Say “Tug Boat (Brewery)” Ten Times Really Fast……

Sam Adams at the entrance to the Tug Boat Brewery

Sam Adams at the entrance to the Tug Boat Brewery

Wait a minute, I guess “Toy Boat” is the phrasing that’s supposed to mess up your diction when rapidly repeated.  However, Portland’s Tug Boat Brewery, is a treasure waiting for you on SW Ankeny Street in downtown Portland.  Notwithstanding the fact that I worked downtown every year since its founding in 1993, I had never even seen it.  Ankeny Street reminded me of my long-ago trips to Dan and Louis’ Oyster Bar (near what is now Voodoo Donuts) where I used to take dates in high school.

I spent a productive and enjoyable two-hours at the Tugboat with former Portland Mayor and now, the new City Club Executive Director, Sam Adams, talking about issues and his vision for the City Club of Portland, which Thebeerchaser joined in 1971 after graduating from Oregon State.  Established in 1916, the City Club is Oregon’s premier public affairs forum and promotes civic engagement through its volunteer research and other activities.  Sam was selected from a pool of 80 very qualified applicants.

He was in a good mood (I suggested that it resulted from not having to listen to Randy Leonard on a daily basis anymore) and has dynamic ideas for City Club.  He did not fall for the joke I tried to pull, however.  (Have him order a Samuel Adams Lager and the bartender bring a picture of the former Mayor to the table.)

Sam Adams, new Executive Director of the City Club of Portland

Sam Adams, new Executive Director of the City Club of Portland

Sam suggested we visit the Tugboat, described by the following excerpt from Willamette Week’s 2011 Drink Guide:

You’d be forgiven for mistaking Tugboat for a classy Prohibition-era speakeasy.  The dimly lit microbrewery, Portland’s smallest and downtown’s oldest, brews tiny batches of browns, ambers and stouts………the laid back pub is surrounded by books; regulars strike up conversation behind a battered copy of Ulysses. “

Note:  Not to digress, but the only problem I have with the above quote is that assuming the WW reporter was old enough to visit a speakeasy, he or she would have to be about 110 years old to make this assertion!         

No legal beer?  No wonder there were speakeasys.

No legal beer? Glad that none of us were around to experience this period.

“The place even has an Emmy on display (Thebeerchaser verified that this is correct and the father of one of the bartenders was the Director of “Rich Man, Poor Man”)…..It has nabbed some much-deserved medals for its unfiltered beers, making it a perfect environment for casual drinkers looking for peace and conversation. “ 

A Limited, but Quality Selection of Drafts

A Limited, but Quality Selection of Drafts

Matt, one of the bartenders, was extremely helpful and based on his prior employment as a pedi-cab tour operator giving Portland brewery tours, also knowledgeable.

He stated that the Tugboat location was originally a coffee shop.  The interesting furnishings as described above and below are all remnants from the prior tenant.

Matt and Thebeerchaser with the famous logo.....

Matt and Thebeerchaser with the famous logo…..


Distinguishing Characteristics

The Beer:  Unlike most breweries, Tugboat does not distribute their beer – they produce  just enough – only eight kegs per batch – to serve in the brew-pub – it’s truly a craft beer.

Because they do not mass produce it, the beer is not filtered. “…our ales retain their freshness because the yeast is allowed to live…The pasteurization process that strips body and color from beer is a necessary evil in ‘big batch’ commercial brewing.  But, thankfully, that ain’t us.  We filter our coffee. Not our beer.”

Although the number of Tugboat brews available that night was limited to about four, Sam and I thought their beer was very good (we had a Red Cloud and Snow Plow IPA).  They also have other draft beer available.  Since I was driving and Sam rode his bike, we did not have the courage to try their Chernobyl Stout (13.5%!)  I also tried a Pear Cider which was excellent.

Almost all of the Internet reviews were positive although some, such as this somewhat pretentious critique by PortlandBarFly asserted that the beer is too hoppy: “….Leftist bike messengers, fauxhemians, silly old men that wish to be taken for professors, the sort of couples that enjoy playing board games before strangers – there’s a suffering self-satisfaction about the crowds keeping Portland’s smallest brewery afloat that makes one wish to jump atop the bar and force regulars to admit their beer just isn’t very good. The emperor has no clothes and far too many hops.”

