three months before her final year in college.  Trinity is the oldest (1592) and most prestigious university in Ireland.

Besides Guinness, the bar has nine other beers on tap, (I tried my first Feckin Bewing beer – a tasty “Top of the Feckin Mornin”) several wines, a cider and numerous specialty and classic cocktails plus an amazing selection of liquor – try a shot of Whistle Pig Farm’s 2012 Boss Hog Rye for $48, which will allow you to see if you want to invest in an entire bottle which runs between $100 and $200…..

Kevin – Amys better half..

Our group on the second visit, besides my wife, Janet, comprised a number of Beerchasing regulars including the Faust clan (Jack and Alice, daughter Amy and her husband, Kevin) Jim and Janet Westwood (the combination of Faust and Westwood meant that we had two of the most respected appellate lawyers in Oregon on our side in the event of post-visit litigation….) and intellectual property lawyer, John Mansfield.

Mansfield, preoccupied with establishing his new practice at Harris Bricken, had not accompanied me to a watering hole for some time although he had made his mark at three noted dive bars – The Ship in Multnomah Village, the Slammer in SE Portland and Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive Bar.  (click on the names for a link to the posts)

He also Beerchased at  the classic Mock Crest Tavern and finally at Church – a great SE bar where he tried to emulate Martin Luther by posting 95 patents on the entrance to commemorate the renowned theologian’s 95 Theses at Wittenburg.

A clowning Westwood with Mansfield – the Ivy Leagues finest..??

Westwood and Mansfield, both Ivy League law graduates (Columbia and Cornell respectively), obviously did not talk about their law schools’ undergraduate sports teams, but we all harkened back to Mansfield’s more creative undergraduate days at the University of Oregon where he played in a rock band and majored in music composition and theory. He is a talented musician.

The picture below (I think taken by one of his clients) shows he is not a traditional, staid member of the Bar.

Kiss My Patent…

It also is evidence that Amy Faust, who is a co-host on the Mike and Amy Show on 99.5 The Wolf, will not be spinning any of the tunes on his Pandora playlist on her stint at the crack of dawn each weekday morning.  (She and Mike just received the 2017 Country Music Association 2017 Broadcast Personality of the Year for a Major Market.) Interestingly enough, Amy and John played together in a band for their respective daughters’ school event where Amy dusted off her mandolin and they both sang.

It should also be noted that both Jack and Amy Faust and Westwood have been prior Beechaser-of-the-Quarter “honorees.”  To see their stories, click on the licks here.

Call ahead to reserve….

Tom had kindly reserved one of the distinctive features of his bar for us – The Snug – a comfortable and fabulously quirky little alcove at the front of the bar which is a tradition in Irish pubs.  It  accommodates about twelve people and provides a wonderful small-group nook that allows a modicum of privacy while still facilitating enjoyment of the T.C. O’Leary ambiance. (Call ahead to reserve it)

The Snug observed from the street.





A great patio


Although the bar with its fifteen authentic whiskey-barrel tables, historic family pictures and memorabilia is a cool place to sit, another good place to congregate is on the patio at the back, which T.C.’s essentially shares with the adjoining bistros on either side.

Family pictures add to the character of the bar






Speaking of décor, I noted the red athletic tool that looked a little like a hockey stick hanging above the bar.  Tom said it was a “hurling stick”  and I didn’t hear him, so naively asked if he said it was a Curling broom,” to which he replied, “God no!”  Probably the reason for the vehemence of the response was that the pace and action of the sports are total contradictions.  Hurling is an outdoor team game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin and is the fastest field sport in the world. It is administered by the Gaelic Athletic Association. The game has prehistoric origins, and has been played for 3,000 years.”  Wikipedia     

The antithesis of curling…

Of course, the theme of this bar begs the question, “What is it like on St. Paddy’s Day?”  Tom said they had about seven times the number of patrons on the first celebration of this “sacred” event since their opening, and it was kind of a three-day celebration.   They also moved a separate bar out to the patio and there was a line down Alberta Street.

