Category Archives: On The Rails

On The Rail: NW Growlers, the Etiquette Edition

“Hey, man,” I ask the bartender, “can you turn the lights on over there, so my friend and I can play cards?”

“Oh, sure thing.”

The lights come on and one table of people moans, “we don’t want this…”

I take my beer and as I approach the table, my friend Lynn stands and huddles up with me.

“Maybe we don’t want the lights on.”


“Nobody around us really likes that and they all know why the lights are on now.”

“Fuck ’em,” I say.

Lynn and I proceed to enjoy our evening. As the bar closes and everyone else leaves, Lynn says,

“So the reason I talked to you about the lights is because the couple sitting next to me was making out before the lights came on.

And the table behind you? They were out of touch people having a discussion about which blonde they’d like to fuck. They came up with Elisha Cuthbert.”

“Because of that movie she was in?” I ask.


“Uh-huh. Well, I figure if you are going to shamelessly make out in public then you can do it in the light. Where we can all make you feel as awkward as you’re making us feel.

Ditto for the scintillating thought experiment about getting to bang a movie star.  And if they have a problem with doing that in the light, then maybe they should go home.

“Because,” I said, throwing my arm around Lynn’s shoulder, “I got friends to meet and cards to play.”

On the Rail: Wilshire Tavern

This is one of those dive bars where everyone knows each other and they’ve seen my type before. They’re not even bothering to actively ignore me, because I’m going to leave and never come back, while they have friendships to maintain and lives to attend to. Average age here is probably 53, and it’s worth asking what kind of makeover the bar might undergo within the next 20 years. I can tell that it’s already been cleaned up, because the years of smoking that used to go on here (I mean, c’mon, you just know) is practically eliminated.

Go Steelers on the wall, a sign “we want beer-repeal prohibition” on the paneling, Aerosmith’s Uncle Salty on the juke. Lots of space around the pool tables, which is pretty cool and a surprising number of craft beers on tap.

Yet the bar mirror is covered with March of Dimes donation drive slips, with a range of tasteless and/or inside jokes claiming to donate-Russian Nannies, Wire Hangers, Cliven Bundy, My dad thought pulling out would work-surrounding a Cash Only sign, a sticker that says ‘I killed a six-pack just to watch it die’ and the only source of warm food must come from a microwave born in the early 90’s.

The rail itself is really weird; fake marble that has a real wood border attached, so the countertop is a good inch below where you rest your arms. The wooden border has a groove in it, like a gutter for you to rest your elbows in. Practically ergonomic, you know?

I look around; there’s an older woman knitting something out of yarn-internet points if you guessed that the yarn is purple-, a similarly aged black man in a suit and sunglasses (on a Saturday at 9PM), and a family of three who’ve taken over the foosball game. Everyone has that casual nod of acknowledgement to each other.

I get a Ft George Big Guns IPA which opens with the familiar citrus hop but rapidly decides to go for that soap finish instead of a proper bitter one. Too bad. Because this beer is not good and I’m uncertain if it’s the beer or the bar. Whatever it’s supposed to be, it ain’t even close.

As I leave, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies comes up. The 70’s exists so hard here, I almost think I’m in Spokane.

On The Rail: Watertrough Saloon

There’s hockey on the TV and country music on the juke; I should’ve brought my friend Janine here when she came to visit. She’d’ve felt right at home. Next time, I guess.

Damn, that Stone IPA tastes straight up good. I apologize for thinking a dive bar might not care much about the beer but this has been served to me like it came right out of the bottle. Pine nose on a slide right into similar foresty bitterness. The glass is served to me by a tall blonde in a babydoll Ramones T. She’s got no hips and a horsefish-looking tattoo I can’t entirely make out along her right ribcage. She asks me how my day is going and I lie to her; I ask about hers and she tells me she went to Sacajawea Park and could see Mt St Helens and Mt Hood because it’d been such a nice day.

A family of four walks by: I smile through the big new window at the little girl holding her father’s hand, not enough time to wave at the baby on her mother’s back. They hustle past the dive bar, not a place for families or little girls. I don’t blame ’em, I hope they have better things to do this evening.

I scope out the place; it’s changed since I was here last, notably the pool tables. They have a cool blue felt and polished wood finish-between that and the etched window with the bar’s logo on it, clearly some money has recently been dropped into this place. Sure, the carpet is frayed and lumpy and for some reason the clientele hasn’t increased but Hawthorne still needs bars like this.

