Category Archives: On The Rails

Saturday Night at the Reel M Inn

I’m here for some chicken and jojos because when someone talks about this place, that’s the thing they talk about. And Division street, where the Inn is located, is changing; apartment complexes built on top of storefronts, every bar a pub, every pub a gastro-something. I’m not sure how much longer a place like this will last, given the way the street is going. It’s dark and divey and a little claustrophobic. You want to sit at a table? You’re going to brush elbows with a stranger. Dinner is going to take about 30 minutes to make, so I get a Rogers pilsner and I wait.

28845523350_df98588c18_kThis is a smooth pils, absent any hop nose or real bitterness on the end. Maybe just a touch of bitter, so the beer isn’t one dimensional but it’s still a pretty light and overall sweet beer.

My drive down Division was filled with a bustling, extremely active street. It wasn’t like this when I moved here in the 90s; Division had a sleazy element that lent the neighborhood a vibrancy that the shiny apartments don’t provide-and a grime that gave home to some of the weirdos. There was a slow contrast at first: nicer spots finding a place amongst the car repair joint, divey Thai restaurants and porn theater.

Now there isn’t much grime at all and where do the weirdos go?

An older guy chats me up for a bit; he’s drinking a Coke so he’s here for different reasons than I am. His name is Darryl and he’s got a red cap with a crest on it I don’t recognize, glasses and some low level weathering on his face, high level weathering on the back of his head, and he’s sitting right beneath one of the vents cooling the place.

We start with the Germany/Brazil soccer game on tv-they’re playing for the Olympic gold, and we talk about how or why the game doesn’t have broad appeal to an American mentality.  Conversation shifts into the general state of Portland and how it has changed. We don’t come to much in the way of conclusions but we’re hoping that things will improve for the greater cityfolk.

He tells me about a bar near Great Falls, Montana, where everyone gathered when he was a kid. It was so central to the community, it even served as a grocery store. He tells me that it closed shortly after the owner’s daughter died in a car accident. I wonder what happened to the community, once one of their central locations ceased.  After awhile, he wanders off to play poker for a bit and I return to the keyboard.

At the Inn fills up, the community tendrils start to form; I can almost see them. Gossamer looping around packs of people. The old guy I’m talking to: He’s new, he’s here to make some gossamer of his own. It’s kind of amazing and speaks to the relevance a place a place like this has to a neighborhood. Someone who is new to the area? They can come in and, if their intent is good, can find a way to be less alone, to connect to everyone else and that’s pretty nice.

I hope we get to keep places like this.


Author’s note: I wrote this Saturday afternoon. My day proceeded to get considerably worse. The underlying message, though, that perspective is important, is a good one.

I was in a card tournament today and I went 1-3.

Now, I had fun and I managed to leave the event in pretty good spirits. But I still lost pretty badly and in the time honored tradition of losing, I have come to NWIPA for a Knee Deep IIPA. Has some earthy, fruity nose and then a steady citrus bitterness on the finish. It’s a bit sweet, which is good, because that keeps the whole beer from running off the rails. So far, I approve.

Although, is this a time honored tradition? I don’t know who or what informed me that this was the thing to do: go to a bar after a failure, sit down, softly imbibe a beer and let all the sorrows that come with losses just bleed out, as my stomach gets a little warmer.

“Singing the anthem for all of the quitters you know, because they won’t disappear when you vanish tomorrow” – Primitive Weapons


What cultural story put me here? It feels like a cliche and it almost certainly is, the image in my head from a thousand movies or books I’ve never even seen, bringing me to drink alone at a bar. A million poems or songs I’ve never heard, about trying to re-square my shoulders after a day of getting beaten down.

There’s a woman on the rail wearing a perfume that’s messing with my enjoyment of this beer. Something that reminds me of wood decaying on the beach. It’s not unpleasant so much as it is too strong. But perhaps she’s wearing it as a defense to the aura of failure that I have brought with me.

I recognize this, of course. In my head, one failure = a million failures = all the failures. And that isn’t what happened. I had a pretty solid day where my intentions did not work out. The consequence of this? I get to sit down and have a beer.

It’s important to keep things in perspective. I’m going to go home, make some dinner and most likely throw myself at writing again. As destinies for a night go, that’s not bad. The creeping notices of failure that want to shadow a perfectly good day? They can fuck off for now. My beer is good and tasty food awaits.

Let’s take what is given, for it is enough.

