Category Archives: The Local

New To Me: NWIPA

Fuz is in town to visit. That’s his drink-the always good Hop Venom by Boneyard-in the background. Normally, when someone visits, I have a list of recommendations but since Fuz lived here, I was willing to go wherever he wanted to go. The caveat being that I was going to briefly take some time to write about it.

Luckily for me, he was amicable to heading to NWIPA for a drink. Yes, I’ve been here before but what good is a blog about going out to places if you don’t get to visit the ones you like now and again?

Fortunately, nothing has changed; there’s plenty of space, it’s well lit, good food is available…pretty much everything you’d want in a pub/bottleshop combo.

I had the Worthy IPA, which I found to be pretty enjoyable.

And then…well, we hung out at the pub, as old friends are wont to do. We had one more drink than we should have and walked home late in the evening. There was ice cream.

It was a pretty good day.

New To Me: Red’s

The Natural is on TV at Red’s, where I’ve come for the evening. I haven’t seen this movie in quite some time and despite my boredom with baseball as a sport, I really like this movie. This distracts me and is why I forget to take a photo of my Mirror Pond ale, served to me in a pre-chilled glass. Some things do not change.

The age range of the crowd is pretty broad, which I wouldn’t have suspected. Seems to be a strange mix of people, but it’s also packed: it takes me a few minutes to get served by someone who is too busy to take my money. It’s lively in a non-dreary way, although there is a pall of “we smoked here for 300 years” that may never leave.

However, there is a sameness to Red’s. Gambling, sports awards, neon signs, NASCAR endorsements on the walls; all representing a monotony to these places that I may need to get away from. How do these bars find customers?

To my left, I notice a photo on the wall of military personnel, signed in 2009, dedicated to the bar. There’s my answer: there is a tradition here, something about the people who come here leading to the next group of people like them, coming. It suggests that Red’s inspires loyalty and community, and that is a precious thing.

I am about to leave when it strikes me; there are people of color in this joint. It’s the first place I’ve been in in this series where I can really say that there is a mix of people who I don’t see hang out much, normally. That it took me so long to notice may speak ill of my observation skills, but I like to think that it speaks well of the bar. Anyone is welcome, so long as you’re willing to hang with us.

New To Me: O’Malley’s

In addition to being the first place in this series that has its own web site, O’Malley’s also seems to exemplify the weird building structures that I have been dealing with while going to bars on Foster.

The entrance has an enclosed area, which is long, narrow and stretches to the left, looking almost like an elongated porch. This area then opens to the right into a room full of pinball machines, doubles back into the ‘main’ room, with has a very long bar on the left and a final area opening on the right where there are pool tables, and behind those are a series of booths!

I imagine that sounds a bit dizzying and I promise you, even walking in there the layout is an unclear one. It makes sense pretty rapidly (it’s weird, not confusing) but it still suggests a kind of…adaptability when it comes to making spaces work in the odd buildings along Foster.

And it’s a space I like quite a bit, honestly. The music is interesting, diverse and never too loud. The beer selection rotates pretty regularly; I had a Breakside Woodlawn pale, which I enjoyed quite a bit and it was the first time I’d seen that beer. There is lots of space to socialize in whatever degree of sunlight suits you and the booths, while windowless, are lit up well enough to allow me to play cards. On top of all that, wallspace has been adorned with the work of local artists.

I think I need to arrange a night to try some of the food here. If it’s good, there may just be a new local awesome hangout space.

New To Me: Starday Tavern

I thought I was going to Bob & Alice’s Tavern but one of the first things I learn upon entering is that I am not.  A message inside written on a neon whiteboard says ‘Welcome to the Starday tavern‘. So despite a huge sign still attached to the building telling the world otherwise, there has been a name change.

Of my possible selections of beer, only the Alameda Klickitat pale is appealing. With a tiny jolt, I realize that this place is the first place I’ve been to in a long time that has had a truly poor beer selection. Even Foster Gardens was better. Think about that for a second.

I’m not especially fond of my beer; it’s a basic pale bit there’s a bitter aftertaste that follows me all the way home. Pale ales should not do this.

As I ponder this beer in what is probably one of the narrower bars in Portland, I take in the scenery. Small groups of people chatting around tables; there’s a gap-toothed man being smooched on the temple by a white haired woman. At the round table behind me, a man in a black t gestures to his tablemates about something, his hands are filthy, the kind that exist when you’ve been shoveling asphalt all day.

And this is the most isolated I have felt so far at any bar in this series. It is possible that my presence is filed under ‘active indifference’ by everyone here. Hard to say but for a place where people seem to know each other, a stranger coming in might seem to be noteworthy. Not so.

