Category Archives: On The Rails

On The Rail: Billy Ray’s

The seats at Billy Ray’s belong in the most uncomfortable 50’s diner in the world. They’ve probably been here that long, that’s for sure. Round red seats with chrome bands on the side, they both spin and wobble uneasily, barely large enough to support the asses that sit on them. The bar itself is copper topped, with not very pretty but certainly functional welds keeping the sheets together. Large, old, stainless steel fridges are behind the bar. There’s more metal in this dive than in most pubs I go into and I have to say, the look is pleasantly distinct.

On the far end of the bar, a lively discussion about how the city of Portland deals with gentrification is taking place. I can’t quite make it all out but they definitely have some opinions. The older fellow next to me is almost certainly from the neighborhood. He’s asking the bartender about people by name and the conversation is bantered with the kind of familiarity that comes from long time patrons. He’s drinking Miller High Life from the bottle, casually interested in the people around him, more content with the football games on.

A group of people are in exodus. The Wonder Ballroom isn’t far from here and we’re approaching a ‘doors open’ time. I can see getting your drink on here, sauntering over to the Wonder and sipping on only one drink there, buzzed and pumped on music.

I’m drinking Elysian’s Bifrost. It’s sweet, like an orange gumdrop but it finishes like an IPA, a pithy bitterness on the middle of my tongue. I’m not finding it to my liking; the sweetness is a bit much and the bitter is scouring. Something a little more balanced might be better. I usually  like Elysian’s stuff quite a bit so it feels odd to dislike one of their ales.

The punk rock is loud and fast and I am thankful because it’s helping calm my nerves. I’m waiting for a woman but can one ask a stranger on a date? Isn’t this more of a ‘assurance you aren’t a serial killer’ meeting?

If that’s the case, I should relax. I am definitely not a serial killer. Still, I wish that I had been more…I wish I didn’t have to explain myself every time I wanted to kiss someone. But I do and while that doesn’t make me unkissable, or unkissworthy, it does make me anxious. We are at T-10 minutes and my heart rate is not that of a man who is cool with this.

But I have nothing to lose. When I go home tonight, it will be in the exact same condition as I was when I left. I can’t get any more single. Why worry?

On The Rail: Ex Novo

The rail at Ex Novo is a fine piece of wood. Seriously: it’s warm and inviting, cut and polished to be smooth but without taking away the contours of the tree. I like it a lot. Just feels like something to scooch my belly closer to.

Which is a good thing because this pub is almost too open. Understandable, given that it’s clearly a working brewery but I’m keeping my coat on because I can feel a chill licking at my thighs.

I’ve been meaning to write about this place for months, but the writing schedule got in the way of the life schedule. You know how it is; the demands of everyone else leveraged against the demands of what you want. I’m here now though and the wise among us insist that we live in the now.

I’ve got the winter warmer, Warm It Up, Kris! and it’s pretty nice. The spice element is restrained. I think this beer is definitely tilting towards a crowdpleaser in flavor, with soft brown sugar & dark fruit elements. At the end is a very, very light sprinkle of something smokier. The longer I wait between sips, the more I can let my tongue run around my mouth and pick it up. The mouthfeel is something I dig too; there’s some weight there, a density that I think might be settling those flavors on my tongue.

Nearby the bartender is telling a patron about farmhouse ales, then continuing to pontificate on the wonders of Belgian beers, and the coolness that is the Tin Bucket. (Need to put that on my list of ‘to go’ places). On the other side of me two people are talking about the annual bike rides of Portland. I’m resisting hunching over my keyboard, the cold continuing to stroke my legs. I feel like hunkering down and getting all writerly; shifty eyed and quick fingers as my brain shouts out words and tells the chill to fuck off at the same time.

As the warmer warms up, I’m becoming a little more suspicious of it. The smokey flavors have started to take over and the spice and malt are receding. Unfortunate; I really was hoping this beer had some legs. But the turnabout is making this beer harder to recommend. Hm. Perhaps I’ll change it up next time.