The Dodge, at the Horse Brass

I’ve been avoiding starting the new theme up. I know I shouldn’t, I know that it is time for me to stop wandering and just get cracking but…I can’t quite do it. I’m sure longtime readers have noticed that the Monday posts have been a little hither and yon. This is me refusing to make the time to really get going. I almost started this week, I did.

But, like a petulant child, I am refusing to come in for dinner and staying away for one more week. Who’s going to take me to task for this? Nobody, so I may as well indulge myself for a little longer. Thus, it’s off to the Horse Brass this week for one more round of ‘not exactly doing what I’m supposed to’.

28861614215_2b72e73102_kMachine House’s Fustyweed Bitter, a cask conditioned ale from Seattle, is a beer I chose because I like the name “Fustyweed” and because I do not recall having anything from Machine House, which sounds more like a record label that sells industrial music than a brewery.

While I am not told the style, I am told it’s a cask conditioned ale, thus not carbonated and served closer to room temperature.

The nose has an interesting blend of caramel malt and an orange peel twist. The flavors play just such a tune, with the caramel in front, the orange peel on the finish. It’s a light beer and it tastes it: 3.6%. I can’t say it doesn’t meet it’s goal but at that percentage, my opinion is that the Fusty would be better served if it was carbonated to help give the feeling of lightness on the tongue, really enforcing the easy drinking beer that it is.

It would also help alleviate the bitter quality hiding in my cheeks, by my upper jaw. It’s not a terrible sensation but because the beer is so light, this quality is unreasonably emphasized. The warmth of the liquid might be helping a little, allowing me to pick up on what malt there is but my own prejudices say that this beer is a session ale that should be cold and crisp. That thin ribbon of almost-sweet flavor just isn’t quite enough backbone.

That said; this beer isn’t a flawed beer. For a moment, I can admire the skill that was required to get this beer to look as good as it does-and it’s remarkably clear-while providing at least two separate flavors that I can pick up both in the nose and on the tongue, and having almost no strong alcohol, malt, or hops flavors to cover up any wrongdoings.

I’m just not sure that cask conditioning serves this beer better than having it carbonated.


My Dad sent me an article a few months ago about how people who live near pubs tend to be happier. I’m not sure how having a neighborhood community is exclusive to pubs but after a long, rather busy weekend, I am glad that the Old Gilbert Road is nearby so I can come in to have a beer.

The signs in the window advertise their 1st anniversary party this Saturday and that’s a pretty cool landmark for any business. I won’t be able to attend but still: congrats to them.

28297938132_a32716ce9a_kThey’ve got the Supersuckers on the PA and as I wait for my Breakside IPA, the lady ahead of me stumbles through her small talk with the bartender, thinking he’s the brother of an acquaintance when he corrects her, “I’m her ex-husband.”

But like the genteel punk bartender he is, he rolls with it, “How do you know her?”

Friend of a friend, it turns out, and though the threads between them are thin, he continues his genteelness, saying “Yes, she’s a cool lady,” about his ex.

For all of Portland’s explosive growth, I am regularly reminded that it is a small city. Burning a bridge you do not need to is unwise. It helps if you like the bridge, of course but even with that in mind, it’s good to be graceful in such situations.

This IPA is not quite awesome. There’s pineapple and grapefruit notes and there’s just enough body in the middle to keep the beer on track, but after it all ends there is a slightly off flavor. I’m not sure what it is but I don’t want another one.

In a way, this place reminds me of another bar which I also like and don’t get to enough: Angelo’s on Hawthorne. It’s better lit here but the low key vibe isn’t something you can fake. It’s projected by the environment and staff.

Maybe that’s one of the other things that helps people live longer; that sense of calm in a public arena where every so often you can get away from even your most private stressors.

Last Round At 15th St

I’ve stopped by the Hop House on 15th to quietly have an ale on my way home. It’s surprisingly under attended. If I was at the location on Hawthorne, I’d be hip deep in people.

I get a Wild Ride Quencher session ale. There is no such style as “session”, it’s just low ABV, people. Quit hiding your styles behind such nonsense.

28122480052_cd199f7eab_kHowever despite the cloudy look, this is a decent enough beer with a little hint of lime on the finish. That’s…weird but it isn’t bad. The lime might make it a little too not-beery for some people but for a pint? I’m good with it.

It’s also possible that the lime is there to cover a mistake up but I’m not getting any traces of infection. Perhaps this just an interesting experiment.

That’s all I’ve got, sitting at the bar. The country has had a terrible week-and more. I think it was Patton Oswalt who recently tweeted: ‘2016, you have been a terrible year on every level…fuck you’.