I don’t mind this; getting too much attention is not my idea of a good time (mostly) but I have to admit that I’m sitting here and I’m bored. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of distinction at the Starday. “Me and Bobbie McGee” was playing when I entered, now it’s just country music that could be sung by any white dude.  The TV shows baseball and NASCAR. Is this a country bar? I don’t know but I can tell you this: It is bland and dull.

Right up until I leave, when I overhear this conversation:
“When have you ever, ever, ever, seen a urinal with a door?”
“I think there should be one!”

Can’t help but agree.

New To Me: Foster Gardens

It isn’t a long walk up Foster from my place to Foster Gardens but it is off putting. Walking along that stretch of road forces me to pay attention to thet environment as opposed to driving along it, where I’m paying attention to hazards. It’s a desolate space; at night it harkens back to what the area must’ve been like before City Hall started paying attention to the cries of the Lents and Foster neighborhoods, asking for improvements.

The junk shop, the run down corner store, auto repair, darkness and utter lack of people all combine to create an ambiance that makes me wonder if I am heading the right way. Within four blocks I have begun to doubt my sense of direction, seeing for the first time an auto detailing place that I never saw before and I could swear sprung out of the ground like something out of a neon-infested Stephen King novel. I half expect to see a grinning man inside the empty store, ready to make a deal.

And there it is. Foster Gardens, all is as well in my brain as it can be.

It’s hot when I walk in there, despite two doors being open and I sit down at the first unoccupied place I can, noting on the tap handles the usual suspects (Coors Lite, Bud, you know) and…Boneyard IPA?

No place in Portland is immune to our demands for good beer. Gimme that. The bartender pulls a glass from the fridge that still has ice chips on it and pours it for me. He’s also not above taking the whole $5 as tip for a $3.50 beer. This is what I expect.

I sit near a very drunk man who has longish black hair with white strands in it and a trucker’s hat on. I don’t know how drunk he is until he starts talking to no one about his tattoo.

That feeling that I get when I am dealing with someone who is most likely mentally ill starts to wrap around my heart: I must tread carefully, else find myself in a box I cannot get out of.

He eventually talks to me, rambling about a tattoo of a dragon on his forearm that he is unhappy with, as the spiked tail doesn’t wrap around his wrist and end at his knuckles.

“Do you get what I mean?” he says. And I repeat back to  him: “Yes; you’re upset that the tattoo didn’t go down your hand like you wanted it to,” and he nods and repeats my repeat.

Some friends of his step in, distracting him. He starts talking about his other tattoos, including one “on his fuckin’ armpit” which he assures everyone hurt a lot. As he strips his shirt off to show everyone the tattoo, the bartender warns him; “I’m not dragging you home again tonight.” It’s a friendly warning; they know each other here.

An older woman with glasses, a tweed jacket, and a schoolmarm look smiles at me over her Miller tallboy from kitty-corner of the bar. Then she winks. I can feel my whole world tilt: why is she even paying attention to me?

Yet…it’s human and lively. Yes, I’m probably the youngest person in the joint and no, I don’t fit in here. I recall a moment from a Bill Hicks bit: “Anyone can be homeless, man: All it takes is the right bar, the right girl and the right friends, and they’ll roll up that dumpster for you to sleep in.”

I  wonder about the Gardens and who they offer shelter to. Where those people will go when that shelter isn’t there anymore, or what will become of this place when those who needed this shelter die off; a day that isn’t long in coming, from the looks of things.

I could easily be a part of this. It wouldn’t take much: I like beer, I often like people. Three terrible days and I could find myself here, hoping that the gal who winked at me might consider me as warmth for the night. They don’t seem miserable here, right? Nobody’s been an asshole to me. I got my beer. It isn’t desperate in the Gardens, just low class and sad, if you get what I mean. It isn’t dressed up and it never will be. I could belong and inhabit the sadness of this space inside my own, sharing a kind of misery that is safer than the crushing disappointment of happiness denied.

I finish up and go home: I probably won’t be back. I take the residential path: the road of the Gardens is not mine. The stars are out tonight and I haven’t seen them like this in a long, long time.

New To Me: Spot 79

My first reaction upon entering the Spot was not a positive one.

There were televisions everywhere and I really do mean everywhere. I took a seat at a booth that had a television mounted on the wall, just like every other booth in the area, the faint sounds of  When the Levee Breaks in the background, Fox Sports Speed is on the TV.