On The Rails: Bailey’s

Heavy rain makes people go in.

I can feel it as I move through the city: people on the streets are in more of a hurry to get where they want to be and now that I’m at my destination, I feel it all around; people have their shoulders turned in towards each other, surrounding tables like circling wagons. Dark, wet nights encourage people to huddle up, I suppose.

I can still overhear snippets of conversation and I wouldn’t say that the evening has people getting grim but this isn’t a night to meet strangers. One group is talking about their 99 year old grandma “Still drinking a glass a wine every day” another gathering of women is laughing up their dating experiences via Tinder (and how can anyone blame them) but the couple next to me is hunched over a smartphone, bitter tones eminating towards something or someone they see on it. If the weather was any worse, I wonder if I’d feel outright isolated.

I drink my ale, the Green Flash Second Son IPA. The finish is exceptionally dry; even the bitterness that builds up as I get further into my glass seems to recede fairly quickly. It actually reminds me a little bit of the Kenton IPA I had on Friday, without the spicy notation on the finish. Instead it’s a little more oriented towards the nose. More relevantly, I am barely detecting any malt profile and I’m missing that. A little more balance to this beer and it would be outstanding, instead of just solid.

Human nature kicks in eventually because sitting on the rail means you’re never isolated for long. Soon the couple next to me is talking to me about the bottle of Crux’s imperial stout they’ve gotten; is it good, is it worth the price, what is fair and how difficult it is to make an impression in Portland. It’s not a revelatory conversation but it’s a lively one and that’s always nice. Also, if I have a the money to spend, Crux’s beer is good. Or so I am told.

Hey look, the rain has subsided. Maybe it’s time to head home.

PS: It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m off visiting family, so no more posts until next Monday. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday!

On The Rails: Bare Bones

I really like the Bare Bones bar. There’s a huge, long bar to sit at that has a beautiful honey wood top with amber wood trim. I only wish it was easier to write at! There’s an older woman reading a book at the end, her glasses straight out of 1950. Everyone else is bundled up, even me, coats or hats on, everyone just shy of pretending we’re ouitside; November is being cold and cruel after an easy lead in.

Full Sail’s Wreck the Halls is on, so I get that since I haven’t had this year’s batch. It’s hoppy…hoppier than I would expect for a beer like this. It’s piney and has a oilyness to it that I’m not quite down with. Do I just need to cede the season to dark ales now? I hope not. (Note: this is because I’m expecting maltier like an old ale, instead of an IPA. Sometimes, it is best to set aside your expectations and accept things for what they are.)

I almost went for the Elysian Night Owl but…pumpkin beer, man. I just can’t get behind that. Maybe I should let go of the pumpkin part and just go with the spices. That’s really what it is, right? A spiced ale, meant to evoke pumpkin pie. I can get behind that idea.

What I don’t get about this bar is why it’s so empty. There’s a football game on but nobody’s too vested in it, commenting more on the fashion style of one of the announcers than anything else. It’s only lit well enough at the rail for people to read, so everywhere else you have to huddle for conversation.

But it’s a willing huddle: the Bare Bones feels cozy and warm, a place where you can wink at your sweeties and hide out in the corner if you like, or get up on that beautiful bar and join in with any number of interesting people who ought to be sitting near me but just aren’t.

Not that I’m upset: it’s good that Portland has awesome places for me to hang out in that don’t get really crowded. I need to know about those paces so I can find some respite from a tumultous year. House. Day. Something.

The Wreck the Halls isn’t improving as I drink it. There’s a dryness that I am scraping off the roof of my mouth now. That bothers me. On the upside, it’s nearly done.

On The Rails: Bailey’s

I walked across the Burnside bridge tonight to get to Bailey’s. It’s good exercise and I was going to arrive early, so parking on the other side of the river meant I didn’t have to pay for the privilege. Plus, it wasn’t raining and in November, that’s a bonus you can act on.

