Sweet Caroline…..

The Magnusson crew and Thebeerchaser in front of the Caroline Tavern in Seattle

My Beerchasing exploits – visiting over 350 bars since starting this hobby in 2011, have taken me to only two previous Washington establishments – the Pour House in Port Townsend in 2012 and a recent review of Loowit Brewing in Vancouver, Washington.

The opportunity to have beers with three members of the wonderful Magnusson clan in Seattle, provided the motivation to add another.  My affection for Jon, Jamie and Rob Magnusson is well founded since Jamie (with the baseball cap below)  is one of my two son-in-laws – also because they are wonderful and interesting individuals.

Now married for twelve years, Jamie met my oldest daughter, Lisa, while both were students at the University of WashingtonAll three of the guys are Huskies – a long family tradition with football season tickets going back about sixty years.

Jon’s structural engineering firm – Magnusson Klemencic Associates did the engineering work on the revised Husky Stadium several years ago.  In fact MKA is recognized as one of the top five sports facility engineering firms in the US and their portfolio reflects NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB and collegiate projects.

Safeco Field in Seattle – home of the Mariners and site of innovative structural engineering

Some preliminary research on north Seattle dive bars to find one near Lake Forest Park  – where they all reside – yielded a compelling choice – The Caroline Tavern in nearby Lake City. It was listed in a Google search on “Ten Seattle dive bars “with a good reputation(although those two words may be a contradiction in terms).

“A bustling hangout place for a cross-section of ages, ethnic groups as well as subcultures..”  (We were probably part of the subculture category.)

On my second visit – in the morning – it was not a good cross section…..

How many dive bars look like this on the exterior?

And this historic bar was, in fact, a great choice which we all enjoyed (as was the case at the Lake City site of the Elliot Bay Brewery where we had dinner afterwards).  That said, since I claim some background on what constitutes a dive bar, I question whether the Caroline fits neatly into that description as discussed below.

The following excerpt about the Caroline is from a wonderful blog I discovered doing subsequent research.  I say “wonderful” because Seattlebar.org has the same mission as my own – Thebeerchaser – only my journey pales compared to blogger, Pete Andrejeski‘s,  exploits in the pursuit of this worthy goal..

Douglas – she makes her mark on the Parallel Bars versus Dives……

This Seattle resident has had a drink in 3,840 bars of which 1,6049 are Seattle watering holes. Now there are some that say Thebeerchaser’s 350+ visits and reviews over the last eight years is notable, but equating the two blogs is like comparing Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to a kid on the jungle gym at a local playground….

Pete stated in his post on the Caroline:

“There is no doubt that the Caroline is one of the 20 to 30 oldest bars in Seattle. The Caroline itself includes mentions of a start date in 1933.  (probably at another location until 1940) In the late 30s and early 40s the Caroline was owned by Mrs. Mary McNulty. “

Actually, the bar’s written history provided to me by Sarah, our friendly bartender, starts with the following historical narrative:

Sarah – a friendly bartender who knows the history of her bar

“There are references to the Caroline Tavern as early as 1926, with only four owners for the entire history, but city records indicate that Mary McNulty was the owner of record in 1933…….legend has it that she named it after her cat or her aunt, but there is a picture of Mary in the bar to this day and she is holding a cat.

The current building was constructed before Prohibition.   Mary eventually sold the bar to Jack Kelly for one dollar. Pictures of Jack in fifty year increments are featured at the bar as well. Mr. Kelly was a boxer, hence the bell from a boxing ring in the bar now, which is rung when the house buys a round……Legend has it that Will Rogers and Wiley Post ate and drank there after playing polo at the Olympic Riding and Driving Club.”

The Bell is still rung when the house buys a drink – in the upper right

As stated above, the Caroline was listed in Google as a dive bar and a number of the social media reviews also describe it as a dive.

That said, while there may not be a distinct dividing line, between what constitutes a dive versus a neighborhood watering hole, I offer this background on dives from one of my earlier blog posts: https://thebeerchaser.com/2011/09/18/analyzing-dive-bars-head-first/

Unlike the typical dive bars I have visited the Caroline is in a wonderful, large old house with an attractive front entry.

The Ship in Multnomah Village

Now compare this with two of Portland’s fabled dives – the Ship Tavern in Multnomah Village and the Yamhill Pub – right in downtown Portland and known for being one of the top sellers of PBR in the State of Oregon.

The Yamhill – Dive or Grunge Bar??

I would suggest that one would never see two life-size wooden nutcrakers “guarding” the entrance to a hard-core dive bar. Take a look at these two right inside the front door.

(No one at the bar when I was there could tell me the story of how these two festive “soldiers” became permanent fixtures at the Caroline, but I doubt you will see another dive with this type of décor).

