Category Archives: The Local

The Local: North

When I first moved to Portland, the location that North now occupies was a trading card store. Sports cards, Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, the whole range. It was nearby and a welcome relief to have someplace that offered something familiar to me in a city where I didn’t know anyone.

It went out of business and eventually became a juggling supply store. The juggling supply store was in business for years. Really. Way to long, given the number of people who might need juggling supplies. I always thought that the store was a front for the mob during this time. No particular reason, except that it appeals to the imagination. A mob storefront that sells bowling pins. There’s an absurdist story in there somewhere.

That store went the way of all juggling, balls dropped and the whole storefront area underwent a transformation, a massive facelift, really. In it’s place came the North, which I was an early patron of….and which turned me off pretty quickly. Too dark, seating arrangements all kattywampus, and worst of all…reggae music.

I really hate reggae music. Yes, yes, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley were sonic innovators, they stood for something, their music was a force for social change amongst other things.

Don’t care. Every single reggae song uses the one-drop, with the same tempo, women singing backup/harmony, and is, to me, boring to the point of destruction. At least heavy metal is annoying, if you don’t like it. (It can only be  boring to people who love heavy metal and recognize musicians halfassing it.)

I had to get outta there.

North barBut places change and grow. Seats are changed and arranged. Lights are…still dark, but more are added to allow for pool and a luminescent forest animals. Reggae is removed from the jukebox and replaced with Portland style hipster selections; Duran Duran, Sleater-Kinney, Decemberists, Black Sabbath, Solomon Burke, and so on.

And I never had a problem with the beer selections. They’ve had a Ninkasi beer on tap for as long as I’ve been coming here, usually supported by Deschutes’ Mirror Pond and PBR, with a few random selections. I’m sipping on a Double Mountain kolsch right now and once again, they have knocked it out of the park.

As people wander in, usually in groups but even solo, I get it.

It’s a neighborhood bar. People seem to know each other, even when they don’t. They casually share tables if there’s not enough room. They’re here to shoot pool, watch the Blazers and hang out with each other. The TV is loud enough but can be easily ignored. An old guy drinking Hamm’s in the can steps outside, puts his hood up and lights a cigarette. It’s the way I like winter in Portland; steady rain but not ferocious, wet without soaking, night without gloom.

The bartender is delightfully awkward, someone who has found confidence in her Olive Oyl look and decided to totally rock it. A less confident woman would elicit pity but she is smiling and joyous to watch, beautiful in part because she has decided she is. A good lesson for anyone; we decide to be who we are, and it shows.

The Local: Water Trough Saloon

I was visiting my favorite bar with Jim a few days ago and I overheard Bailey’s regular The Professor in conversation with a few other patrons on the rail.

Professor: And have you been to the Water Trough?

Water Trough outside

Patron(s): Oh god. Is that the one with the horse picture in front?

Professor: Yeah, yeah.

Patron(s), chuckling: Shit, that place is awful. Like with the Space Room-there’s just nothing there. Like at the Space Room they have one beer on tap and it’s like, Budweiser.

Professor, laughing: totally. The Water Trough, it’s like the original dive bar, man.

And so I knew where to go this week.

The first thing that one ought to know about the Water Trough is that the concern patrons have here about what some other human thinks of their bar is about the same that Americans have for George W. Bush’s post-presidential political career.

The second thing that one ought to know about the Water Trough is that the jukebox selection is awesome. MC5, Queens of the Stone Age, Willie Nelson, Supersuckers, Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, Al Green, Judas Priest’s Sad Wings of Destiny. Fantastic. Now, nobody’s using that jukebox but I’m always heartened when at the least there’s the presence of a good jukebox. There’s potential there for goodness.

And perhaps the last thing that someone ought to know about the Water Trough is that it’s a completely different place to be in without the smoke. This bar has no windows, just wood paneling and red carpet, and the ceilings are low and black so when smoking was allowed the environment could feel pretty claustrophobic. Like the desperate strains of a shitty Vegas casino, coming in here felt like the act of someone who wanted to inhale death and exhale sadness.

By god I loved it just a little bit for that.

Now? Now I can come here and comfortably hang out. Play shuffleboard, pool, darts. The bartender is nice and pours a full Mt. Hood Ice Axe, something appreciated by a man on a budget. The brew is a bit sweet for a pale and leaves a slick coating in my mouth that is unwelcome but not horrific. It’s reasonably good and gives me non-Widmer or Hamm’s options. I’d have another one if my budget allowed.

water trough signIf the PA system wasn’t hooked into the classic rock station, I think I’d come here more often. I really don’t need to hear ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ ever again. The chairs are beat up and just a wee bit uncomfortable. There are pictures of dogs playing pool on the wall. There’s an antiseptic-ish scent that tried to kill the years of smoke in the walls that hasn’t quite worked. The bartender is gone for minutes at a stretch to step outside for a smoke.