Walking across bridges is a pretty awesome thing to do in a city. If you’re driving the nature of transport is moving too quickly to safely appreciate what the view from a bridge offers you. That connection manifested physically in the mere construct of a city. The idea that once, there wasn’t a way to walk across water but someone looked at that issue and said; yeah, we’re going to fix that. The ties that stitch a city together, keeping it from being (entirely) the West against the East, the Southies versus the Northern Border.

Burnside view NOr, forget all the abstract crap and take this: Portland, you can be an awfully pretty city when you want to.

I’m getting closer to downtown when I start to catch the scent of food. That seems very odd–are the restaurants so dense now that we can smell them cook? As I get deeper into the city I discover the answer: homeless kitchen serving dinner in an old building near the waterfront. Move on. Let them eat in peace.

The kids line up to see Gwar; the lights aren’t even on for the venue and they are trying to urge themselves into the building through closed doors, via sheer will. I step gingerly around men who are sleeping in the nooks, not quite 7pm and they’ve decided it’s been a long enough day, then past the Right 2 Dream 2 encampment-going on 5 years? more?- and nobody knows how to find a place for people to transition out of homelessness in a safe way. I’m almost there. I look forward to my trip back, seeing more of the denizens of the city.

I’ve decided on the Block 15 Sticky Hands-Southern Exposure imperial IPA on the recommendation of the bartender. It’s a damn solid IPA with lots of grapefruit notes to it, but nothing pithy or too intense. I sip it pretty steadily trying to drown out the cackle of the group behind me; too lively and happy. Shrieks coming from them that are at the same time, joyous and incredibly piercing and bothersome. False celebrations, a pretend play to make you look sexy in front of someone who should love you already.

Sometimes, you ought to respect the people around you drinking and NOT shout in a crowded pub. Just a thought.

On The Rail: Pints

I’ve come back to Pints because I like redemption stories and you can’t have a redemption story unless you go back. I wasn’t fond of the beer here last visit but it’s been two years and 1) Enough time has passed that they should have a handle on their brewing system and 2) they’re still in business. So there must be something to it, right?

This time I go for the Aldstadt altbier and this is nice! Biscuit in the nose, with chocolate up front then a biscuity finish. After a few sips though, there’s an aftertaste that I can’t recognize. When I look up the style in the guidelines, it’s noted that there may be notes of sulfur in the finish and that could be what I’ve got.

I get some water because I want to see if I can get a fresh tongue on this beer and have a moment of lament that I am by myself. Another perspective on this might be helpful. I’m not sure if it’s sulfur but something tastes just a little burnt, a malt flavor that is a little rougher than the rest of the beer wants to be. That said, I feel like this is a tremendous improvement over the other beers I’ve had here and I could definitely see coming back.

Unfortunately, I’ve arrived on an evening where the bar has been crashed by a woman’s birthday party and people are in various stages of festivity, along with creating a huge line to get a damned beer. I suppose that’s not too bad but for some reason I feel oppressed rather than enlivened. Perhaps it’s just because they have taken over the pub, instead of becoming a component in it?

Or maybe I’m just in a mood. It’s a bar and people are doing bar things, except over half of them are wearing glowing circles around their neck.

Then the clock strikes and the birthday group rounds up and heads on to the next joint. Immediately a couple moves from their table to the bar mocking the group that just left for drinking wine. The vibe in the place immediately settles down and I can hear music on the PA: I thankfully note that there is no Danger Zone.  The elitist beer drinking group begins to connect with another group via oddly similar roots: Michigan start, Georgia middle, now in Portland.

How the heck do those people run into each other? Out of all the people in the city? That kind of coincidence is always fun to witness.

On the other side of me, the bartender is having a conversation about the woman he’s trying to break up with. I do my best to tune it out: that subject is a sore one for me at the moment and that particular conversation is really none of my business. This kind of coincidence is one I’m going to stay as far away from as I can.

