Club 21 – Don’t be Fooled by the Name of this Good Bar

Club 21 - Definitely not a Strip Club....

Club 21 – Definitely not a Strip Club….

Okay – admit it.  When you saw the title of this review was Club 21, you thought I had abandoned the guideline to exclude strip clubs from the venues reviewed on Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars, Taverns and Pubs.  But that’s not the case.  Club 21 is a great NE neighborhood bar in an iconic 1930 building (at one time a Russian Orthodox church) co-owned by Marcus Archambeault and Warren Brophy, who also own two other Portland bars –  Gold Dust Meridian (see Thebeerchaser review in October 2012) and The Double Barrel.

Ryan, Dan, Leslie and Scott with Thebeerchaser logo

Ryan, Dan, Leslie and Scott with Thebeerchaser logo

Unlike some multiple bar owners who stay with one theme, they are creative – each bar has its own marketing, menu and ambiance based on the clientele, the building design and the neighborhood  history.

Club 21 has great character and lawyers Scott Whipple and Dan Duyck and young O”Neill Electric Project Manager, Ryan Keene and I enjoyed our beer and a dinner there one late weekday afternoon.

Whipple is a Beerchaser regular having accompanied me to Ash Street Saloon and the Dixie Tavern downtown, in the early 2012 days of this “journey,” then to Slab Town and the Skyline Tavern in October 2013.

He and his law partner, Duyck, were along for Gold Dust Meridian and Bar of the Gods and Ryan and his girlfriend, Laura, Beerchased at Quimby’s, Sniff Café and most recently, Stammtisch.  (If you’re interested in seeing any of these reviews, just use the “Search” feature at the top right of Thebeerchaser logo.)   P1020507

When we arrived at 5:00, there were few in the building, but a steady stream of regulars quickly filled both the inside and an expansive patio on the sunny afternoon.  And the regulars were friendly and talkative when we asked them to tell us about the bar.


Expansive and Dog-friendly Patio

Expansive and Dog-friendly Patio

According to our bartender, Leslie – who has worked there 3.5 years, Club 21 has been the name of the bar since 1958.  After its time as a place of worship, it became the eastside annex of Jake’s Crawfish.

The owner of Nick’s Coney Island bought the building and  named his bar, Shadows.  In 1958, it became Club 21 – just because it’s on 21st and NE Glisan.  Marcus and Warren purchased it in early 2011.

In the photo below, that’s Dennis in the center – he works at Franz Bakery, and first came to the bar in 1966 – where he met the woman who is still his wife in the early ‘70’s.

Jovial and Helpful Regulars - and good taste in beer!!

Jovial and Helpful Regulars – and good taste in beer!!

Dennis and his friends remember the structure when it was a church and talked about sitting on what used to be the altar when they first started patronizing.

As an undated Portland Mercury review asserted,Be sure to say hi to the regulars they’ve been drinking there before you were born. No but seriously. They have!” (Unless you are as old as Thebeerchaser….)

And the dark and cozy environment reeks with personality with accoutrements such as old Schlitz lamps and classic Blitz beer signs, three antler heads, a stuffed duck, a classic nude painting, four old-fashioned pin-ball machines, Big Buck World and a small nook in the wall with religious statuettes.

One of four trophies....

One of three trophies….

In fact, even the men’s bathroom has character – you have to open a door and walk through a small narrow hallway to get to it. (The door on the right is the entrance to the maze in the photo below.)

Even the entrance to the bathroom has character....

Even the entrance to the bathroom has character….





The current owners remodeled the infrastructure (kitchen, plumbing and code issues) while being careful to maintain the spirit of the building.    They improved the interior and reformed the menu.  Subsequent reviews show they accomplished their goal:

“Yes, I think they’ve done a knock-out job bringing this historic building back to life. It still feels like a dive bar, but now it has some much appreciated style going for it”. (Barfly 12/13/11)

"Droolworthy" old Blitz sign.....

“Drool-worthy” old Blitz sign…..

“Club 21 is back in action, following a change in ownership (now in the same capable hands as Gold Dust Meridian), and a lovingly-rendered makeover of the old gal.

Don’t worry – she looks like the best Club 21, ever. And, no more of that embarrassing body odor. These are all good changes – enlarged patio, enclosed and ventilated kitchen, new paneling, everywhere, annoying mini-flat screens, nowhere, a drool-worthy collection of beer signs and booze memorabilia.”

And this from Willamette Week (10/12/11):

Thebeerchaser thinks Schlitz __ is even better than Pabst stuff
Thebeerchaser thinks Schlitz signs are even better than Pabst stuff

“(Club 21) still looks like a little fish tank castle on the outside and feels like a ski lodge on the inside. But the former dive bar, which took only a slight hit in patronage while closed for upgrades this summer, has stepped up its style game considerably.

Its former duct-taped booths have been replaced by new upholstery; dingy old beer mirrors replaced by…well, even older Pabst paraphernalia; two pinball machines have turned into four; the patio now seats dozens of young blue-collar regulars…”

Double the fun.....
Double the fun…..