It’s difficult not to echo this. Not because my personal year has been so bad but because so many of my country men and women have to suffer. Daily.

Some days, doing the work is difficult, especially when that work is so clearly irrelevant to the crisis of the time. Writing about beer is one way of writing about people and people want to be listened to.

But they’re all justifiably angry and many more heartbroken. which is almost worse.  I get to sit here and have a beer, while others say the wrong kind of goodbyes.

The two women next to me are hashing out a man who is trying to gain the affections of one of them. This man–he is not coming off very well and fellas, this is the kind of conversation that when you hear it you think “men, you gotta step it up because holy crap you kinda suck…”

In a way, the mundanity of this conversation is a pleasant tonic to the toxicity of this week. The world keeps going. Men and women still try and work things out. Women still remind each other that silly men are silly and should not be tolerated, and writers gotta write.

Hop & Vine: Memoriam

I’m here to offer my respects to the Hop & Vine, because it’s closing at the end of July. The owners didn’t think it was worth trying to keep this space when the last round of rental increases came, and now North Portland is going to lose a cool little eatery and bottle shop. It’s too damn bad.

I got a Drinking Horse Ochcoco Stout.

27924781835_bbf6c4bc00_kThe nose on this is very strange, almost medicinal. It doesn’t carry over into the flavor though, so I’m mostly OK with that. However, I’m confronted with a beer calling itself a stout yet only hitting 5.8% ABV. So it rests rather thinly in my mouth, chocolate the most prominent flavor but it doesn’t want to stay. Easily pushed around by the carbonation on the finish, the stout isn’t very sweet, either. Perhaps this is shooting for a dry stout in the Irish style?

I don’t know that I care; nomenclature matters because I am a literate person who uses these things to understand what I am getting before I get it. This isn’t a stout. It’s thin enough to be a brown ale, for pete’s sake.

I know that I don’t hate this but I also know that I don’t want another one. As the beer warms up, a stronger coffee presence comes to rest on the sides of my tongue. It’s not as easily removed by the bubbly but I’m not sure that’s a positive thing. It just isn’t robust enough to appease me.

The afternoon is warm, the back doors are open and I can smell the smoke coming in from the patio from some kind of cookfire; it’s got the slight tang of BBQ sauce to it.

The whole city is grinding its collective gears on the inexorable rises in rent and how we remain a functioning city when all the people you need to make that city run are being squeezed out. An undercurrent of worry resides in Portland now, touching nearly everyone I know. We like this city but we don’t know if it’s going to allow us to stay. In the quieter moments, you can see that shadow over people’s faces, the kind that comes when you have to live with uncertainty for a long time.

Then a spot like the Hop & Vine calls it quits and that worry bubbles up; we need places like this, people seem to say, don’t they need us, too?

On The Rail: Mt Scott Pub

It is lively at the Mt Scott for a Sunday night. As the bartender checks my ID, I’m reminded of the Ship Ahoy as one of the few legitimate dive bars still left. The people here know each other; there’s a birthday celebration just a few feet away, patrons throwing Monday to the wind to celebrate the life of a friend, along with another group playing video bowling. The bartender seems to know everybody. I like that.

27198428825_0f6c8e9343_cIt feels like a place that’s waiting to be discovered. The lack of windows and the location probably makes it foreboding to outsiders and I’d guess that most of the people here like it that way. Yet, the beer selection is pretty solid so maybe it’s been discovered and I just don’t know it? Or, maybe it hasn’t and my beer is suffering from being old.

Because this Double D blonde from Hop Valley is a weird tasting beer. It’s like a lager that mutated. The nose is a bit dank and the finish is just shy of raspy on my tongue, its bitterness going for the refreshing note of a lager but missing and not in a good way. Papery, is the word that finally comes to mind. Smokey is the other word that strikes me for the flavor. I don’t know what’s going on with this beer but it isn’t good.

Either way, it seems like a spot that is waiting for more people to sit here and make it their place. Perhaps I need to be here on a Friday to see the characters who gather here…or maybe writing like this will make it a place that quietly builds an audience? (That isn’t too likely, but butterflies create tornados, given enough distance and pop philosophy).

I’ve been wandering awhile and I think I’m getting tired of it. The last few weeks, I’ve felt more like going places I can walk to, or know I’ll like, so that I don’t have to extend myself much. Maybe it’s time to stop wandering for awhile. The strain of looking for someplace new is tiresome: I think I’ll sit somewhere and watch the world pass by for a little bit.

