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)

Bar of the Gods (and Goddesses) …. It’s Not a Myth

A More Contemporary Mythology

One long-ago review of the Bar of the Gods (BOG) stated: If you want to kick your liver into high gear, visit BOG.”  For context, it also talked about the magnitude of the second-hand smoke.  There is now no smoking, except on their patio, but the BOG still fits the classic definition of a “dive bar.”  While it has disappeared from the list of Willamette Week’s best bars in the last three years, prior reviews give some insight:

2007Despite an off-putting goth decor, everyone’s welcome….If  you come alone, you’re leaving alone….The clientele is on the youngish side and mostly travels in packs.

2008You’d think that a bar dedicated to the Greek Pantheon might be a bit, um, brighter.  Just insert “dive” though and you’ve got all  you need to know….BOG serves plenty of stiff, cheap-ass drinks.

2009The bar is dark and inviting with strings of grape-lights overhead doing little to illuminate the grime left over from the smoking days…The music is as loud as the crowd.  Its everything you want a dive bar to be complete with a heated smoking area out back and hypnotizing lights that make it look like fireflies are on.            

Duyck, Whipple and BOG Owner, Kip

Portland lawyers, Scott Whipple, Dan Duyck and Dan Peterson from the Whipple & Duyck firm, joined me for this second stop on Thebeerchaser Bar Tour this evening.

The owner for the last 3.5 years, a pleasant fellow named Kip, said that BOG before 1996 was a gay strip club. The grape-clustered lights on the ceiling, the artwork and even the signs on the restrooms, evoked memories of studying Greek Mythology in high school.

Bar of the Gods Artwork

Although I don’t still have my Odyssey Cliff’s Notes (at the time, wrapped in brown paper to hide the yellow and black cover), I remember stories of giants and ogres of indescribable horror ranging from such monsters as Medusa, Deimos (God of fear and terror) and his twin brother, Phobos (God of panic).

Odysseus, after seven years captivity by the nymph, Calypso, heads home to Ithaca and encounters a slew of these on his fabled tour of Greek bars and taverns chronicled by Homer in the eighth century.  His journey was prior to legislation against second-hand smoking in pubs, which added to the hazards.

A Trap for Unwary Beer Drinkers….

For example there was Charybdis, once a beautiful mermaid, who took “the form of a huge bladder of a creature whose face is all mouth and whose arms and legs are flippers. She swallows a huge amount of water three times a day before belching it back out again, creating whirlpools.” (Wikipedia)

The whirlpool or vortex brought back unpleasant memories of “the blind whirleys” from college – appropriately Greek-related from fraternity parties.  The cure for this whirlpool-type condition was to lie down with one foot on the bed and one on the floor – it did not work if you were already lying on the floor….                             

The Siren – Don’t call 911 to hear this one.

And The Sirens – “Their song, though irresistibly sweet, was no less sad than sweet, and lapped both body and soul in a fatal lethargy, the forerunner of death and corruption.”        

Fortunately, the music at BOG was so loud that we overcame any lethargic tendencies when a Van Halen tune belted out from the juke box at a 120 decibel level.

Distinguishing Characteristics

The Theme – You probably won’t find another Portland bar with the pervasive Greek mythology theme – even to the point of the signs on the restroom doors:         

Ethereal Powder Room

The Food – Since we had already eaten at another bar, we just topped it off with some delicious home-made chips and salsa and a chicken quesadilla, but Kip asserted that the BOG food is distinctive. Their chili is home-made as are all their soups.  The menu on the blackboard does seem unusual for pub grub:

A Distinctive Menu with the Emphasis on Home-made…


Another Myth???

Kip also told us that there are eleven bars in the eastern environs of Hawthorne Street and they are known as The Bar-muda Triangle.  Since this seemed relevant to Charybdis, the Vortex and Blind Whirleys, it required some research.  In fact, there were 2,910 Google entries for “Portland Bar-muda Triangle”, and Kip may be right:

The Urban Dictionary – this user-generated website pinpoints its location as “an area of bars that collectively saturate the SE Hawthorne Arts District at the base of Mt Tabor.”

The Portland Tribune In a July, 2008 article entitled, “Drop anchor in Bar-muda Triangle,” there is a bar review of “The Tankerwith a subheading stating, “Setting a course for spirits, sports? Navigate to Hawthorne’s Tanker.”

To the contrary, there is a Willamette Week article from May, 2011 captioned, “Douchebags Not Allowed: Bar-muda Triangle’s Ankeny Car-Free Zone Is a Go.”  According to WW, Portland’s Bar-muda is located in the Old Town neighborhood on the west side, near Voodoo Donuts where one block of Southwest Ankeny Street was converted to a car-free zone with outdoor tables for diners.              

A High Pressure Front Whirling Around Mt. Tabor or Maybe That’s Florida?

Perhaps the dilemma is resolved based on info gleaned at the “wise-geek” website stating:  A Bar-muda Triangle is an area where the concentration of bars is especially high. The number of bars located within an area known as a bar-muda triangle may be greater than three, of course, and sometimes an area with only two bars may be colloquially termed a bar-muda triangle. You may also hear a bar-muda triangle referred to as a beer-muda triangle.”

It appears that “Bar-muda triangle” is used by many towns to refer to particularly alcoholic intersections and the term is garnered from elsewhere or invented independently.

Since BOG has five beers on tap, eleven bottled beers, five in cans and champagne,  let’s hoist a Hypotenuse IPA and agree that everyone is correct!

Kip Behind the Bar

BOG has four video poker machines and a spacious area to play pool.  The crowd was an interesting mixture of locals and those cruising the Hawthorne District, although I did hear one guy shout, “I’m part of the 47%…

Try the Bar of the Gods, but take your GPS and don’t disappear in the confines of the Bar-muda Triangle.  Check out their interesting website on the link below.

Bar of the Gods               4801 SE Hawthorne