That said, I really like the camouflage this bar gives me. I don’t have to go outside or acknowledge the outside world in any form if I don’t want to. The TVs are set by the bar and small. The focus here is on playing games or perhaps just relaxing at a table. The mood is low-key, and if you bring your pool game I’d bet it’s even welcome. There are days, though, when a fellow just wants to hide. When the sight of the sun hurts, when the moon looks down and makes you feel ashamed. Your woman done you wrong, you done your woman wrong, your dog bit you, your car died, your boss found that pic of you mooning someone, shit just ain’t right!

This is the bar to hide out in, lick some wounds.

The Water Trough is a shelter from those outside influences that would try and expose your wounds or just harsh your mellow. Coming back here for The Local has convinced me that I ought to come here more often and I think if you’ve been put off by it you ought to give it a chance. It’s got a general vibe of non-aggro which is exactly what you hope for when you need to hide.

Sure, the beer selection isn’t terrific-but that isn’t why you’re here. Let it be your band-aid so you can get back in the ring, baby.

The Local: Bridgeport Hawthorne

In 1997, I moved to Portland. Living in an apartment-white room with carpet that hadn’t been changed since 1973 and showed it, I tried to cobble together a life here. I was a little homesick, unemployed and quite lonely; I didn’t know anyone in the city and I had left my hometown in no small part because of heartbreak.

You know the story; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy moves to another town to get away from his heartbreak.

bridgeport brewpubStaring out this window of the Bridgeport brewpub on Hawthorne while sitting at the bar, I could see the top of a pine tree, broken. Quite literally, the top quarter of the tree was at a ninety degree angle from the trunk. But it still hung on, steadfast, refusing to topple.

I felt an affinity for that tree. Raised my glass to it, as often as I was able. In the way of many guys, I didn’t seek out the tree; I just gave it a nod. Sometimes I thought the pine would sway back, acknowledging; yup. We’re in the shit, but we endure, damnit. We endure.

I miss that tree.

Oh sure, time moves on. I may be unemployed but I have some friends now. The tree has decided it should no longer be a danger to others. We don’t see each other anymore; our paths had to go in different directions.

I loved him, and he was a tree. He loved me, but was dangerous to others. You know the story. Boy meets tree, tree is declared a menace to society, boy says ‘you just don’t understand it like I do’, tree is cut down.

The Bridgeport hasn’t changed much in 13 years. New artwork on the walls because that’s what hip places do (but it’s really good art so I don’t complain). New beers on tap-spurred on by the microbrewing revolution-so I’m able to enjoy a Highland Scottish Ale, which is surprisingly good. Toffey flavors that edge into porter territory, with a light effervescence that keeps it bouncy on the tongue. I think I might even have two.

I know why I don’t come here more often; the lighting. Too dim to play cards in but it’s pretty good for conversation. Not Bailey’s good, but close. And a bar that a person can really lean on, get comfortable at. During the day however, it’s a fantastic joint and I prefer to come here then, like I used to. Look out the windows to see if I can catch an old friend and say hello.

We still endure, damnit.

The Local: Vertigo Pub

vertigo pub painting The Vertigo feels a little weird, like someone’s vanity project; a pub where a guy can say he’s working but actually watches sports on a big screen TV all day.

Oh sure, there’s trivia nights (with the tagline ‘Great Prizes, Good Food, Graphic Nudity’), there’s a dartboard and pinball table with a crappy theme (World Poker Tour), an arcade machine with a collection of 80’s videogames and a jukebox. The booths are very strange; high backs to provide a sense of isolation, no padding on them so patrons are inclined to lean in towards each other, all atmospherically romantic, and the incredibly dim lighting supports this. The décor involves paintings, knick-knacks, tiny guitars, oversized glasses, the neon clichés (Anchor Steam, PBR).

But what there really is, is a gigantic projection screen TV, a tiny TV located behind the bar, and another one above the dartboard, but I don’t know why it’s there or which section of patrons it’s meant to serve, since the pub is small enough that the projection TV is viewable from almost anywhere. The three TVs have sports on, all the time, every time I come in here. There might be different games being played, but when I’ve been here each TV shows the same game.

So I have to ask; does the Vertigo know what it is?

It’s practically empty on a Monday, despite it being the high point of the college Product bowl season, brought to you by Product. I think the other men at the bar-both the bartender and the guy on the rail, work here and it is just the three of us.

And it’s expensive. My pint of Widmer Drop Top cost me $4. During Happy Hour. Oh sure, I could’ve gotten a PBR with a shot of Jager for $6 (which is something else that tells me about the kind of influences on this bar) but…why? The food is similarly expensive; $8 for nachos, or $6 for a salad. (That’s the high and low end for appetizers.) Again; that’s pricey for a happy hour.