Dive bars safeguard the soul of neighborhoods in ways that other institutions don’t. You can be anyone and so long as you’re civil and the money is green, you are welcome. Image doesn’t matter. Drinking goes way back in humanity and hiding out maybe even moreso. The fact that I have to endure a couple making out next to me on the rail is just a cherry on the sundae.

“Is it true,” a woman suddenly asks me, “is this one of the older parts of town? ‘Cause the house I’m staying in was built in 1911.” She seems to be in a black tracksuit, her hair pulled back into a ponytail and she tilts her chin up to give the wrinkles in her face her a touch of nobility. She’s here from Montana on a houseshare, her three kids having moved to Portland.

That’s about all I get out of her but it’s a dive bar, man. Small talk, then go your way.

On The Rail: Culmination Brewing

It’s been about a year since I was last at Culmination and at the time, they had only been open for a few weeks. The beer then was OK but clearly the product of a new system, and I thought it would cool to check in and see what may have changed or improved.

I get the Phaedrus IPA. The nose gives a Rocky Balboa punch of grapefruit. There is merely a wisp of head on this beer and the nose is still heavy grapefruit so I’m feeling some trepidation as I start to drink.

The beer itself isn’t nearly as grapefruit pronounced. A strong sweet flavor is in the body of the beer, so when the hoppy grapefruit notes kick in at the finish, it’s not nearly as insistent as other beers I’ve had.


I’ve had so many goddamn grapefruit IPAs in the past two years, my tolerance for them is in a small percentage. A percentage, I am happy to say, that the Phaedrus falls within. It’s a good beer among a sea of grapefruit IPAs. A year ago, when Culmination was starting up, the beers tasted like a start up. Now; they taste like they ought to and the difference is worth noting.

On The Rail: Hawthorne Hop House

The plan was to go somewhere new-or at least new to the blog. I started off this plan on Friday but just couldn’t quite summon the gumption to leave the house. Saturday, I was going to head out but a friend pinged me and I went off to play cards with him. Priorities!

Sunday, I had some options but when I met up with a friend who was in need of food-preferably cheap food-it was off to the Hop House for their all day Sunday happy hour. Hard to object to a place with good food and an extensive beer list, so I didn’t.

25592135275_2bffe21a2b_cMy choice is Pints Dragonstone Abbey Tripel. It’s got a sweetness, coupled with a soapy quality making it sickly sweet. As the beer warms up, it does not improve. I had high hopes for this one, as the last time I was at Pints I found the beer to be pretty good! This just isn’t working for me, though.

Next up, Backwoods Winchester Brown, which is better! Light with enough flavor to it that I can enjoy it. It’s served on nitro and I’m not sure if that is improving my experience but the base beer is good enough that I’d try it again.

But not right away, because Wingman’s Stratofortress is on tap and one should not pass up an opportunity to taste that beer.

On The Rail: Cbar & Ship Ahoy


I’ve come in to the Cbar from under a mottled sky, the day’s chores complete and while this beer isn’t satisfactory, I can at least dig the atmosphere. A sign for a women’s pinball league nearby, big windows to my back letting the sun in, music running an undercurrent but easy to speak over…and the scents from the kitchen are quite tempting.

I get a Riveter Red from Hard Knocks; it’s described as an imperial red ale. I’m having trouble evaluating it; the nose is barely fruity, the midrange thin and the finish surprisingly bitter.  The notation says it’s got 82 IBUs; in comparison the IPA next to it has 80. All of which has me fairly certain this beer isn’t what it’s supposed to be. Imperial means more of everything, not just more hops.

There’s a crew of men nearby enjoying brunch, laughing away.  Their dress and belt attachments suggest they are builders of some kind and they peaceably eat near hangover recovery tables, old queer ladies, and the other smattering of Portland weirdos.  I love environments like this: everybody is welcome, everyone is nice.  How else are we going to move forward if we don’t rub shoulders now and then?

My beer is weaksauce though so I go across the street to the Ship Ahoy and get a Good Life Redside. It…is awful.  It tastes medicinal on the finish and I can barely recognize the more toasted notes or maple flavor through that.

My beer appears cloudy and I can’t say for certain but I don’t believe red ales should look like that. Given that decor and style, I’m inclined to blame the bar for having infected lines but that could be unfair. I saw a pils poured a few minutes later and it looked clear.