And Tom, like many of the owners or bartenders I have met so far on this six-year journey, has a great story.  Of course, the most unusual aspect of it was the notoriety he accrued in his six years starring as Dr. Brendan Daly on Ireland’s most popular soap opera, Fair City. 

Dr. Brendan Daly…..

Tom grew up in Killeny.  “During years working as an actor in Dublin – from small theatres to six years playing Dr. Brendan Daly on Ireland’s most popular soap opera, Fair City, Tom and fellow performers communed at local pubs, drinking pints like they would never age.

For his wedding reception, a magical pub in the West of Ireland suited him and his new wife better than any hotel.”  (T.C. O’Leary’s website)

Fair City is the most watched drama in Ireland, with average viewing figures of 550,000….. tackling many controversial and taboo issues previously unseen on Irish television, such as rape.”  Wikipedia 

Siobhan, his wife of ten years, first met Tom in Ireland when she spent nine months at Trinity College.  Tom knew her sister, Catie, and agreed to show Siobhan around Dublin.  Tom had a girlfriend at the time, but he and Siobhan had an “instant connection.”   Tom lived in a big house with extra rooms and offered (partly as a gesture to her sister) to let Siobhan be a boarder.  Her sister told Siobhan somewhat jokingly, “You will fall in love with Tom.”

Catie was correct .  Tom broke up with his current girlfriend.  Siobhan in the subsequent term, got her lowest grades at Trinity.  They decided to pull a practical joke and Siobhan told Catie that she detested her landlord (Tom) and couldn’t wait to leave.  For the next month, the fiction gained momentum until her mom, Anne, insisted that she was going to fly over to Dublin to rescue her “baby.”  As with many practical jokes, after Siobhan  revealed the truth, the family was not amused although fortunately, they approved of the relationship.

Tom came to New York and he and his future wife drove across America while camping along the way.  Fast forward and Siobhan moved to Ireland for a year where they were married on December 29, 2007

They moved to New York City where Tom had some acting gigs and worked in bars on the Lower East Side.  That’s where the dream of owning an Irish pub first crept into his consciousness.

With family on the west coast, they moved to LA for three years, where Tom worked in high-end bars, working two jobs six nights per week with the goal of building collateral to own his own Irish Pub.  And now they had a little girl in the family……

Moving to Portland in the summer of 2014, Siobhan labored at an office job while Tom worked construction.  (Contrary to the popular belief, good bartending jobs are not that easy to get in the Rose City.)

Anne Feeney knew the manager of Branch Whiskey, and with his extensive experience in bars, he hired Tom immediately which began a two-year stint until the owner announced he was closing.

Tom got good advice from his investors and negotiated successfully.  After only a three-week interim closure, they were back in business with some new trappings thanks to a great work by their general contractor Megan Beaver of Eight Penny Nail, and T.C. O’Leary’s “Little Irish Pub,” has become a neighborhood fixture ever since.

I was somewhat critical of the last bar visited on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs i.e. Slow Bar on Grand Avenue.  While it is known for its great hamburger, I questioned whether the bar lived up to its potential by simply relying on its notorious burger and a juke box known for its collection of Heavy Metal selections.

Let’s examine some of the activity Tom has orchestrated at TC’s compared with Slow Bar’s “hot” juke box as a comparison:

The James Joyce book club – a bunch of serious dudes…..

On Tuesday nights, TC’s hosts a James Joyce book club in the Snug and they plow through about fifteen pages reading Joyce’s classic Ulysses with each participant reading his or her selection until the egg-timer rings for the next reader to start.  (Maybe it takes longer because James Joyce, according to one recent article I read, is an “exclamation point fanatic.”)

