Let’s just get it out of the way: It’s my birthday today. I don’t expose this fact for acclaim, I do so to explain why I’m at the Horse Brass tonight with a Hercules Double IPA from Great Divide. It’s sometimes difficult to choose a pub to go to and I have a desire to save the really good pubs, the ones I know, for days when I’ll be in need.
But if not my birthday, then when?
To most Portlanders, especially those who like beer, there is no need to explain the Horse Brass. But for those who do not live here I shall explain. A Mecca of fine suds, the Horse Brass is about as close to a British pub as one could find in Portland, maybe even this side of the Rockies. Perhaps even the Mississippi. Until the smoking ban, everyone smoked and the yellow walls carry the memory of those times. British paraphenalia holds the walls up more than plaster and there’s a punk painting of Oscar Wilde in the kitchen. It’s dim, scroogly windowed and eschews televisions for darts.
One of, if not the first, bar in Portland to focus on bringing in beers from abroad in the 1970’s when good beer was a rarity in America, the Horse Brass became a locus of hop heads, anglophiles, lovers of the weird and Portlanders. The legend says that the founders of Rogue and Widmer planned their brewery from these beaten tables, and the owner, Don Younger is well known for his influence over the Portland beer scene. You’ll see him occasionally, sitting at the southwest corner of the bar as though he was keeping secret meetings. Never at at table though and who can blame him; the chairs come from a primitive time, when duration mattered and comfort was for sissies.
It’s a pub, damnit. And this is the coolest thing that ever happened to me here:
About four years ago I had come to the Horse Brass on a Friday night, writing away at a table that insisted on two chairs and barely accommodated one person. I was grinding away as writers sometimes do, but I was getting short on my second pint and I have a rule: after the second pint no serious writing can be done. Emo poetry, dirty limericks, odes to women to come and lost, theories about the dinosaur-republican conspiracy, the link between pot and liberals, all these things are fair game on pint three.
But there was no pint three; I was in a mood. Even in my mood though, I began to notice a general rise in the boisterousness of the Horse Brass. Not ‘my sports team is winning’; that kind of joy is too short lived. But an honest to god shift in the bar. What was once a lively Friday night became a cheerful ambiance where giving a stranger a hug would seem ok. It radiated from about four feet away from the table I’m currently sitting at, right under the portrait of Churchill.
I looked at the table. Three men, one woman. They were unpacking small clear pouches of tobacco; “Cherry ’03”, “2000 Blend” was the writing on some of them. Pipes were brought out, serious pipes, and the delicious scents of tobacco began to fill the air; vanilla, cherry, fine tobacco.
The ban on smoking is due to cigarettes. People wouldn’t object in nearly the same numbers if people smoked this kind of tobacco from pipes. Trust me. (Note; Cigars still suck balls)
The waitress came by, asked me if I wanted another beer. I waved her off. She repeated her request but this time I listened: “The table there is buying the bar a round. Are you sure you don’t want a beer?”
Little legos stacked together in my mind. Everything made sense! And yes, of course I wanted another beer.
And then other legos stacked. Friday night at the Horse Brass…and they bought the BAR a round? Holy shit!
Eventually, I worked up the courage to speak to the table. I thanked them for the beer; they asked me what I was doing and we talked about writing a bit. They were extremely congenial and turned the conversation very neatly away from themselves. Other people were thanking them, albeit briefly; I attempted to engage in a conversation…though not very well. I’m a susceptible to someone taking an interest in what I do as anyone.
The conversation ended, minutes passed and I realized I had stupidly not asked the obvious question. With an embarrassed tone I leaned over and spoke to the table again.
“Why did you do this?”
And there it was. A frozen moment. I don’t know if nobody had asked them or if they just were not sure how to answer. It was a second, tops, but a second in which I understood that they were making a private joy public by doing something awesome. That someone would ask why wasn’t something that had occurred to them.
“We just has a a really good day,” one of them said. Perhaps it is memory, maybe I actually picked up on something but I’m not entirely sure that they had a really good day. However I had just enough social graces to know that I’m being asked to drop the subject so I let it go. They wanted to do something awesome; who was I to ask for their bona fides?
So I congratulated then and said thank you once more, packed my journal into my bag, tipped my had and said goodbye.
It was, hands down, one of the coolest things that has ever happened to me and someday I’d like to do it myself. Because raising the happiness experience at a place like that seems pretty damn amazing to me. Who wouldn’t do that if given the chance?