But where the Cbar is where people rubbed shoulders, this is a bar where people know each other.  A woman next to me compliments another’s outfit by name, the reply is that she’s going to a funeral today.  Couple of old school blue collar looking fellas, trucker caps and overalls, exchange a hug a few feet further down, the TVs show college basketball on one screen, Star Trek Next Gen on the other. Conversations happen across the bar and I almost feel bad for not wanting my beer, as though I’m refusing food my grandma made. Visually, the clientille looks more homogeneous but there is an involvement at Ship Ahoy that doesn’t replicate easy.

Someday, the Ship Ahoy is going to change.  But for now, the neighborhood is clearly keeping the heart of it alive.

On the Rail: Home. A Bar

Home used to be the Morrison Hotel until very recently and in that incarnation, it was a place that had an excellent and broad bottle selection, along with Old German served with a straw and pretty damn good burgers. I know that because my ex-girlfriend and I used to come here occasionally. There were too many TVs with a lot of sports icongraphy on the walls and a alcove that they never knew what to do with. I saw them try it as a karoke nook, darts, pinball area, mere storage of extra chairs but nothing ever seemed to stick. It didn’t matter to us; we got to hang out at a pretty good burger place that was rarely too crowded. A good memory.

And now Home is… in need of some personality and still has too many TVs but you can tell they’re starting over. They still serve Old German, though.

I feel a little bit like Neo, on his way to the Oracle when he wistfully says, “I used to eat there…they had really good noodles,” remembering a nice thing from a life he used to have. I am where I’m supposed to be but everything is different, now. I don’t know that I can say I have regrets but questions, perhaps. Maybe I should have…or perhaps if we had…

These are the kind of thoughts I hammer away at for awhile in an attempt to chart a better future, since the past is settled. My answers are imperfect and for the moment, I’m good with that.

The bottle selection has been replaced for a selection of spirits and the nook is still bare but the whole space is brighter and feels more open. The kitchen still takes up half the bar space. I don’t know how the food is but I hear the employees talking about bars and restaurants in Portland and they have a pretty good sense of what works here. I’m interested in the food based off their conversation alone.

25117824235_3fdcabf414_cCaldera’s pale is my selection and it’s not quite cromulent. There’s a corn note in the beer, in between the malt start and the bitter finish. That finish isn’t particularly distinctive, either: not tilting towards citrus or pine and without that corn note in the beer, I’d easily recommend it.

It’s quiet here, regaining it’s footing as a new spot and I think I’d like to come here for a burger sometime. Maybe they still have really good noodles. Or maybe I’ll find a nice thing in the new life.

On the Rail: Montavilla Social Club

I start off with kolsh from 54 40 at the Montavilla Social club. The bartender asks me if I like kolshes and I say, “I do if they’re good!”He’s dubious of my choice already.

It is an OK kolsh. Old Town’s kolsh it ain’t but I am immediately distracted from my beer by the conversation the bartender and a patron are having, complaining about how you can’t call people ‘gay’ or ‘retard’ anymore. I’m having difficulty feeling sympathy for them.

“Look at this girl, (on the TV)” the patron says, “she’s got slanty eyes.” The TV is on mute, showing the US and Chinese curling teams competing.

Now they’ve moved to a discussion from ‘zipperneck’ to ‘zipperhead’, which they both agree were racial slurs. ‘Gook’ is apparently 200 years ago and…I can’t say I’m offended by this discussion exactly, because we’ve got two guys, the patron, a Korean immigrant, and the barkeep, a white dude who’s a bit older and clearly having a go at his friend, having the kind of discussion that friends sometimes have when nobody is around. It’s obvious they know each other and their conversation doesn’t include me.

Except, you know. They’re in public. I can write down what they’re saying. It makes me a little uneasy.

24420375984_42c7f8bc60_kThe Patron and I end up getting into a volatile discussion about the free market and whether or not internet access should become a municipal service. He’s a free market libertarian and confirms most of my suspicions about libertarians: They don’t understand how human beings work in a collective, so they can’t understand why certain choices are being made for society. The philosophy always sounds good: “I own my body, therefore I own everything I produce.”

But it always devolves: “Which means that when I am being taxed, because nobody asked me if I wanted to be in this country, I am being stolen from, because this transaction is involuntary,” and gets worse  and “if people don’t want to participate they should be allowed not to; they can just be set aside.”

“Like on reservations?” I ask.

“No, they get to be in cities with everyone else!”

The logistical impossibility of this doesn’t register and the creepiness of what my question would suggest also seems to fly by. Somewhere in here I get a Ft George Lucille IPA, which I remember to take a picture of but don’t have the time to write about.

Or flat out uninterested history: “The private sector would produce better than the public sector in everything and nobody would ever go without.” As with may true believers, the answer to whatever isn’t working is more of what you were doing that wasn’t working.