Not to get too carried away with trying to pigeonhole this bar, but three other factors that argue for the “neighborhood” bar category:

1. Sitting on a shelf right below the large screen TV in corner were three VCR and one DVD movies as shown in the picture below. Now, I don’t know if the VCR even worked, but tell me a dive bar where one would have ever seen videos starring Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen or Victor Herbert’s “Naughty Marietta.”

2. The Caroline was only the third bar in which I have seen a coin-operated breathalyzer.   Perhaps this is making an inferential leap, but I think this reflects a concern for patrons and the surrounding community verses a more laissez faire approach typical of dive bars.

3.  The Caroline keeps track of the birthdays of regulars and posts these. I didn’t have time to check to whether that meant that you should buy “Baby Ryan” a Budweiser when you are there in October or whether the bar provides a complimentary draft, but it’s a nice touch.

Now, whereas one should avoid generalizations, dive bar regulars, while generally not hostile to newcomers as is the stereotype, tend to stick to themselves, play pool or  ignore strangers. The Caroline seems to defy this image – in fact, according to Pete:

“(On the patio in back) we found two large, circular porch tables surrounded by outdoor, plastic chairs.  It was quite clear that these were communal tables.  Our addition to the deck, upon first appearance, seemed to bring the group count to 4.  4 groups, 2 tables…this is the kind of place where you grab a chair right next to a stranger and join in the conversation. 

Patio in back

It wasn’t long until we were ‘welcome[d] home’ by the regulars.  It seems that this is a traditional phrase at The Caroline.  “Welcome home”.  To say the very least, home was quite an experience.(emphasis supplied)

We chatted with a bricklayer who was drinking Busch Light, a carpenter who was sipping on Jagermeister and pounding bottles of Bud, a rapper and producer who, well I don’t know what the hell he was intoxicated with, and the list goes on…  We had entered a very diverse world of locals, who all seemed to know each other in some way or another.  Well, they knew each other as regulars at The Caroline, and it was quite a social experiment to enter the pack.

I still walked away with a fond feeling of family and community — something that is becoming more and more rare in the big city. “

I experienced this aspect to some extent myself on my second visit on a weekday morning at 10 AM when I found the bar stools all occupied by hard core regulars – a number of whom were chasing their beers with Bushmills or Jamesons.

After taking a few photos I was invited to join Ashley and Phil, who were sitting at a side bar and when I told them about my blog, started filling me on other stories from the Caroline.  They were nice people.

Ashley and Phil – personable regulars

And finally, to bring this issue to a close, one has to be careful to draw conclusions from social media review sites such as Yelp or Trip Advisor, yet they can be edifying if one looks at trends identified and in the context of other research.

So take these two excerpts from Yelp reviews on 3/21/19 and 11/23/18 respectively:

“Came in to enjoy a drink and play pool with a buddy who comes here often. The people were friendly the drinks were very reasonably priced and someone even brought over some salty snacks (I think it was another customer but gives you a idea of the vibe here) the guys playing pool here we’re some of the best I ever seen extremely friendly giving me advice on how to better my game.

Had a great time if you want to have a good drink with friendly people that u can’t go wrong here.”

Sarah relating some of the history of the bar.

And

“We walked in and you can tell right away this is a locals kinda joint were there are a lot of regulars. They were doing a pot-luck style thanksgiving with the pool table transformed into a makeshift table….We were warmly greeted by the regulars there and overall this seems like a really cool place to grab some drinks….”

The pool table, a few old-fashioned pinball machines and open space with tables adjoining the bar, make it a comfortable atmosphere.

Perhaps it was because I enjoyed the companionship of the Magnussons at this bar, but the Caroline, regardless of whether one’s opinion of what type of bar it is, is a great place to stop, have one of inexpensive beers on tap, get a salty snack and enjoy the refreshing vibe and ambiance and be “Welcomed Home.”

Now I found the Caroline after some cursory internet research, unlike the questionable intellect of the Yelp reviewer below from 4/27/15 (and one who affirms my point about being careful about over-reliance on social media).

Perhaps this guy (he goes by the name “Kris Loudmouth T”) needs to just stay home and watch old reruns of “Full House,” rather than exploring the big world outside…..

“It’s almost like they don’t want new customers. It took me 20 years to find out the name of this place…” (emphasis added)

Since the selection of food at the Caroline is limited and we were hungry, we decided to hit the nearby Lake City Pub of Elliot Bay Brewing – a nice pub, but not with the same character is our previous stop.

That said, the special that night – “fully loaded chipotle carnitas nachos”  was memorable and we went home with appetites more than satisfied and cholesterol elevated.