Is there really a copy of "Ulysses" in this collection?

Is there really a copy of “Ulysses” in this collection?


In contrast, some out-of-town visitors were impressed, “I LOVE THIS PLACE!….an eclectic mix of people and everyone’s so approachable and nice!  I wish I could live here. (They did not clarify whether they meant Portland or in the Brewery itself…)  “I’m ready to crown it one of the friendliest establishments in Portland.”  (Bing – 4/29/12)


The Interior and Furnishings: “This place is awfully unassuming from the outside – just a door down a side street and some heavily tinted windows.  But that adds to the effect of being inside and feeling like you stepped into someone’s basement rumpus room.”  (Bing – 8/21/12)                                                                  

A comfortable "rumpus room" environment...

A comfortable “rumpus room” environment…

On one wall, there are thirty-five 33 RPM album covers from the  past – and speaking of eclectic, one row consisted of The Village People, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Grand Funk Railroad, The Royal Marines and Peter Nero’s “Summer of ’42.”

Before CDs and Pandora.....

Before CDs and Pandora…..

One person suggested that there was even a secret door to Portland’s infamous Mary’s Club in the back, but the bartender stated that this was true of the Mexican restaurant next door.

The food is pretty limited, but reasonably priced and good: “When the pita plate came out, everyone raved about the
hummus, but when the nachos came out, jaws dropped. I would have to guess there
was an entire bag of chips on the plate, loaded up with cheese, peppers,
olives, etc. for just $7.” (Bing – 8/21/12)

Grand Funk - old but after Prohibition....

Grand Funk – old but after Prohibition….


Tugboat has only one wide-screen TV which purportedly cannot be tuned to any sports channel….. 

Terry Nelson (husband), Megan McEnroe-Nelson (wife), and John McEnroe (father-in-law/father)     are proud of their own owner-operated brewery and have an establishment with good beer and an environment with great character and ambiance.



Tugboat Brewery                      711 SW Ankenny

45 degrees latitude        132 degrees longitude

A limited menu but good food at a reasonable price.

A limited menu but good food at a reasonable price.

Beerchaser Miscellany II

One Year of Touring Taverns, Pubs and Bars and Still Going Strong

Thebeerchaser Tour – One Year Anniversary

It has been one year since Thebeerchaser’s Tour of Portland Bars commenced.  During that year I have reviewed 23 bars, pubs and taverns and the original premise for taking this journey has been confirmed — each bar has had its own personality, ambiance, flaws and character.  From the first stop – Brooklyn Park Pub (August 2011) to Lutz Tavern (July 2012) and even the one in Washington (Pourhouse – August, 2012) – all have been worth the visit.

As a result, I strongly disagree with the quote from a review of one of the bars I visited:

“I’m beginning to understand the formula for what constitutes a popular bar in Portland….Make it dark, create some reason for the service to suck and make PBR cheaper than soda….”

Good – But Doesn’t Make the Bar Necessarily Great

Because of the sheer number of Portland bars, my original guidelines were to visit a bar from each letter of the alphabet and then restart the cycle; however, I have thrown that practice out.  I go where you suggest or where I happen to see bartenders, bar stools, PBR or microbrews sold, etc. ……The guideline of reviewing only Portland bars also fell by the wayside when I reviewed Pour House – a Port Townsend establishment.  It was too good not to share and I will occasionally do future non-Portland venues.


During the last year, seven Beerchasers-of-the-Month (or Quarter when I get lazy) have been designated – an “honor” for which the person may or may not have a direct or indirect with beer or bars – I just wanted to tell you about them.  They include:

Craig Hanneman – Former OSU and Pittsburgh Steeler Football Player and Business Executive

The Crew of the USS Constitution

PSU Economics Professor, Dr. John Walker

Retired Oregonian columnist, John Terry

Author Dr. Frankfurt – Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Princeto

Dr. Harry Frankfurt, Author of On Bullshit             

Crime Novelist James Crumley *

Four Portland Bartenders

Retired Chemical Engineer, Harold Schlumberg

* Crumley, a now deceased Montana writer, had an affinity for bars and beer (and gin) and was credited by some reviewers with the best opening line of any crime novel.  From his book, The Last Good Kiss:         

      “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts, in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”                  

Drinking Buddy — Fireball Roberts

After reading another of his novels – The Mexican Tree Duckone gets a taste for Crumley’s perspective:

“I went through so much help that I actually hired a woman so drunk that she had forgotten that I had fired her the week before.”