It doesn’t seem to matter when I bring up historical events where the free market only served everyone because they were compelled to and I don’t think pointing out conditions where the free market is ‘free’ would work. The counter to my point that municipal water and power have been a massive public good is met with “Except for the people in Flint,” as if that one example (as horrifying as it is) nullifies the fact that I can go to 10,000 other towns in this country and drink water from the tap.

But the conversation is lively and I have to admit, I got a few things to chew on. As it winds down, he introduces himself; he has the same name as me. “Good Christian name,” he says, “It’s like lookin’ into a mirror.”

“You’re probably better lookin’,” I tell him. Always leave ’em smiling.

On the Rail: Slingshot (Barley Brown edition)

It was a genuine surprise to me to get yelled at this evening over money.

I was at a party, having a lively discussion-bordering on argument but I was trying to hear the other person-on the presence of Uber in Portland. My position: The service might be good but they were trying to come into Portland providing a public service, without having to serve the entire public-namely, people with disabilities-and that’s not OK. And if they wanted to avoid that, then they should pay the limo licensing fees. Pretty simple. His position: The service is invaluable and they shouldn’t have to serve people with disabilities.

As the discussion became both more and less clear-why is it OK to ignore a section of the public? Because the city gives them services. Wait; you’re saying that a pubic service can ignore some of the public? Because federal law says that they can’t.

It was around this moment that the conversation went south. In the space of a few seconds, I was being yelled at by someone who doesn’t understand why he, as someone who earns $200K a year, has to pay more taxes than someone who makes more than he does. Or less.

“Why do I have to pay more taxes than someone who makes more than I do? Or you?” he snapped, “What, you earn 70K? 50? 20?”

I honestly did not know what to say. My value was being questioned by how much I made and paid to the government. And, even as I was struck with a ping of admiration for someone who could earn $200K a year I couldn’t help but recoil. I will never see that kind of money. I will always be checking my resources, at least mentally, no matter how comfortable I become, before purchasing something.

I don’t want to live like that. I’d like to not worry. But that’s my shit to haul.

I double blinked, pausing to see the clearest path and then I said, “Look, you’re getting very angry and I don’t understand why. So I think it’s best I just back off.”

And he nodded, sneeered and said “Yes,” making a brush-away motion with his hand. Dismissing me as one might a servant. Not long after, I began my walk home.

I stopped at the Slingshot on my way, to nurse a Barley Browns Handtruck IPA, some of my pride, and a bit of bewilderment.  The beer has a faint orange nose, sweet but not cloying. Gone now. Bitterness filling the mouth, lingering, not enough nuance for me to be happy.

I can’t find it in myself to be really angry at this person: I don’t know what may have set them off. Maybe I came across rudely.

Yet I cannot understand their position either. They make money that I will never see, yet they are unhappy, hostile to those less fortunate. What happened there to make them so hard hearted? Also; fuck being yelled at for no reason.

It makes my body so heavy, this absurd conflict people have.

2/3 through my beer and I feel a long, long way from home.

On the Rail: Old Gilbert Road Tavern (Buoy edition)

I’m  hunkering down at the Old Gilbert Road Tavern. I’d like to try a new place, get out of the house but something has gone wrong with my neck and it hurts a whole lot, so instead of adventure I am veering for the familiar and easy. Like an injured beast, sometimes staying close to home is wise.

Since the last time I was here, more Bernie Sanders posters have gone up, and there’s a photo diptych of the Mount St Helens explosion, along with Timbers scarves pinned on the walls like boy band posters in a teenager’s bedroom. There’s a host of black velvet paintings and unless I miss my guess the stage is set up for music again, which I think is a Good Thing.

It’s also brighter here, while keeping the soft lighting of a dream sequence.

I have to say, it’s coming along nicely.

As is this beer, a red ale from Buoy. Something vaguely floral in the nose, the mouthfeel is pleasantly thick and and the finish all toasty and which is nice. It’s a really solid beer and it may be the first one from Buoy that I’ve had that I’ve been pleased with. I’m almost considering having another, I like it that much. If I didn’t have so much to do this weekend, I’d most certainly have it.

Someone behind me has gotten french fries. I’ve been a little wary of getting food here; I’ve never been able to smell the food coming from the kitchen and this IS a new-dive place. Food is secondary. But these fries smell good. They may be stepping up their game or I’m hungry and want some fries. No way to solve that riddle without ordering french fries but maybe I’ll save that for another time.

The beer is damn tasty though. Another won’t kill me…