(Jon Magnusson did some calculations to determine the static load of this Happy-Hour offering to determine if the plate would sustain the mass presented by the edibles it supported.  His conclusion was that it would – at least for the moment……)

The Caroline Tavern    13702 15th Ave NE #3102    Seattle

Elliot Bay Brewing      Lake City Public House 

12537 Lake City Way NE   Seattle

The Yamhill Pub – A Dive Bar with Character or Grunge?

the Yamhill Pub - Dive or Grunge - or is there a difference?

The Yamhill Pub – Dive or Grunge – or is there a difference?

One of the wide-ranging debates in contemporary society – rivaling that of climate change, the future of Congress as a viable institution and gun control is that of the definition of dive bars i.e. how does one determine if the PBR he is drinking is consumed in a true dive bar or a trendy hole-in-the-wall that tries to masquerade as one (or is there even a level below “dive bar”?)

Justice Stewart - probably raised a mug in some dive bars

Justice Stewart – probably raised a mug in some dive bars

Some will reference the late Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart’s threshold test for obscenity when he wrote in his legendary opinion about pornography, “I know it when I see it.” 

Others try to identify specific dive bar characteristics,as exemplified by reference sources used by Thebeerchaser in his journey to visit bars, taverns and pubs in Portland – and subsequently, other locales including Europe, Alaska, Colorado, the South and Oregon regions east of the Cascades, and on the Oregon Coast.

seattle-dive-bars

An invaluable Beerchaser reference source

For example, my favorite from pages 9-10 of Seattle’s Best Dive Bars by Mike Seely:

“Some dives have vomit-caked toilet seats in the bathroom; others have cracked vinyl booths in the barroom.  Some have nicotine-stained murals dating back to the Depression; others have drink prices that seemingly haven’t wavered since then……..But really, no collection of characteristics can be melded to truly define what makes a bar a dive…..The term “dive’”is bestowed with a spoonful of love….What they have in common aren’t so much attributes, but a state of mind — you just know one when you see one.    

The Yukon Tavern - one of Portland's other dive bars

The Yukon Tavern – one of Portland’s other dive bars

Dive bars is one of the subsets of venues reviewed on the home page of this blog and of the approximately 115+ bars reviewed since August 2011, about fifteen have been so categorized including Portland’ dives the Ship Tavern, Bar of the GodsJoe’s Cellar, the Yukon Tavern and Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage Alaska to name a few.

And up North - Darwin's Theory in Anchorage

And up North – Darwin’s Theory in Anchorage

 —————

The Yamhill Pub in downtown Portland is the latest addition to the class, although I would submit that this historic bar may be submerged one additional step below “dive” to “grunge,” as discussed below.  In this scholarly discussion, I will first quote in full, the summary paragraph from Portland Barfly, because it so eloquently captures the “aura.”

“A genuine dive-bar lurking midst the downtown shopping arcade, the Yamhill Pub maintains an unreconstructed seediness through blaring juke, food…

Toilet No. 1

Bathroom No. 1

(and, for that matter, toilets) best avoided, actively-encouraged graffiti upon the smoke-stained walls, pennies-a-serving pitchers, and a fiercely-protective cadre of underemployed regulars (seniors, rockers, bike messengers) willing to throw themselves in front of Hummers to prevent the forces of gentrification. Intimidating for the first-time visitor, but that’s sort of the point.”

The bar at the Yamhill

The bar at the Yamhill

 And this excerpt from one of the Bar Fly reviewers in 2011 is edifying albeit puzzling,  “Yamhill IS the  bar in all of Portland, if not the world. I love it and will never stop drinking there.” 

You will not find the Yamhill Pub in the annual Willamette Week Bar Guide nor will it ever be one of the five Portland watering holes in Draft Magazine’s exclusive list of Best 100 Beer Bars in the United States

I visited the Yamhill three times – once with the Portland State University Athletic Department’s erstwhile, Denny Ferguson.  He also accompanied me at prior visits to the Cheerful Tortoise and The Cheerful Bullpen.  I also had an afternoon beer on my second visit with Merrill Lynch financial wizard, Mike Jones (also a Beerchaser at the Oregon Public House).

Beerchaser Regular - Dennis B. Ferguson (Fergy)

Beerchaser Regular – Dennis B. Ferguson (Fergy) with Thebeerchaser logo and PBR!

 

P1030195

Beerchaser and financial wizard, Mike Jones

 

 

 

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What “distinguishes” the Yamhill?

The Bathrooms – the bathrooms are most often characterized with adjectives similar to this description in 2010: “Bathrooms are disgusting,” and brought current by this Yelp reviewer in 2015: “The restrooms (were) just sick,” – both patrons evidently not disturbed by the fact that one of the heads has no lock on the door.