Now I don’t want to give an entirely terrible impression of the Vertigo; my beer is good and the bartender served me a tall pint of it. In no way is this unfriendly.

But it doesn’t make a statement either. It’s feels geared for someone else-built to serve all the little bits of interest of one individual. Sports fanatics won’t see all the hero-memories of sports surrounding them. Romance is intruded upon by televisions, the lane for the dartboard is right in front of the bar. The beer selections are easily matched or bested elsewhere. Who comes here? Who calls this bar home?

I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I don’t come here very often.

And this will be the last ApfD post for two weeks. I’m heading out on vacation and have no idea what kind of internet access I will have. If all goes badly, I’ll be trapped like these people were, and have bleary but good stories.

The Local: Belmont Station

“Purpose, Mr. Anderson.” – Agent Smith

taps at belmont stationI realized today that I’ve not really been looking forward to these posts. I’ve lost my way a bit. The last few episodes of The Local have been draining, in part because I’ve gone to places that haven’t had a lot of energy, in part because of me, in part due to a whole host of convergent reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog. So as I slough 2009 off like a python whose head I’ve severed before it strangles me, I feel that it’s time to reassess what I’ve been doing.

I live in this area so it doesn’t seem like I ought to explore it. I’ve been to most (all?) of these bars so I already know what awaits me, right? I, like many people, pick my drinking post by virtue of its utility to me. I want X so I head to a place that serves up X, be it a brew, or a vibe, or a TV I can watch football on, or a big table where I can play cards, or a quiet place to have soft discussions. There isn’t something new for me at these old places, is there?

Well, yes, if that’s my choice, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m out to explore the neighborhood. I can’t know everything so today I set out, not exactly sure of what to do, but thinking that I needed to reevaluate why I was going to these bars. The axiom, “do what you do, just different” came to mind, and while usually I respond to that with: ‘what the hell does that mean’ I had an idea this time. So instead of heading out late and just walking straight to the Belmont Station in order to get beer for the podcast and another for this post, I wandered a bit to clear my head. Shortly after realizing that I needed to remember to explore the neighborhood, and that amongst the history I had at these bars there might be a story to tell, I stumbled upon this.

old dodge

Isn’t that a cool looking Dodge?

Now, I’m not someone who is on the lookout for signs from above but I’m also not someone to slap a gift donkey. Especially not while drinking SOB’s Son of Santa. So let’s just pretend that I’m doing something right and go with it.

Most people know the Belmont Station, of course. Back when it was on Belmont, next door to the popular Horse Brass, it was just a bottle shop but ever since it moved a cafe has been added with a perpetual motion rotation selection, it’s also become a place to sit down and enjoy yourself too.

They frequently host “Meet the Brewer” events which are always a joy. Getting to talk to professionals has always been an insightful experience for me and then there was the night I took up waaaay too much of Alastiar’s time. Still, he was great about it and I managed to keep my fanboy actions to a minimum.

The bar area doesn’t have much in the way of character to me though. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a testament to beer wall paraphernalia, visually but it doesn’t quite bring the lived in quality of comfort that older places have. Give it five years or so, enough time for the chairs to become more comfortable, for late nights with arguments of hollered laughter, for a conspiracy to happen, and the cafe will be more fun. The frame is there, it just needs a painting.  Actually, give it ten years. The scholarly aspects of drinking here will hold out against the characterization for a little while. Not that this is a bad thing. The stories that will be told then will be smarter and funnier for it.

The Son of Santa is a wall of malt beer. Hops are lighter; evident on the nose, sneaking back up on the back end, but this beer tastes sticky and sweeter, which I know doesn’t make much sense but there you go. It’s an Imperial Amber, and I like it.

The Local: Triple Nickel

christmas treeI came to the Triple Nickel tonight, which has always been a place that I’d wanted to call by a cool nickname, like ‘Fifteen Cents’ but that’s not really shorter than Triple Nickel. Foiled in my attempts to nickname the bar, I have walked here via well traveled streets so I could walk past the Christmas tree joint on 39th.

I’ve always loved Christmas trees. When the days come that I can no longer drink Sierra Nevada’s Celebrator ale, the pine trees will remind me of the Christmas beers. I like to sit in front of Christmas trees, the lights blending into that blue or pink that Christmas tree lights always seem to end up at, in silence. Usually, I can hear The Band’s Christmas Must Be Tonight in my head-a gift from my parents. Even without that song though, I just like being in the presence of a tree.

Portland isn’t so Christmas-y this year. I still saw houses with vivid decorations set up and these days any decorative lights feel good. Even the weird, cagelike set of lights at the Triple Nickel, but something still feels missing. Maybe I just miss the snow from last year; although the city shut down for three days, the show coated the city in a luminescence that was wonderful.