Noted Crime Novelist


Bar Joke Update

Occasionally, I have posted a few bar jokes from my collection.  This month’s selection is timeless – so to speak….:

“The past, present and future walk into a bar —

 It was really tense…..”              

It’s All Relative….

Becomes “light” headed when he drinks too much!

% * @ + !




What Distinguishes Portland Besides Its Beers and Bars?

Voodoo Donuts, of course –

Brewer’s Inspiration

and as The Week, a national magazine in its August 17th issue reported on the new Rogue Brewery  Voodoo Donut Bacon Maple Ale. “This brew combines the flavors of wood-smoked malts and real maple syrup and bacon to create a ‘smoky, porky, nutty’ taste.”

Do you want pancakes or hasbrowns and eggs with that beer?

Makes Thebeerchaser wonder if he should stick to Keystone Light….!

Phoenix Sign

This sign from our visit to a bar named “The Speakeasy” in Phoenix last spring was worth sharing:

John Mansfield Update

A good friend and one of my favorite lawyers and former colleague, Schwabe Williamson and Wyatt’sJohn Mansfield, accompanied me on my visit to Mock Crest Tavern last May.  John is a patent lawyer and one, like many lawyers, who is extremely literal as contrasted to literate.   For example, after reading the phrase in the Mock Crest menu, “Breakfast Served – Any Time,” he tried to order “French Toast from the Renaissance Era.”                      

John and Hanna

Since our visit, he turned 50 and had a wonderful birthday party planned by his wife, Hanna (“John Mansfield Goes to L”) – As pointed out previously, John is a Renaissance Man having majored in music at the U of O before getting his law degree Magna Cum Laude at Cornell.  Highlight of the evening was John dazzling the crowd with classical (Dvorak) and then some more contemporary George Gershwin selections on the piano.

The Piano Man Will Also Prosecute Your Patent

He revealed to me another example of an attorney’s tendency to be literal causing a problem.  “A lawyer walking to the courthouse is waiting at a corner for a “Walk” signal next to a German Shepherd and a teenage boy walks up.  The boy asks the lawyer if his dog bites and the lawyer says “no,” so the kid leans down and pets the dog, who promptly sinks his teeth into the kid’s arm.  The boy says to the lawyer, “I thought you said your dog didn’t bite.”  The lawyer responds, “I did.  That’s not my dog….”

Not the Lawyer’s Dog…..

I was glad that John related this tale rather than that of the lawyer he knows whose last case was Budweiser.


Phoenix Sun – Not!  And Speaking of Keystone Light….

Most basketball fans know that former Phoenix Suns guard, Steve Nash, was traded to the Lakers recently.

I loved the story from his first trip to SmogTown.  Some fans, saw him driving down the freeway.

Rates a Keystone Light Before Even Playing……

They recognized him in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven vehicle and shouted to  him when they pulled up beside him – both vehicles still traveling at full speed.  As the story goes, they proceeded to hand him a Key Stone Light, which he said he appreciated.

Perhaps when he has his first good game, he’ll rate a Stella.

Ash Street Saloon – Where the Locals are Rockstars!

My friend, attorney Scott Whipple (see Dixie Tavern post), and I decided to hit two venues on the same night since they were separated only by several blocks.  Located in between the two (Dixie Tavern and Ash Street Saloon)  in Portland’s Old Town is the infamous VooDoo Donuts.  Known for its baking creativity exemplified by such concoctions as the Maple Bar with Bacon, Voodoo is a Portland landmark.