Of the ten authors with the most prolific use of exclamation points ranging from Elmore Leonard – 10th place to Virginia Wolf – sixth place to F. Scott Fitzgerald – 4th place, Joyce came in first with 1,105 exclamation points per 100,000 words in his three novels!!!  — What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt, published March, 2017.  (Read the book and you will also learn stuff like Nabokov’s favorite word was “mauve.”)

Every second Monday night, they have Irish music with a fiddler with the other Mondays devoted to other local musicians.  On Thursday evenings patrons see a specialty act – Michael Sheridan, a unique and nationally recognized singer-songwriter who has packed them in according to Tom.           

If my two visits are typical, you should definitely drop by TC O’Leary’s where Tom will greet you as he does every patron at the door.   This personable Irishman, entrepreneur and former actor can give you advice on which draft beer or one of their specialty cocktails will enhance your visit.

But if he approaches you with a scalpel in his hand, you can be assured, it’s to carve some of the high-quality beef they use and he is not reenacting  his days as Dr. Brendan Daly.


T.C. O’Leary’s     2926 NE Alberta


Take a Fast Trip to Slow Bar

Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars,Taverns and Pubs focuses on the bars themselves – the beer and the grub is incidental.  The grist of these reviews is the bar’s history, the regulars, the bartenders and the ambiance.  What distinguishes this saloon or brewery from others?

In the case of Slow Bar, however, the emphasis will be on the food – to wit: it’s notable “Slow Burger,” which makes numerous lists as one of the best or in the case of Willamette Week’s 2017 Best Burger competition, the best in Portland.

And the focus here is on the food, because otherwise the bar at the corner of Grand Ave and SE Washington is not particularly noteworthy.  The exterior has several small picnic tables with umbrellas.  The entrance is unremarkable with a glass door over which is a dark green awning with scarlet letters bearing the bar’s name. Two beer barrels with flowers are placed on the sidewalk.

And the interior is essentially a large rectangular space with five large red booths – described by one Portland Barfly reviewer as “private bedroom style booths.”

Secluded and/or horizontal dining possible….

There is a long twelve-seat bar with hanging red lights and elk antlers over the selection of whiskeys and drafts — also one large poster on the far wall.   The high ceilings and exposed brick for the south wall are appealing.

There is none of the historical ambiance, idiosyncratic cubbyholes or illustrious symbols or tokens which characterize a good neighborhood or dive bar.  But maybe that’s intentional because the bar is evidently named after the “Slow Club” in the 1986 cult classic movie “Blue Velvet” starring Isabella Rosellini and Dennis Hopper.  Based on its homage to Pabst, the movie was described by the Portland Mercury as “one of the great beer movies.”  

The current bar was opened in 2003 by Michael Barnash and Rob Hemmerling, two veteran Portland bartenders.  It was previously a bar named Caswell’s and in my conversation with Hemmerling, he said that it was once owned by Frank Peters of Portland Maverick fame.  It evidently was also the site of one of the only known “failed” Starbucks locations.

Note: Notwithstanding considerable research effort, I could find no reference to Frank Peters owning Caswell’s.  He is well known for his other bars – the Grand Cafe (on the same street), Peters’ Habit and Satan’s Disco.  However, one reference in Portland Barfly to the bar having a “very attractive all-chick staff….” and Peters’ affinities seemed to warrant additional investigation, so I contacted the source.

Frank Peters – Known for his memorable and spirited bars

Frank stated that “………during Grand Cafe days we had Caswells for about 2 years. my gal partners got married so we sold it to Slow Bar people. We did ok and they took it to another level.”  He also confirmed that the space had been a Starbucks so “it had great air conditioning.”

To see the 2013 review of Thebeerchaser’s visit to the Grand Cafe and some more about Frank Peters see:

The Notable Slowburger

The famous Slow Burger. Notice that the top part of the bun is off to the left side and that’s the two onion rings at the top.