On The Rails: O’Malleys

(Post delayed due to technical difficulties. Sorry!)

It has been a tremendously long day, as I was the head steward for the OBC Fall Classic homebrew competition and now I’ve come to O’Malley’s to get some dinner and try to decompress from the massive overdose on humans I had. I decided to drink Hopworks’s Bitchin’ Camaro, their fresh hop ale, which just isn’t working for me. I think it may be about the style; the hop nose isn’t dominant, the finish doesn’t bring the bitterness, it’s…almost halfassed. A hoppy beer for people who don’t want hops.

Fresh hop beers may just need some dried hops to provide some context for the fresh hops. I’ll have to try it myself next year when the harvest comes up.

I’ve arrived on an opportune evening for this pub, as they’re hosting a private party in an hour but I’ve just slid under the wire to be served and not make things awkward. I’ll take it. And yes, I’ll leave soon but for a moment I am enjoying watching the hustle and bustle of people working to set things up instead of being the one who is working for all the people.

But damn do I dislike this beer. It’s just not working for me and a huge chunk of this has to do with the aftertaste which tastes faintly of orange pith and strongly of nothing. Sigh. Can’t win ’em all, you know?

As the pub fills up and the space becomes more oriented towards a party I feel an impishness to crash an event that has not included me. To wander around and be a spy or maybe wear the new face of lively party fiend, to be debonair and magic my way into a circle who does not know me. Fill the air with factoids and outshine the lads with a wit they would have to pay for.

“Sarge, you made it! You made it to the party!” the barkeep says to a man who’s got 20 years on me easy, a trucker cap and a modest white beard. He makes himself home on the barstool to the sounds of the Bee Gees easier than I put on shoes. The barkeep knows what he wants and he pours his Rainier Half-Ounce like a college freshman; too rapidly leaving him with a can half full of beer and a glass half full of foam.

Suddenly, I can’t do it. I can’t be an imposter here, with someone who has made his bones. Flashes from cameras are popping in the air and I am not meant to be included in their photos. My desire to be a shapeshifter has faded and I think I should go home. I ask Sarge if he’s staying for the party.

“No,” he replies, “I just have my beer and go home.”

That’s a plan.

On The Rails: Bailey’s

It’s high time for a new theme, isn’t it?

So I’ve come back to Bailey’s. Which only makes sense if you’re human, I suppose: start the new thing at the old thing. For a little while I’m going to engage in a cliche. And that makes even less sense, now that I say it: the new thing but the old thing that is something you’ve seen before?

Because everyone has seen it, in nearly every movie or TV show ever made where people exist at a bar: humans sitting at the rail, drinking. Or pondering, or randomly meeting.

Jane McGonigal talks about ‘being alone together’ in her book Reality is Broken. If you’ll indulge my memory of her concept, what it is describing is the path of people who play MMOs and how those games offer players the chance to engage with the community as they see fit. They can join a group if they want or they can just play the game they want to play, while surrounded by other people. They are allowed to participate with a community while still doing their own thing.

It’s a pretty interesting idea that I’m hopefully not doing a disservice to.

I, like many before me and, unless the world ends tomorrow, many after, write in pubs. But writing is a solitary endeavor. Typically, I find a table to sit down at and I write. I am rarely interrupted as most people are reluctant to disrupt someone who appears to be working. I do as much as I can, I take it all in and I am at the scene but I am not part of the scene. I have made a decision to separate myself in order to do some work.

People who sit at the rail are actually being alone together, instead of being separate. They may choose to engage but they might not: nobody judges them. So for a little while I want to sit at the rail, watch the bartenders, sit near people and see what happens. Honestly, I think I’ll still be at Bailey’s pretty often but I still have a few breweries I’d like to visit and talk about so I look forward to this change up.

Joining me tonight is the Epic Imperial Stout: coco notes in the nose. The ale follows through with this, even finishing dry, as if a spoonful of cocoa powder came a long at the end and put a pinch in my mouth.