And everybody raves about the food, which once was described as, “….burgers that (came) from a stack in a frozen bag from Sysco.”

Willamette Week continues:

“The obscenely cheap food specials are out, but replaced by still-cheap and altogether more satisfying options, including an epic build-a-burger menu with endless variations (how about a housemade veggie patty on Texas toast with smoked Gouda.” 

 And we leaped at the chance to try their menu specialty, “Build-a-Burger (BaB)”.   (My selections are in bold) and as one City Search reviewer labeled it – “A fat kid’s dream.”

"Build a Burger" and add tater tots or onion rings

“Build a Burger” and add tater tots or onion rings

BaB is seven-step process commencing with picking your “foundation” – one of five options ranging from Oregon beef or prime rib, to fried or grilled chicken to a veggie burger and then your bread from  one five (whole wheat)  and selecting one of eight types of cheeses (pepper-jack).  Keep going with the sauces (sea and salt peppercorn, smoky pepper, 12 spice BBQ, Cajun, habanaro, Jamaican jerk) and condiments (A-1 sauce, sweet & saucy relish).

Check out the menu below which further illustrates the process.

Build-a-Burger - A construction project....

Build-a-Burger – A construction project….

If you want one of the eight extras for just a buck, add an eighth step (bacon, ham, fried egg, avacodo, caramelized onion, onion straws, sautéed mushrooms, anaheim peppers, pickled habanero, tomato bacon jam and grilled pineapple) – the works for only $8!


since it was Happy Hour – every day  from 3:00 until 7:00, we got a buck off on the food and $.50 off on our beer.  Side orders included fries tater tots, onion rings, green salads or Caesar salad).

A good menu - remade in 2011 with better quality and wider selection

A good menu – remade in 2011 with better quality and wider selection


All of us chowed down, supplemented by one of only four beers on tap (Rainier, Vaorizer, Boneyard or Kolisch).   We were so stuffed, we couldn’t even take advantage of the all-day breakfast special consisting of two eggs, hashbrowns, and toast for $5.

And Club 21 has a great juke box and live music periodically (“We’re not a rock show venue, but feature a few bands a several times each month.”)   Also check out some specials such as “Bottomless Mimosas” and “Comedy Brunches.”

They do not have a website but rely on minimal marketing through Facebook.

Don - the cook who is good at his job.

Don – the cook who is good at his job.

So if you are looking for info on the web about Club 21, be careful to be specific about the name and location. Otherwise, you will end up at the websites of venues with the same name in:

Oakland: Club 21 is the San Francisco Bay Area’s Hottest Gay & Lesbian Latin and Hip Hop Party Destination, the number #1 Gay Latin and Hip Hop Night Club.”

Galveston Island,Texas: (in the Historical District. Rated #2 out of 13 on Trip Advisor for nightlife) “Island Chic. Sophisticated. Relaxed. That’s the low-down on 21, Galveston Island’s premier spot for great times, great atmosphere, and great friends.”

Pueblo Colorado:  (The only strip club in Pueblo – rated at 2.5 stars out of 5  – mostly because “The dancers were burned out.”)

Or you could end up at the websites for the nightclub on West 52nd Street in New York City or a luxury retail story in Singapore.  Nevertheless, it appears that Marcus and Warren are going to stick with the name Club 21 and the history it embodies.

Religious statuettes and old whiskey trinkets - tacky but quant.....

Religious statuettes and old whiskey trinkets – tacky but quant…..

But if you want a no frills, old school environment with  exceptional burgers, a charming atmosphere with friendly regulars and helpful staff, no mixed drinks, a diverse juke-box and a good, albeit limited, selection of cheap draft beers, head to Portland’s Club 21.

And Marcus, why not hitchhike on Build-a-Burger (BaB) with BaBS (Build-a-Banana Split).  First you  select the ice cream flavor, then topping…….then……!

An inanimate regular at the bar




Club 21     2035 NE Glisan





(To view the map with all the bars reviewed by Thebeerchaser, click on the “View Larger Map” link at the bottom of the map below)

Thebeerchaser Goes International – Through Bavaria to Venice and Beyond….

A draft Moretti at the Devils Forest Pub in Venice

A draft Moretti at the Devils Forest Pub in Venice

Back to the Rick Steves’ Best of Europe Tour after the first two posts took us from Amsterdam through the Rhine Valley in Germany (according to Wikipedia, a 2010 report showed Germany ranked second in the world for per-capita beer consumption) and Austria.  A highlight was traveling through Bavaria – the southeastern-most state of Germany, which is known for its 40 types of beer and purportedly over 4,000 brands of Bavarian beer.

So many options and so little time....!

So many options and so little time….!

Bitburger – an excellent German Bier

The Autobahn is an outstanding method of traveling and the scenery, mostly rural, is stunning.