On the Rail: O’Malley’s (Barley Brown edition)

This post almost didn’t happen. After nearly a week of clear skies and higher than normal heat for Portland, Saturday morning I awoke to gray skies and the threat of rain. The whole city went languid; as if we collectively looked at the sky and said, ‘To hell with this’ and decided to just hunker down. Going outside induced a stupor in everyone and it’s effects have lazily stretched through Monday.

I got a Barley Brown’s Pallet Jack and it’s gone off. There’s something musty in the background of the hops on the nose and the finish of this beer isn’t helping it, either. That dirty flavor is coiled around everything on the end and I’m wondering if the beer is old or if the lines for this beer aren’t clean. It’s not working out well, which is just adding to the feeling that I should’ve stayed home and wrote from there.

It’s dark here, especially with the cloud cover and this adds to the notion that getting out of the house really wasn’t my best decision. Willie Nelson is singing “Just Dropped In” and I’m in no state to argue with that song’s melancholy. The bartender goes into the back and I’m alone in the bar for a moment, so I sneak out, my glass 3/4ths full.

On the Rail: NWIPA (Fat Head edition)

My Mom visited this weekend, so my ‘going out to write’ time was absorbed by ‘visiting with Mom’ instead. As a result, I’ve ended my weekend close to home with limited time to come out, have a beer and reflect on my weekend.

Which was pretty damn good, I have to say.

I don’t get many opportunities to talk about my Mom; she doesn’t like beer so my topic of choice here doesn’t pique her interest.

But, I also know that for some people, Mother’s Day is a difficult one. There are all kinds of reasons for this that I won’t bother going into. I think if you’ve met enough people in this life, you come across those for whom events that everyone else finds incredibly celebratory are for them instead sad or worse. That hasn’t been my story, and I’m lucky to say that.

I would say this about my Mom, at least for today: she is the kind of person who, if she found out you had a troubled Mother’s Day, would try to make you comfortable and feel better about it. It’s one of the better things I’ve learned from her and I hope that I am making her proud.

Fat Head brewing has been getting quite the push around town, especially for their IPAs so I try their Built for Speed IPA. It has a citrus/grapefruit nose, which isn’t unpleasant but that flavor IS starting to get old. Grapefruit finish too but it’s not overpowering, however it leaves a coating in my mouth that isn’t pleasant. It’s as if I should be drinking this beer with nachos or BBQ pork: the beer wants to scrub other flavors away. There is not a notable malt presence that I can pick up.

As I continue to drink the beer, a resiny, raisin flavor starts to appear. The finish becomes a lot more pungent and scouring than before. At first my thoughts were, Do I hate it? No. Can I recommend it? Not exactly. Halfway through, I’ve changed my mind: I don’t really want this beer. It’s unbalanced and unpleasant.

On the Rail: Jake’s Place

“Jesus doesn’t drink Jager: Jesus isn’t going to drink dead Nazis!”

This is the philosophy I go to bars for. I’m tempted to just let this post stand on that overheard. But instead, let me start over…

“Neon lights do amazing things to cover up blemishes in strip clubs” the bartender tells me, “that’s why there is no natural lighting there.”

She’s a smiling, bespecled, barrel chested blonde who’s got a jill of all trades vibe, explaining to me why she reacted so startled to my presence: Apparently I looked like someone who had been 86’d. She looks like the kind of lady who could easily kick me out of here, then turn around to the rest of the bar, crack a joke at my expense, everyone would “huzza” and everything would go back to normal. The cantina scene without aliens.

26730356426_9e316aa623_zI get Breakside’s Lunch Break: I don’t know anything about this beer but the nose (pine but not pungent), the color and the finish (very clean) suggest it’s one of those session IPAs. This beer isn’t going to convince me that session IPAs should be a thing-nothing will-but it’s not a bad beer. I’d recommend it.

This is a strange place. I think there are more tv and video screens then there are people right now. And this place isn’t deserted: There’s pool players and video poker players and even a couple run-of-the-mill drinkers.

Which tells me something, too. It’s almost certainly a neighborhood bar that’s adapted to the times: the beer list is reasonably broad, the bottle selection includes ciders alongside jello shots, air hockey, dartboard, and a very modest wall of spirits, every other empty space filled with neon signs.

The age range is reasonably wide too. All in all I’d probably come back to have another drink.

The grapefruit is starting to light up the finish of my beer. I’m not so happy about that: there isn’t enough backbone to this beer to really let the grapefruit be a satisfying flavor for me. I think I’ll have another beer, though.