You last read about one of Portland’s fabled bars in the most recent post of Thebeerchaser – that being The Dockside Saloon and Restaurant. Located in an historic building, this classic bar has been owned by the same family since 1986. Well, the following narrative will tell you about another legendary bar you should visit – this one a dive bar in Northeast Portland.
Now when you see the term The Standard, (I’m choosing to capitalize both words throughout the post) you might automatically assume it references the Portland-based life insurance company. Indeed, “The Standard” is a marketing name for Portland’s own Standard Insurance Company, which was chartered in Oregon in 1906, now employs about 2,500 individuals and owns several high-rise buildings in downtown Portland.
But The Standard you will read about below is a bar which, even with a great reputation, has been below the radar in an inconspicuous location on NE 22nd Avenue – just off Burnside. And some might assert that with the dark wooden fence with a dumpster in the middle, fronting the bar, it looks like a recycling center.
Opened in 2007, it doesn’t have the long history of some other classic bars, but demands recognition. Why would you travel here and struggle for parking rather than hit one of the city’s many sparkling breweries or taprooms – some relatively close by including Upright, Laurelwood, Alameda and Culmination?
Well, one of Thebeerchaser’s trusted resources during the seven years of this tour of bars, taverns and breweries is Willamette Week’s Annual Bar Guide. The 2018 Edition) – “Portland Bars and Happy Hours – the 101 Best Bars in Portland,” sums it up succinctly in a wonderful review written by the weekly’s former Project Editor, Matthew Korfhage:
“But the thing that made me treat this bar as an extension of my living room for seven years, what makes it different from every other bar with cheap drinks and a pool table and a covered patio in winter, is the simple decency of the place.
The Standard is one of Portland’s last true neighborhood bars, a ramshackle version of Penny Lane decorated in shattered CDs and corrugated metal……More than any other bar I know in Portland, it is a sodden vision of an ideal society.”
And, in fact, going back and reviewing past issues of the Bar Guide, The Standard, unlike most Portland bars, has made the list of top bars – usually around 100 establishments – each of the last five years. Now this may be in large part due to Korfhage’s long tenure at the weekly paper.
*Note: Since he wrote a majority of the reviews in the Bar Guide, he is an expert and has written the piece on The Standard each year. And you can see below that his favorable opinion has not changed. Whether The Standard will hit a sixth consecutive year in 2019, may be in doubt since Korfhage wrote his last column for WW in April.
This reporter, who in 2017, was awarded first place for his columns on food writing by the American Association of Alternative Newspapers, has lived in St. Louis, Chicago, Munich and Bordeaux.
He just moved to Hampton Roads on the East coast to become the Food Editor for the Virginian Pilot. It’s Virginia’s largest daily newspaper. His excellent writing will be missed in Portland.
As can be seen by viewing his first two months of columns in Virginia, he continues his interesting and creative, if not somewhat unhealthy lifestyle, writing about bars and restaurants on the East coast. For example, his May 26th column was entitled and ends the first paragraph with this sentence. “I sacrificed my own health to try hot wings at 22 spots all over Hampton Roads and picked the best.”
But you can see below, his praise of The Standard was unwavering through the years:
2014: “The Standard is what it says it is, ‘A neighborhood standard.’”
2015: “But The Standard is pure of heart, from its owner through its bar staff through the longtime patrons who took up a collection to buy a scooter for the retiring cook and bartender…”
2016: “It’s the best little bar in Portland, and I won’t hear otherwise.”
2017: “The bar is cheap, no-nonsense fun in a way that takes all comers and yet is loving towards its long-time regulars. These days in Portland that makes The Standard not very standard at all. It makes it a GD treasure.”
The Standard has a wide variety of games and was even recognized in the website “Four Square Lists” as one of “The Best Fifteen Places for Bar Games in Portland.” And it has a bunch ranging from Big Buck Hunter to the traditional Pac Man to pool tables to classic pinball games including Terminator 3.
It even has a video puzzle arcade game named “Last Call.” While not on the list of the Top 50 which includes classics such as Trash Panic, Tetris Attack and Super Scribblenauts, it will probably keep you interested and occupied??!!
Or you can pick one of the many “treasures” in a vending machine that has everything from old Playboy Magazines to heart-shaped sunglasses to Nutter Butter candy bars to a mystery package which says “Porn Pin – Probably.”
(The only similar machine I’ve seen in eight years and visiting 120 Portland bars, was at Slab Town – a NW PDX dive bar with a once stellar reputation as an old-school rock and roll venue visited by Thebeerchaser in 2013).
Unfortunately, it became one of the classic Portland bars which poured its last PBR and hosted its last concert in 2017. In the Slab Town vending machine, you could even buy guitar strings and drum sticks – not the kind you eat……!
You can also have your picture taken in one of those old-fashioned photo booths.
Visiting The Standard that day with me were Beerchasing regulars, Jack Faust and Jim Westwood, both former Beerchasers-of-the-Quarter based on their compelling stories. They did outstanding appellate work during their careers at Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt and Stoel Rives respectively.
In addition, three other friends added to the late afternoon gathering – Charlie Faust, a mortgage loan consultant and Jack’s son; Chuck Mitchell, another retired attorney and a trial lawyer who showed skill in the courtroom and Shannon Asato, who works in the Accounting Department at the Oregon Food Bank.
Shannon was the only Beerchasing neophyte and her good humor and competence when she worked with me for a number of years at the Schwabe law firm, made her a welcome addition to our crew.
