In the twelve years I’ve pursued the perfect watering hole on Thebeerchaser Blog, I only remember five of the approximately 425 I’ve visited and reviewed, that were “subterranean” venues in which to raise a mug.
That is, until I recently unearthed The Basement Public House – close-in on the SE side of Portland. I was so captivated by this pub after my first trip in mid-January, that I followed up two weeks later with a second visit. Usually my return trip takes longer. The bar is shown above with my former Schwabe Williamson & Wyatt law firm colleague Mark Long at the entrance.
Now there are certainly additional basement bars I haven’t discovered, but for historical context, the five other “sunken” establishments in which I’ve Beerchased – all in Portland, include:
Joe’s Cellar in NW Portland – One month after I commenced this journey in 2011, https://thebeerchaser.com/2011/09/17/step-up-to-joes-cellar/ I discovered this Portland dive. As I pointed out in the post, Joe’s is actually at street level, but the entrance looks like one is entering a cavern and both the ambiance and the name fit.
I quoted Davy Jones, lead singer for the Monkees, when he observed decades earlier, “You can (have me sing) in the basement or the penthouse; it doesn’t matter to me.” I would suggest the same can be asserted about drinking beer.
The Yard House in downtown Portland’s Central Business District, before it closed permanently, was located in the basement of a high-rise office building. The title of my post asks, “The Yard House – Does it Measure Up?” It definitely did not!
One enters through a sterile, corporate-looking lobby to be greeted by a young, smiling hostess. She walks you down steps to the bar area. The establishment – part of a national chain – is owned by the same corporation as the Oliver Garden Restaurants.
Although it did not have shrimp alfredo, ravioli or garlic bread on the menu, it did have100 beers on tap. And one could buy “a yard of beer” (32 ounces) in an incredible glass. (Beerchaser of the Quarter, Jim Westwood is trying to polish one off below and then asked if they also had “meters of beer.”
The ambiance was that of an Applebee’s or a suburban branch of Citibank” although at the latter you’d have to get a time certificate of deposit instead of a pint of IPA….
Mummy’s – Closed permanently during the pandemic, this venerable subterranean bar and grill I described in my title as “A (Buried) Portland Treasure.” It was only two blocks from my Portland law office downtown. A Portland Mercury article aptly described it:
“(We) descended to a ‘mysterious and venerable place.’ True to its name, Mummy’s is filled with Egyptian artifacts much like you’d find in an actual crypt. (It’s) weird, tomb-like, but lovable space.”
The Grand Cafe – Before it closed in about 2015, this was one of the most fascinating cellar bars in the City – partly because of the persona of the owner – Frank Peters. ” Frank the Flake” is a former bar(s) owner, former college basketball star at Oregon State, former professional player and manager for the legendary Portland Mavericks baseball team and former candidate for Governor of Oregon.
He is also a former inmate of the Oregon State Prison.
After spending 30 months in prison – six of it in the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland – he had to rebuild his life from scratch. He performed his community service at the Washington Park Zoo, shoveling elephant manure.
In 1994, the Grand Café held a karaoke contest judged by the Honorable Steven Gallagher – the same judge who sentenced Peters to prison.
The original incarnation of The Grand was known as The Union Avenue Social Club (UASC). It dates back to 1926 when “The Club” was at the corner of Union Ave and SE Russell St. and was probably a speakeasy. After Prohibition, it moved from Union Ave to the site on Grand Avenue in a building which is over 100 years old.
You should read Thebeerchaser post which has the details of Peter’s amazing and, at times, unbelievable history, including some excerpts from the book he wrote while in prison.
Thanks to a request from his long-term friend and former Beerchaser-of-the- Quarter Jack Faust, shown in the photo above, he opened early one afternoon in 2013.
The book includes the account of his formation of The Götterdämmerung Society for the purpose of having the inmate members watch Richard Wagner’s Opera, “Ring of the Nibelung.” He promoted the event in the prison newsletter.
It also relates why Frank asserted that he went to prison on a “softball scholarship”:
“An immense Black inmate said, ‘Hey Peters, remember me, you kicked me out of your club. You sure are white.’ ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I’ve been kicked out of my own club so don’t feel bad.’
‘Frank, I would like to ask you to do something for us, but I don’t know how to ask. …O.K., O.K. – Frank, will you play softball for us? We are in third place, and our goal is to make the playoffs. We are the Marauders, sponsored by the Lifers….’
I…..made my decision on the spot. I played for the Marauders. We won the second half and made the playoffs”
Frank gave us an exclusive tour of both expansive floors of The Grand explaining the scads of photos and memorabilia from his past athletic and professional exploits.
The basement was devoted to one of its traditions – Salsa Dancing and Andrea’s Cha Cha Club Wednesday through Saturday nights. Our tour concluded with a salsa dance lesson. “We sell Fun,” Peters informed us, “And salsa dancing is not defined by age.”
Life of Riley Tavern – This bar in the Pearl District of Portland has two floors. I went with six lawyers in the Schwabe Tax and Estate Planning Group and one of their secretaries. They’re some of the smartest people I know. All the lawyers – besides their law degrees – have Masters in Taxation.
We had a delicious lunch on the first floor and a lot of fun while we ate, although to many people, the terms “Tax lawyer” and “Fun” might seem like a contradiction in terms.
The basement, however, really defines the bar. As I stated in my 2016 blog post:
“One walks down the battered steps into an intriguing, dark basement space with just a few small windows – it reminded me of the fallout shelters the government promoted when I was a kid. (They also told us with sincerity during drills that we should assume a position under our desks in order to avoid the impact of a nuclear warhead…..)
It’s full of dark wood furniture, pool tables, and the bartender serves a cucumber gin and tonic that will really make you think about ordering quite a few gin and tonics. The billiards, shuffleboard, and darts in the basement are free.”
And before I close with a teaser about The Basement Pub, I think it appropriate to talk about my one Beerchasing experience that was the total converse of cellar bars. That was the Schilthorn Taverne at the 9,700 foot level of the Schilthorn in Switzerland.
We ascended the Schilthorn, by two separate tramways that took us to the top of the 9,744 foot mountain. It is one of the highest peaks in the Bernese Alps. The James Bond movie, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, was filmed at the top. And the tavern is just below the summit.
Stay Tuned for More on The Basement Public House
While a number of my favorite dives or breweries have closed, I’m constantly coming across low-profile but fascinating bars that propel me onward. Such was the case with the Basement Pub, which I happened to see out of the corner of my eye while driving a new route in SE Portland.
It was described in a Google search as:
“Dimly lit lounge & hangout featuring a card-game league, board games, trivia & a low-key vibe.”
My first thought was, “How could I have missed what seems like a great dive bar?” But although the title and the outward appearance lead one to think that this place is a “classic dive” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) it’s actually a quaint and delightful neighborhood pub with a friendly staff and some nice features that drew me back.
You’ll read the details of my two visits and why you should try this bar in my next post.
There’s no “down-side” to this bar!