America Asks “What’s for Breakfast”

A Portland Landmark

Since Scott is a former collegiate athlete (basketball and football at Grinnell College in Iowa) and in good physical shape, when I suggested we sample the fare, it led him  to quote deceased fitness guru, Jack LaLanne, “Probably millions of Americans got up this morning with a cup of coffee, a cigarette and a donut.  No wonder they are sick and fouled up.”  Given that we were on a pub tour, I reminded him that the relevant slogan should instead be:  Beer – it’s so much more than just a breakfast drink….”

The Ash Street Saloon

The Ash Street Saloon like the Dixie Tavern is in a very old building with purportedly historic roots.  One reviewer stated:

“Before the Ash Street Saloon started in 1994, it was a Korean Restaurant, before that a Mexican joint, and long before that it was a bookstore, and sometime around that era a barbershop as well. The place has worn many faces.

There was a restaurant called Hesse’s Cafe in the 1915 and 1930s next to it, they used to pass out tokens for meals to all the sailors and port workers. It also had a card room in the back that few knew about. But it all started as the Bickle Building, built in 1885. This was where the Portland City Council would meet up stairs… below was a confectionary (candy store).”

Bartender Tracy, Scott Whipple and thebeerchaser Logo

The bartender was a very nice lady named Tracy – originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, and now a confirmed Portlander.  It was a little rocky at the start when she asked Scott, “Do you have any ID.”   Scott responded in lawyer mode by asking, “About What?”  Fortunately, she brushed that off and then told us about the great half-pound burgers they offered, Happy Hour from 4 to 8:00 PM each day and the good live music seven nights of the week.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The reputation for live music is this venue’s main attraction.  Although the bar area itself is very small, there is ample room for bands and people to dance.  One review stated:   It is a large dark space with a strange little bar….The Ash St. Saloon has a true, deep love for supporting music. This place is a haven for touring and local artists. The venue has great sound. Ask any musician in Portland and they’ll rave about the sound engineer, everyone in town loves her.”

If it were not for the music, Ash Street could be considered just a dive bar.  The building is old and quirky – for example, old deteriorating wood floors on the bar floor and brick walls in the band area.  Some have raised concerns about it being grimy:

A Tradition for Live Music

“The bathrooms are sometimes sketchy. ”  Perhaps “sketchy” was exemplified by another person who stated, “The bathroom has one of those old-school, and I’m betting, very unsanitary rotating pieces of cloth towels and the women’s room had weird oil marks on the cloth towel.” 

Another asked what might be considered  to be not just a rhetorical question:

Was that a large rat scampering across the floor or a small nutria?”

Old and Quirky Furnishings

However, after getting a $1.25 cold PBR draft, both Scott and I agreed that each of our personalities was at least as  blemished as the Ash Street setting and we would return.  We also both remembered with fondness when rolls of cloth towels in public restrooms were the norm.

We ended our tour of Ash Street with Scott reminiscing about the good old days in college.  Of course, I raised the question as to why any rational person would go to college in Iowa even if they were on an athletic scholarship.  Scott countered with a quote from Iowa Congressman, Leonard Boswell:  “Iowa is home to teachers, farmers, lawyers, factory workers, and many others who work hard every day to provide the best for their families and their future. “

Midwestern Higher Education

I then reminded Scott about the role that Iowa farmers played in the substantial increase in whisky prices based on  the fallacy of ethanol as a solution to the US energy crisis with a quote from Rolling Stone magazine

Ethanol  is not just hype — it’s dangerous, delusional bullshit. Ethanol doesn’t burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. It consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double.” –Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone Magazine (issue 1032)

A “Shot” to the Economics of Whisky Production?

As  you can see, thebeerchaser tour not only explores the ambiance of Portland’s many bars and taverns, but involves pseudo-cerebral discussion on public policy, dietary issues and, of course, the ongoing debate about the long-term future of the letter M in the alphabet.

Ash Street Saloon225 SW Ash Street “Where the Locals are Rock Stars!!

Dixie Tavern – Portland’s Authentic Rock and Roll Tavern???

Since one of the benefits of the beerchaser tour is visiting bars that I would otherwise never frequent, it is helpful to peruse some reviews before I drop in.