“Standard” would not be an apt description for the exterior of the bar, and you might drive or walk right past it if you weren’t deliberately seeking it – in fact, Jack Faust was focused on joining us and drove past anyway. He then called his son to find out where we were and took static for his lack of punctuality when he got there. (Of course, he parked, before dialing his cell….)
You walk in through the covered patio, which is vaguely reminiscent of the days before Oregon’s smoke-free legislation passed in 2008 and the interior of every dive bar had a hazy, smoke filled environment, which would be hazardous for anyone without pristine lungs. (The smoke was pretty minimal, however.)
Individuals and groups sit at the picnic tables chatting or working on computers – often accompanied by their dogs and drink cheap beers or stiff well drinks.
The inside of the bar is also spacious and filled with the type of stuff which endears us to this type of venue. Besides the old-style pinball machines and games, a pool table and a curiously-short shuffleboard, there are old beer signs, tacky art, an idiosyncratic (or bizarre) cracked mirror the full length of the bar behind it and, well, just a lot of stuff that makes you feel at home….
There are too many features at The Standard to name them all including Jello Shots for $1, alcoholic Slushies, Sunday craft beers for $3, and a “Crappy Book Club – “Bring your crappy books, and trade them for other crappy books!”
And like a number of storied watering holes, the bar is a community unto itself. For example, there’s traditional Christmas decorations in season (also Santa Claus horror movies), an annual Chili Cooking Contest – the proceeds in 2018 went to Friends of the Columbia River Gorge – a Kentucky Derby Party and occasional golf tournaments – the proceeds last year went to the Oregon Food Bank.
Another distinguishing characteristic is a noticeable affinity for Hamm’s Beer. This is manifested in its Wednesday all-day $1 Hamm’s pints, numerous logos and a notable stuffed “Hamms’ Bear” over the bar wearing a Portland Trailblazer jersey.
Don’t forget the sign on the two unisex bathrooms stating, “One at a Time,” possibly a concern that those imbibing in the $1 brews or jello shots may think they can join the “Mile High Club” without leaving terra firma.
And I don’t think you will ever see The Standard take the appalling route of one of Portland’s other bars – Saraveza. In 2015, perhaps to be trendy as quoted in New School Beer on 11/5/15:
“‘For seven years we have honored the world of domestic beer by always pouring a pint of Hamm’s alongside some of the best craft beers in the world.
It was important to me to acknowledge the industry that created a springboard for our recent craft beer revolution,’ said Sarah Pederson, owner of Saraveza Bottle Shop & Pasty Tavern. ‘Breakside’s Wisco Tavern Beer does the same thing for us, but with a new twist that we are proud to stand behind.’” (emphasis supplied)
Really??? (Maybe you want to change, Sarah, but don’t suggest that Breakside can replace Hamms!)
The last time, I had a draft Hamm’s on tap was at a wonderful bar – The Coyote Road House, in Door County, Wisconsin. That’s right next to the “Land of Sky-Blue Water” which is home to the Hamm Brewery, founded in 1865 in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Now, when Faust and Westwood first got to The Standard, the practice ingrained in them for so many years — each worked in different high-rises owned by Standard Insurance — got the best of them. Both took out legal pads and started billing time as they drank their $1 Hamm’s.
Since Chuck Mitchell worked in a small plaintiff’s firm in Clackamas County, he took a more relaxed approach and talked the other two into just considering this a pro-bono engagement.
And Jack always gets a kick each time the famous French opera bearing his name comes to Portland. This time it was Portland Opera’s three and one-half hour rendition of French composer, Charles Gounod’s, “Faust,” in June.
In a deal with Mephistophele’s – the Devil, (a baritone in the opera), the protagonist, Faust, trades his soul for a chance at a second youth and the prospect of seducing a beautiful young maiden,
Charlie Faust became worried when he heard his father, quoting some lines from the opera, to wit:
“When will death free me from this burden? I curse happiness and knowledge, prayer and faith.“
We had to convince the younger Faust that his dad was not depressed, but just showing his erudition and cultural refinement in addition to his tendency to share his philosophy on the human condition, temptation, redemption, Goethe and the Oregon Supreme Court’s latest opinion on the Gun Control Initiative.
But we digress….The Standard is not going to be your go-to place for quality pub food. It’s line-up is limited and confined to items such as chips and salsa, a few sandwiches, mini-corndogs and fried ravioli(?)
They also have a drink special every day which includes the aforementioned Hamms’ special on Wednesdays.
The Standard was a great addition to the bars I have visited and all of us gave it a thumbs- up.
And you have to look hard for a social media review which is critical. Almost all reviewers love the character, sense of humor and charitable heart of this saloon. The few critical ones seem to be malcontents who didn’t like the service – kind of an anomaly when it is a self-service bar or maybe a bartender wasn’t as friendly as they would have liked. Or take this one going back to 2012. (I guess that’s not too bad…..):
“I have a hard time with this review. The location is really good and the people seem really cool. On the other hand their well rum was by far the worst rum that I have been in near proximity with.” (Yelp – 4/9/12)
Now Portland has over 700 bars, breweries and taverns, but if you haven’t been to The Standard, you should remedy that. And it does redefine the meaning of the word “standard” as there is nothing ordinary or typical about it.
While they have some good craft beer on tap, in the interest of history and honoring the character of this bar, belly up to the bar and ask Tyler for a draft Hamms’. If it’s Wednesday, it will only set you back $2 – a buck for the beer and a buck for Tyler.