Highlights included two historic castles – both abodes of Mad King Ludwig II.  This is not the name of a linebacker for the Oakland Raiders, but a real Bavarian king, whose taste for these massive structures helped lead to his ultimate demise in 1898, even though they were not built using public funds, but from the king’s personal fortune and borrowing.

A King's home is his castle...

Neushwanstein – A King’s home is his castle – er, castleS, that is……

Construction of Neushwanstein – the largest castle – started in 1868 as a “retreat” and tribute to composer Richard Wagner.

Perhaps Ludwig’s childhood castle home –  built in 1833 by his father called Hohenschwangau, in the Bavarian village of the same name, wasn’t sufficient because the “retreat” – only a few hundred yards away was started when Ludwig was 35 and living in the fortress below.

The original castle - Nechwas

The original castle – Hohenschwangau – A “stone throw” from Neushwasnstein – the King’s retreat castle.


Our nine days in Italy commenced  in Venice – the Floating City, which is built on pilings and actually comprises over 100 islands separated by the legendary canals and connected by bridges.

American humorist, New York Times columnist and actor, Robert Benchley, upon arriving in Venice was reported to have sent a cable to his editor stating, “Streets full of water. Please advise.”

Venice was marvelous and besides the wonderful history, the food and the pubs – not just cafe’s, but real bars – were notable.                          

By the Palace of Tears in Venice

Near the Bridge of Sighs in Venice

Streets full of water - Please advise.....!

Streets full of water – Please advise…..!

Although we did not eat there, based on its ambiance, the staff and the beer, my favorite bar was The Devils Forest Pub – right near the famous Rialto Bridge.

Trip Advisor reviews were good including this one from a visitor from the United Kingdom in April:

This pub was fantastic with Italian staff that also spoke English, the food was delicious and great value for money and the décor is fab like an old English pub well worth a visit.” 

Devil's Forest bartender with our crew.

Devil’s Forest bartender with our crew.

This one from July, 2013 echoes our experience:

“Great pub just a few steps away from Rialto off a side street. Very friendly staff and a great crowd there. Good beers on tap, we did not eat there, but the place was packed with a good fun crowd (was there during Spain/Brazil match). Would definitely go back if I return.”

A true pub atmosphere.

A true pub atmosphere at The Devil’s Forest


After a long day of sightseeing    (and shopping) we wanted to sample some of the Venetian food so we took a boat to the other side of the City.  We were successful in this goal as can be seen from the photo below:

Everyone had wine except Thebeerchaser who had a Moretti Bier.
Pizza and Moretti beer for dinner



And while in Venice, I got to see a few more bars which looked good from very cursory visits and on-line reviews – they are on my list to explore when we return.  These included:

Bar A1 10 Savi:   (see picture below)

Bar A1 10 Savi - Another tavern near the Rialto Bridge

Bar A1 10 Savi – Another tavern near the Rialto Bridge


Bacaro Jazz made me chuckle because the décor and stated tradition surrounding it reminded me of one of my early Portland dive taverns – The Dixie Tavern in Old Town.  Take a look at the July, 2011 review from Yelp of the Venice bar and the pictures I took of both establishments:

The International Symbol of Support....

Bacaro Jazz Bar  – The international symbol of support on the ceiling……

“Bacaro Jazz has a fun atmosphere and is perfectly placed by the Rialto Bridge to bring in all the tourists and backpackers.   Right when you walk in the first thing that grabs your attention besides the long bar counter is all the Bras – yes Bras hanging on the ceiling.” 


“The tradition is all the women walking in who donate their bra to the collection tend to get a free drink and a rise from the
crowd.  The Bar has every drink you can think so if your intent is to walk in sober and  leave the same way forget about it.”             


Portland's Dixie Tavern - A New Meaning to "In the Cups"

Portland’s Dixie Tavern – A New Meaning to “In the Cups”

Each year at the Dixie, they make a donation to the Susan Kommen Foundation for each of the ceiling decorations.


Perhaps it is an abrupt transition, but I cannot leave this post without showing another example of a church we passed in Austria – the steeples were always great landmarks in every city and this one was no exception.

A landmark in every city in Germany, Austria and Italy!

A landmark in every city in Germany, Austria and Italy!

And finally, one of the most outstanding cathedrals and structures on the entire trip – the Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of St. Mark – in Venice.  We trudged up the 373 steps to the top of this architectural and engineering masterpiece for a wonderful view of Venice and the surrounding countryside.

The interior of St. Mark's

The interior of St. Mark’s

The basilica is the final resting place of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice.  Construction started in the 9th century and it is one of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world.  The mosaics (about 40,000 square feet) and bronze sculptures are remarkable. It has five domes laid out in the form of a Roman cross.

One can only imagine the labor of the peasants including stories of holding back food and water rations of the workers as the upper dome, which rises 141 feet, was being completed so they would not lose the significant time it took to leave their posts for biological functions.  The Basilica was consecrated in 1094 although it was not completed until 1674.

One of the best examples of Byzantine architecture

One of the best examples of Byzantine architecture in the world.

On to Rome and the Cinque’ Terra on the Mediterranean coast.