———–

Bathroom No. 2 - also no paradise!

Bathroom No. 2 – also no paradise!

These hieroglyphics are not of an intellectual bent...

These hieroglyphics are not of an intellectual bent…

The Graffitias you can see from the picture, every conceivable space in the one-room bar is covered with words and phrases accumulated through the years since it’s opening in 1939, and the same is true on the bathroom walls.

While some neat classic beers signs and one for Camel Cigarettes were displayed, there was a real paucity of the good memorabilia – okay junk – that typifies many dive bars and adds to the character because there are usually stories behind them.  Unfortunately, the graffiti, rather than offering the usual range of intellectual expressions and philosophical albeit trite drivel, was either indecipherable scribbling or obscenities ranging from one or two words to more graphic short phrases.  P1030321 P1030324

The only exception I found, notwithstanding a zealous search, was this truism which might be a suitable campaign slogan for Hillary Clinton:

“To be one with your weaknesses, is your greatest strength.”

And immediately below this phrase to add context –  if not a verifiable scientific hypothesis:  “You smell better when you are asleep.”

The Clientele – unlike a number of social media comments suggested, we did not find a group of hostile regulars who resent any new patron as an interloper. The approximately fifteen-seat bar was filled on each visit with a diverse group (male and female and a broad age demographic) ranging from tattooed punkers, a jovial drunk, some blue-collar serious beer drinkers to a few office workers – presumably downtown employees.

P1030325

On my third and final visit over the lunch hour, I sat at the bar next to a guy who was on his second Rainier Tall Boy when I sat down.  After spilling a good part of the second can on the bar which went on to his t-shirt, he told me that he was “getting ready” for his 1:30 court appearance for second degree trespassing.  (I did not suggest to him that the judge was probably not going to be impressed with his pre-function.)

The bartender on each visit was friendly and his conversation with those at the bar was ongoing. Unfortunately, it was difficult to the point of unattainable to carry on a conversation because the rock music pumping out of the juke-box was so loud.

The Food and Beer – Most of the dive bars reviewed at least have decent grub which helps one appreciate the usual lack of selection of quality beers; however, at the Yamhill, there is a microwave for popcorn or for a limited menu of frozen “treats” such as wings, corn dogs, chicken strips or lasagna and mac & cheese (the latter two obviously to be avoided).

Kevin, the owner and bartender, told me that you can also bring your own food in although besides a Subway and the YUMM Chinese restaurant, there’s not much near by.   (Warning – you might get beaten up if you bought food in a YUMM container.)

And by the way, don’t look for a website with their menu, the beers on tap or anything for that matter.  They do have a surprisingly decent selection of beer with ten on tap, including Blue Moon, Widmer Hefeweizen, Georgetown Porter, Oakshire Amber, Sam Adams Nitro Stout and Alameda’s Yellow Wolf Imperial IPA.  (Mike and I downed draft Blue Moons – as expected, the standard orange slice on our class was missing!)

The Standard at Yamhill!

No. 18 in North America in 2012!

Denny and I had PBR’s – $1.50 during Happy Hour and the bartender affirmed the astounding claim that the Yamhill is the top seller of PBR in Oregon (“We have four kegs of it on tap daily“).

Not only that, but at one time in the ’90’s they were #5 in North America!!  Before I could scoff, he pointed out this PBR sign from 2012 – Number 18 in North America in PBR sales.  Perhaps it’s the special they advertise “$3 for a pint of PBR and a shot of Old Taylor Whiskey.”

Thebeerchaser has used more quotes than typical in this post; however, they are so rich that they are worth sharing and it is fitting to close with the following two:

“The Yamhill Pub is a glorious sh*t crater. It’s a hole, a mess, a f*ing dive. The walls and floors and sundry surfaces are more graffiti-ed than not, and the pub certainly came by every squiggle honestly. Plastic cups do for the dirt-cheap well drinks, and the very idea of ordering any kind of cocktail seems vastly inappropriate.

The only thing that clashes with the Yamhill’s perfect image of a dive is the surprisingly decent collection of taps. Even in the midst of punk squalor, Portlanders still demand a decent IPA. The Yamhill Pub is amazing. It’s perfect. Never go there. You’ll ruin it.”  (Joe Streckert – Portland Mercury)        

Any bets on the five-year scenario?

Any bets on the five-year scenario?

And this one from a regular I chatted with briefly about Thebeerchaser blog. He ended our conversation with the lament, “Mark my words, this place will be gone in five years and that will be a tragedy.”

Although the Yamhill Pub is a grunge pit – He’s correct.

The Yamhill Pub

223 SW Yamhill