So let’s talk about the food.   Virtually all of the social media reviews ranging from Trip Advisor to Yelp are very positive. The Southern Fry, pastrami sandwich and the steak frites all rate favorably; however, the Slow Burger, as their flagship menu item, draws close to universal raves (except for one factor which concerned a few of the experts as will be seen below)

“This is a solid burger.  Satisfying, juicy, and extremely filling.” Yelp 9/7/17

“HOLY COW!  This is an amazing burger.  Place looks like a hole in the wall, but don’t let that fool you.   This place has AMAZING food and drinks.”   Yelp 9/6/17

Even back in February and April of 2006, the burger drew plaudits as evidenced by these reviewers in Portland Barfly: Additionally, Slow Bar has the best burger in Portland and serves the best Manhattan”  and “….the food is always excellent. One of the 3 best burgers in town.”

And the papers and food review websites echo the compliments:

Willamette Week in its 2017 “16 Best Bar Burgers:”  “No other burger is more deserving of the top seed in our rankings.  It is the unholy monster of Portland bar burgers, the behemoth that made even fancy-restaurant burger-makers take note.”  The paper in a May 23, 2017 follow-up article even went on to assert, “Haven’t Had the Slow Burger at Slow Bar? Then You Don’t Really Even Live Here.” in a March, 2012 article entitled “The Towering Triumph of Slow Bar’s Slowburger,” describes it this way:

“The beef is quite tender, arriving with a lovely crust on the top and bottom and a semi-loose grind that keeps most of the juice inside the meat and off your plate (or hands). The thick slice of nutty Gruyère melting on top of the patty is a good match for the simple beef.”

However, notwithstanding these laudatory comments, it goes on to add a caveat:

“The mighty Slowburger is simply to heavy for bread this dainty and the pickle relish alone, eats through the bottom bun halfway before you finish……As it stands, expect to get a lot of that relish all over your hands.”

And Thrillist in its 2016 expose on the “Eleven Best Burgers Ranked by our National Burger Critic,” after rating the Slowburger Number 8 finished its review by stating:

“For me, the thick patty was flavorful but a giant meaty mouthful, and the even temperature throughout gave it a little bit of a meatloaf flavor. On top of that, the lead lettuce and onion ring slid off as you’d try and bite down, causing most of the toppings to drop out of the back, like a cargo plane opening up its bay door.”

Tiny hands interfere with eating the Slow Burger and governing…..

Willamette Week chided the Thrillist critic for his trifling gripe and petty whining stating, “Thrillist’s national burger critic, Kevin Alexander, declared it too unwieldy for his presumably tiny hands. But Portland is not a welcome place for short-fingered vulgarians.”  (We can therefore assume that the paper would also not approve of a visit by the current President……)

I returned to Slow Bar on a Wednesday evening with my wife and we split a Slowburger and a green salad.  (The salad with goat cheese and an assortment of nuts was very good.) We had no beer and were both stuffed after we finished and our tab was a very reasonable $20 plus tip.

But we ended up eating a lot of the burger with forks because the bottom bun had soaked through.  (Not an overwhelming conundrum given a lot of society’s contemporary problems.)

Okay, enough on the burger routine with one more aside.  These articles on great Portland burgers made me realize that I need to expand my horizons.  Although I have visited 85+ bars in Portland, aside from the one at MadSon’s Pub (RIP) and Stanich’s, I have not been to any of the venues where the great burgers listed by the experts come off the grill.

The Thrillist comment about their #1 pick – Stanich’s Nick’s Cheeseburger with Grilled Onions – is worth repeating:  “This burger is a national treasure that I’d like to keep discovering over and over again.”

The jukebox is located close to the bathrooms for those who get overly excited about Heavy Metal

So what else distinguishes this bar from others?   The juke box get repeated mention for its excellent selection of heavy metal selections.  “A jukebox that will make you piss yourself with joy.”  (Portland Mercury 7/15/04)

The night we were there, selections included Metallica,  Portland’s Poison Idea and Red Fang (their single “Blood Like Cream” while eating the burger seemed a little bit out of harmony…..) and Acid Wash.  The juke played loudly and aggressively which seemed somewhat incongruent with the dimly crimson-lighted environment.