Places like this are akin to foreign countries for me. I don’t know anyone who leaves their house in order to watch television at the table. Why would you DO that?

The background noise for my Alameda IPA includes some ‘redneck’ on Fox Sports Speed, close captioned, nattering on about how excited he is to see a Lotus and a Mustang race each other. I feel like I am through the damned looking glass here.

About this time, I look around; everyone else is smiling and engaged. There isn’t a smartphone diversion anywhere to be seen, except by me, taking notes. Everyone else is engaged in the sporting events and with the people at their table or along the rail. I see someone giving out hugs as she leaves the bar. They’re laughing and clearly having fun. It’s pretty easy to contrast this with Bailey’s, where the scene is also filled with people but those people are often letting the outside world tap into their table conversations.

I make no judgment on either scene: Televisions are their own intrusion on the world but by god, people here look happy. I’m going to tell you (or them) that the Spot is all messed up because I feel out of place?

My girlfriend reaches up to touch the power light on the TV; it suddenly turns off. We both go wide eyed in surprise and start looking for an actual power button. In the back of my mind, though, I’m also thinking: well at least you have the option to turn it off, if you want to.

She finds the sensor to get the TV back on. Whew. Always prefer to leave things as we found it.

“They’ll change the channel for you, if you like,” a man with a pepper-salt mustache, a trucker cap, and a navy blue tshirt says to us from a near table, leaning forward. He points to the top of the TV: “They have boxes for each one; you can set it to whatever you like, just let somebody know.”

We thank him but we were just trying to figure out how it worked. He smiles, keeping an eye on the television “The Mustang won, so we’re all good.” Everyone enjoys a brief chuckle.

And a few minutes later, a waitress (flagged down by our helpful patron) asks us if we want to change the channel. We politely tell her no, everything is fine.

And it pretty much is.

New To Me: Mt Scott Pub

Within the first week that we moved to the new house, a news story came on TV as I was leaving for work. It was about an attempted robbery at the Mt Scott Pub, which was foiled by the bartender who shot the suspect. So it all worked out! Welcome to the neighborhood.

Perfect place to start the new series, I figure, because it already has a story. I’m nervous about going into many of these places; most of them offer a vibe that doesn’t care about what I care about. They aren’t there to provide me with some exceptional beers, they’re there to serve whatever the neighborhood is asking for, in an area that, while up and coming, is still viewed with a tiny bit of concern. I think this is why I forgot to bring my camera: when I go into a strange place I want to look as normal as possible and carrying around the tools of my trade increases the amount I stand out.

You might imagine my surprise to see Fort George’s Vortex IPA on tap, along with a nice selection of beers from Deschutes. Really, something for any taste-including various spirits and the typical selection of big brewery offerings.

Of course, there were other sights both expected and unexpected; video bowling machines, a CCTV showing the back parking lot, or posts wrapped in white tinsel and Christmas lights, for example. There was even a video shuffleboard machine and that just seems wrong.

My biggest surprise was how empty it was. I’ve gotten used to lively crowds when I go out and I swear, there weren’t more than ten people. It was a little weird.

Also, I felt a bit lost in the Mt Scott, as I do any time I am in a place that could be anyplace, like an airport. You’ve been there, even if you haven’t, with the older, ready to be grouchy barkeeper and the ‘Oldies’ station playing (which now includes Supertramp, I guess.) This bar could exist in Texas, Wisconsin or Connecticut. I got nothing from the joint, in my brief time, suggesting an element of distinction and I always find that to be a bit tragic in dive bars. It’s well lit and seemed pretty comfortable but it might as well exist in Limbo for all the charm it had.

But it also could be a good place to be nondescript. Some days, you might need that.

The Local: Angelo’s

angelos pubThis is a first.

I am the only patron in the bar. It’s me, the barkeep, and three televisions and so if I’m murdered, avenge my death because there’s only one suspect.

Not that I’m going to be murdered; the bartender is someone I know and he’s always been cool. The fact that Tosh .0 is one of the preferred choices on the TV is…well, thinking about it, it’s exactly what ought to be playing.

Angelo’s is the first place I was exposed to Andrew WK. Fittingly, I couldn’t hear the music, I just watched him perform on Saturday Night Live and saw the closed captioning. After reading the words “Party Hard” 300x, I knew I had to get this record. And believe me; it’s one of the best albums of the ’00’s, though it’s hard to admit that, because the album is 110% partying and let’s face it, who wants to say that music for parties is cool when melancholy, self-promotion, preteen heartbreak and in your face American dickishness makes all the money?