One should be cautious in giving credence to bar reviews (except for this site….)  As was the case with The Dixie Tavern, the contrast in sentiments is remarkable.  For example:

  • “The appropriate way to describe the scene at Dixie Tavern – remember your worst middle school dance, with less sexiness.” (Comment – Was this person a classmate of the beerchaser at Thora B. Gardiner Jr. Middle School in Oregon City?)    


Nothing has Changed Since 1962 – Even the Dances??


The Main Bar at Dixie’s

“Dixie isn’t too bad. I like this bar a lot more during the work week when it’s not a full on meat market. Then you can actually talk to the bartenders who are nice and make good cocktails, listen to some good rock, order some tasty food, and just relax in general…….

Once the weekend hits it turns into a meat market. It turns into a completely different bar – it goes crazy with girls dancing on the bar, drunk as *&#@ people scattered everywhere, lame/plastic people.”

The second review was spot on.  Dixie was very low-key on our first visit – a Thursday night around 7:00 P.M. The place is immense with the main bar downstairs seating about twenty-five and a second bar on the same floor having about twelve seats.  There is a third bar upstairs for the weekends. Only the main bar was occupied at the time.

Karlin – “That’s like George with a K”  was wonderful informing us about the bar including its happy hours -Tuesday through Saturday from 4 to 7 PM. Our first question was “How many beers on tap?” to which she replied, “None.We only serve beer in cans!”  (about 20 options)  That’s right –  they have no beer on tap! – we paid $2 for a can of PBR at Happy Hour.  We also learned that the bartenders’ motto is “Dixie has great cans….”

Distinguishing Characteristics

  • It has activities almost every night ranging from karaoke to goldfish races. (Karlin explained that these are wild and the “jockeys” use squirt guns to spur their favorite marine creature to win.)       

Notwithstanding the intensity of the contests, we did not see any PETA representatives or their aquatic equivalents there at the time, which was good because it reminded me of the quote, Fish die belly upward, and rise to the surface. It’s their way of falling.”

  • There are probably about a hundred bras  hanging from the ceiling – which of course leads one to contemplate whether the idiom “In the Cups,” had its origin at Dixie rather than in the 1500’s in an English pub.  (“Because of its euphemistic and literary tone, this phrase is usually used jocularly.Source = THE DRUNKTIONARY)

No Floaters at Dixie’s Goldfish Tank

There were also about an equal number of baseball caps on the ceiling which I assume were worn by the male patrons chose not to wear a bra, but didn’t want to feel left out.Evidently, when female patrons dance on the bar – a tradition at The Dixie – they inconspicuously  remove their bras and attempt to throw them on the antlers of the large moose-head hanging on the wall.  Then each year, Dixie’s donates $5 for each bra on the ceiling to the Susan Komen Race for the Cure – a great cause.

A New Meaning to “In the Cups”

Of course, this led my friend, erudite Portland attorney, Scott Whipple to wonder out loud, “It is interesting that the plural of the singular ‘goldfish’ is identical — ‘goldfish’, and that is also the case with ‘lingerie’.”

  • Dixie’s has good food.  The loaded Tater Tot and the Southwest Chicken Salad were outstanding and the cook was a great guy.

Of course, the bar was totally different on a Friday night.  There was a line to get in and a mediocre disk jockey – no cover charge.  It was noisy and there was a large but orderly crowd – thanks, in part, to the bouncer – a friendly chap named Jessie, who checked ID and the temperament of patrons at the front door.

Who’s Going to Mess with Jessie?

He is the guy in the T-shirt (it was about 30 degrees that night.)  Jessie was good at his job and looked really tough —

How tough?” you ask….“Well, he was so tough that during his break, he ate a live lobster and killed it by hitting himself in the stomach on its way down.”

The bar’s website states, “Dixie rocks Old Town Portland every weekend; we start early and end late with the craziest ladies night in town every Thursday, and a rockin dance party every Friday and Saturday.”

The Smaller Bar Downstairs

It is questionable whether a bar without live music can claim that it is “Portland’s Authentic Rock and Roll Tavern

however  Dixie is worth a visit when you are frequenting Voodoo Donuts.  The staff is friendly and helpful, the patrons interesting and the food good. Just don’t mess around with Jessie!   Dixie Tavern       32 NW 3rd Avenue