The Local: Bagdad

I have been dreading this visit. It’s one of the reasons I saved it for last; the other being that I was hoping there would be a movie to catch afterward. Alas, I am defeated on the second count, as Knight and Day started an hour ago (a movie I’d need beer to watch) so I start in on the Copper Moon pale from McMenamin’s that I drink at the bar of the Bagdad.

copper paleThere’s no head on the beer–I’m thankful for the extra pour of course but without a head on the beer I’m sadly unable to pull any fragrance from it. How can I appreciate the pale this way?

I didn’t want it to be like this.

Here’s the thing; I really like what McMenamin’s stands for. Taking old buildings, restoring them, putting in funky artwork with moons and jesters and making them cool places to hang out. I dig that. Schools as hotels. Renewed dance halls. It’s all very Portland and like so many things Portland it comes with its own spin on food and drink.

Which have always, always sucked balls. Seriously. Nobody talks about how good the McMen’s beers are, or how they’re hungry for the food here. The fries are greasy and limp. I was put off calamari for years because of an experience downtown. I’ve had inadequate burgers. No restaurant should fuck up hamburgers. Ever. I don’t come here to eat and drink, I come here for events.

So why come here at all, right? Well, like Zach’s Shack, this just has a place in the drinking culture of Portland. I don’t think they were the origin of the concept but they were the first place that I knew of that showed second run movies with beer and pizza and they’ve been doing so at least since I moved to Portland thirteen years ago. I later heard that there was (and is) a theater in Austin, TX that showed movies with beer + food and I believe the idea has caught on elsewhere-I’ve heard Spokane, WA has a venue such as this, but in Portland McMen’s has the greatest presence of the beer theaters.

And I love the Bagdad as a location. Old, with ramps leading up to a balcony. A balcony! Huge movie screen, lights paneled inside the walls to give off a glow so there’s already a sense of being quiet before you see the movie. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to the feeling of old movie theaters from Hollywood’s heyday and with every other row being replace with tables for your food and drink, there’s more than enough room to stretch my legs out and enjoy.

Halfway through my pale I’m comfortable giving it a swirl to see if I can get any hop character from it. I can’t. It’s a bit sweeter than I’d like but I know there’s hops in this beer because I can taste the finishing bitterness.

It’s not bad; not great, not bad. But it’s also a seasonal which I’ve always had better luck with than their regular beers. One after another, I’ve found their perennial beers are pedantic and dull, the kind of ale that makes you think about taking up wine. It’s exciting beer for people who don’t care about beer, maybe?

Or maybe it’s just safe. After all the other risks taken to revamp old buildings and make them interesting, wonderful places to visit, a bit more caution on the brewing angle is how they help ensure money will be made.

The last time I was here I saw Transformers 2 and there is no way to adequately explain how shitty that movie was, except to say that I had three shots of Jager before my arrival and a pitcher of beer to myself during the movie and the film still offended every sense of storytelling I had while freely allowing my pre-teen self to become angry at the fact that my heroes were being abused in such a manner, by men who cared nothing for the great myths and the power of story.

That I saw it at the Bagdad is somehow fitting–but considering my sobriety level at the time I concede that it was the safest option for all concerned.

I’ll give the Bagdad two things; first, the service was good. I’ve no issue with the men and women working here.

Second; the people watching during the warmer months is fantastic. Settle in behind the bar, look out onto the street and every kind of human in Portland will walk by eventually, maybe every kind of human in America. I may hate it here, but there’s something awesome about the location I have to appreciate.

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4 thoughts on “The Local: Bagdad”

  1. Wish you had talked more about the theater itself. Given a little history; talked about the difference that the quiet inspired by the soft glow of the panel lights makes – the how and why of it – makes.

  2. I lived a couple of blocks from there before my exile to California.

    I would kill to have the Bagdad in my neighborhood.

    I have tried to open a brewpub/theatre TWICE in the Bay area. Both times were met with disdain and red-tape hell.

    next trip back home, there will be a trip to the Bagdad. Guaranteed.

    1. Shawn, for almost the same experience I would recommend the Academy or Laurelhurst theaters-smaller but the beer + food selections are better. Laurelhurst is a bit more relaxed in terms of atmosphere but I wouldn’t hesitate to go to either of them and they’re fairly close to the Bagdad.

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