Fuck them; It’s Time To Party is one of the best anthems, ever. I’ll put that up against Back In Black, baby. The glories of I Want To See You Go Wild are just waiting to be uncovered. Honestly,the only thing that worries me about getting older is that my ability to have fun will atrophy somehow. Fuck being cool; I want to live in a now (and a future) where I can still smile, laugh, make jokes and have a good time.

The bartender asks me if I want another and I do. We chat; things are rough here. That I’m the only patron right now is unusual from a few years ago–a time we both remember. Him as a bartender, me as patron, but once upon a time Angelo’s was that cool place to be where the hip kids could slum and the oddballs could live it up, all while mixing with the old coot boys who held up the bar in decades past when Hawthorne wasn’t a place to hang out.

I met women here. I met drunks here. I met guys here. I had couples show off their wedding rings. I had an anarchist tell me that I didn’t know what I was talking about when I told her democracy didn’t fit with her preferred political system. I wrote personal ads for strangers, argued for the superiority of bands while at levels of drunkeness that proved to be overtoxic the next morning, washed my hands of sins, heard confession and attempted to forgive and forget. I wrote, frequently badly and I will again. A man hauled me out of the bar, pointed West and said; “That is what life is, man” on the 4th of July, in an attempt to get me to watch the fireworks for real instead of on TV.

I have come to Angelo’s for many years and I will likely come for a few more. The carpet is gone to reveal a weird shitty surface that only can be found in dive bars. The craptastic wood paneling has been decimated to show off a rough brick surface that almost feels ancient, like you’re getting to inhabit a place that has soul instead of covering it up with a veneer. There’s alcohol now instead of just beer. It’s dark. You make your connections in the fuzzy world of indoor dusk.

But if you’re cool, nobody cares. Pay for your beer, do your time, and don’t be a dick. That you don’t ‘fit in’ doesn’t have to matter if you are kind, honest and have enough confidence to not put up with the bullshit of assholes. It’s like that here, and it’s why I come back.

Well, that and the $2.50 beer specials daily. I don’t care how cheap PBR is, you cannot beat pints of Fat Tire, Dead Guy, Mirror Pond, Widmer Oktoberfest, or Ninkasi Total Domination for $2.50.You just can’t.

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.

The Local: Nick’s Coney Island

I wasn’t going to come to this joint, because it seems like an eatery first, bar second-which amorphous as it is, is my only criteria for a Local but Bill suggested I check it out. So here I am.

Nick’s has been around since 1935 but I didn’t come into the place until late 2009 because every time I walked by the place, it was closed or very, very dark.

So I assumed that it was owned by the Mob. Call it Occam’s Imaginary Razor; the most likely preposterous explanation is the one your brain will come up with and run. What was I supposed to think? It was a bar in a bustling, hip neighborhood that nobody ever seemed to go into or out of. How does a place like that stay open, except as a hideout for shady businessmen?

Admittedly, it’s not the most interesting theory. It could’ve been a bar sent back in time through tachyons, a haunted space from the future, full of newspapers with terrifying, Fark ready headlines like: Redheads extinct, California quake splits state, raises Godzilla, Liz Cheney ‘elected’ President, Aliens have mercy, kill us all.

But no, I simply go with Mafia. Not really a great writer’s imagination at work.

According to the timeline though, Nick opened the place, sold it to Frank, who retired in ’08 and sold it to Ty who spends a year or so renovating the place and…here we are.

Yet, despite all that history and an overwhelming amount of sports related memorabilia on the wall (much of Yankee related) Nicks doesn’t feel like there’s much of a vibe here. The music is early 90’s alternative. The TV is baseball or softball. There’s nothing wrong with this place but I’m not sure what is here to bring me back.

Look at it this way; if you read this blog, you’re reading in part for my perspective. The other good beer blogs around Portland (or anywhere) do the same thing.

And there’s nothing wrong with Nick’s, but what’s right?

nicksWell, let me tell you; they have their own beer. I doubt it’s brewed here but unlike any other place I’ve been to on the Local, they have their own brew, Nick’s TKO, an amber bock that’s malty enough to put up a good backbone against their food and fizzy enough to wash away the flavors and get you ready for the next bite.

That’s pretty cool, as far as I’m concerned. Sure, it would’ve been pretty awesome to have a haunted time-travelling bar from the future but a nice bar with a decent amber is a close second.

Also; the service is good. Bartender was prompt, friendly and from the neighborhood. I like that.

And next time, I think I’ll arrive hungry. The menu seems to have a certain swagger when it comes to their food; I think I’d like to put it to the test.