With ten draft beers, their tap list is not expansive but adequate with micros from $5 to $7 and includes a traditional Rainier at $3.    They have a decent selection of wines with about ten interesting cocktails including their popular Manhattan – “our own Slow Bar single barrel Woodford Reserve Bourbon.”

Given the non-descript interior, perhaps one of the draws to Slow Bar is the diverse and interesting crowd that frequents the bar. The following gives an idea of the eclectic group:

Portland Barfly“….a steady stream of Portland’s most beautiful trickle through the narrow corridor between the stainless-steel bar and large custom booths….”

Willamette Week (8/3/2004) “….a bizarre Southeast Grand Avenue homage to ‘seedy bliss,’ where business suits, Burnside skate punks and Milwaukie suburbanites all collide.  In Portland, were every club boasts its own culture and devotees, Slow Bar is a prime candidate for the swing voters of the nightlife world.”

I was also a little bit amused and surprised by co-owner Barnash’s reactions on Yelp to two critical reviews, especially since the overwhelming majority of the comments were very positive.  Before responding, one should also remember that some people on social media have the judgement and discretion of former Secretary of Health and Human Service, Thomas Price…..

Yelp   4/23/17 – “I’m amazed you could give us such a horrible review when the food critics and writers and other Yelpers all disagree with you.”

Yelp 2/27/17 – “I know all my servers well as they have all worked with me for years (because it’s a rad place to work and they kick ass) so if you have had bad service both times you have been to my establishment, then I firmly believe that it’s you not them.  I see you left the review at 2:30 A,M.”

On my first visit, I intended to have lunch with my former Oregon State Bar colleague in the early ’80’s, Bernie Stea.

After many years, we had recently reconnected at a great lunch in Camas, where he and his wife, former Portland radio personality, Deb Jaynes, are managing brokers at the Carl Group, a real estate investment and development firm.  We subsequently had a memorable lunch experience at Northeast Portland establishment NEPO 42.  

A good bar in NE Portland

Bernie had a meeting in downtown Portland and our plan was to meet at 12:15 at Slow Bar.  He called me at 12:30 to tell me that he was stuck in a traffic jam on the Fremont Bridge.  I wondered why he chose that route rather than just coming across the Hawthorne which is more direct.

However, from our years working together, I learned not to question a guy who graduated from the University of Maryland Law School as a member of the prestigious Order of the Coif honorary and who also did budgetary manipulations on his Osborne computer that were both esoteric and somewhat terrifying……

Bernie and NEPO 42 burger – the Slowburger will have to wait

Bernie called again at 12:45 asking where I was, to which I replied, “Slow Bar.”  He then somewhat sheepishly informed me that he was sitting in Low Bar in downtown Vancouver.  In order to salvage his pride, I did not remind him that I sent him a link to Slow Bar the day before confirming our lunch appointment.  

We agreed that we would try Low Bar next time which looks interesting and consistent with venues visited on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Bars, Taverns and Pubs.

You should check out Slow Bar.  While it may not have the distinctiveness of some other SE watering holes – most notably in the Barmuda Triangle, it has some features warranting a visit.   And as Frank Peters said, “They have done a really, really ‘Tip of the Cap’ job in a very difficult business during a very competitive time in a marginal area. ‘Many are called—–Few are chosen.'” FJP

The “Flake” at Thebeerchaser visit to the Grand Cafe in 2013

Although Frank’s bars are not operating any longer, they were always colorful and oozed character.  Perhaps Michael Barnash and Rob Hemmerling should hire the former OSU Beav and Maverick as a consultant…….


Slow Bar         533 SE Grand Avenue, PDX