I haven’t been here in too long. A place for pool and darts, with a the light scent of chicken strips in the air, the Triple Nickel is oddly barren on a Monday. It’s weird; the bars during The Local have been strangely empty, while Bailey’s always had people. Have I been going to too many sports bars? Or is it just that sports bars are no fun on Mondays. Let’s face it, between the holidays and my random choices, it’s pretty easy to skew my perception. Things are bound to change as I go along.

dartboardsI want chicken strips. I have a weakness for chicken strips, have for as long as I can remember. I’ve been in this bar long enough for the scent to exploit my desire for fried fowl. Resisting is easy; I’ve had dinner already but in the little mindfile of; places to get chicken strips, the Triple Nickel’s card has been recalled.

This year has been one where it seems hard to get into the holidays. I’m not sure why-again, it’s likely the economy is to blame but it’s also possible I’m projecting. Perhaps I just need to be amongst more lively people; celebrating the longest night of the year is easier when there’s a group of people hoisting glasses in defiance of the cold.

Which makes me feel bad; I like this bar, but my experience is not giving me much to relish. That’s not anybody’s fault; I know that on a weekend this bar is riotous and it has good bartenders with a fun crowd. One of my favorite stories has me walking into the Triple Nickel and running into an elderly couple, sitting at the bar. She called me ‘dear’ and he didn’t say much, except to smile occasionally, just enough for me to pick up that he didn’t have to say much. She could do the talking, and he could let me know where he stood with a gleam in his eye.

I could hope to grow old in such a way.

But tonight we’re all mellowed out and preoccupied, as though the day cannot end fast enough. I’ve gone against the nature of the space; it’s open and invites people to come and be festive; without that, it just doesn’t carry the same swagger.

The Local: Sewickleys

sewickleysI’ll admit it; I do not belong at Sewickley’s.

The last time I was in here it was for breakfast and as a breakfast joint, it’s a different animal. The time before that however, was over ten years ago and I got the heebies and promptly left. Alcohol was definitely involved and instead of trying to endure a space where I felt I was going to feel threatened the whole time, I took off.

I get a very different vibe a decade later on a Monday. The space is the same; my beer choices on tap are Pabst and Sierra Nevada Pale.

I’m sure you can figure out what I ordered.

The bartender has a friendly/sardonic blend, not unlike a bloody mary and she calls me ‘hon’, insisting that this bar is great Mon-Wed and really only gets rowdy on the weekends. She threatens divorce and a restraining order against one of the regulars whom she has nothing against and then goes out for a smoke. There’s a quiet, insistent holler from one of the two older guys “Open bar!” but nobody makes a move. When she comes back, she sets a drink alight to make a Spanish Coffee and holds the blue flame so casually you’d think she was Merlin, bored with the grunt level magic.

I can’t say that the bar is a welcoming space for me-but who said that the bar is supposed to be for me? There is a crowd of regulars and they’ve got that long-term rapport established by loneliness and alcohol. Hell, it’s illusionary enough that the guys who called for open bar are now shooting spitballs out of thin red bar straws and singing along what what sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughn on the PA.

Mine is not to judge. The camaraderie here is its own animal and it would take me at least a month just to be accepted amongst this group. If they want Xmas decorations that metallically sing ‘White Christmas’ and make less than witty jokes, who the hell am I to tell them that their bar isn’t cool? This bar works for them and in a way I know I could fit in here easily if I put in the effort.

People need places where they can just hang out and while some might feel high and mighty making judgments and insisting that they are better than this place, the regulars drinking here are making Cheers jokes, drinking without being harassed by idiots and singing Rolling Stones songs you never heard of before. That isn’t to say I approve of the douchy behavior of some of the fools, even though their misogynist comments are reigned in by a whippersnapper barkeep, just that I get that there is a culture here I do not understand and would be unwise to wash my hands completely of.

The Local: Hawthorne Hideaway

One nice thing about going to the local bars is that I get a chance to have regularly appearing beers that otherwise I’d overlook for the new thing. In this case, Ninkasi’s Believer ale, which is very much the kind of red ale I’d like to make someday. Rich enough in the malts to stand up but with a bitter finish that clears any pretense of sweetness away.

walloholTonight I’m at the Hawthorne Hideaway which has been a bar I’ve always liked but had trouble getting to. Being blessed with a number of good places to drink means that sometimes I don’t get to bars I really enjoy. Circumstances get in the way it seems but that also feels like a poor excuse. I don’t have any reason to avoid it here; the fries are good, the bartenders like heavy metal and there’s enough space but not too much so you won’t crowd the other patrons.

I like it more since the smoking ban; the Hideaway is cozy enough that just a little smoke makes it feel a hell of a lot more crowded, but even before the ban I liked it here. I could sit at a table by the window and play cards. Admittedly, I had to sit by the window as the lighting is too dim everywhere else but I’m OK with that.

Interestingly, it feels easier to pay attention to the football game here, where there is only one TV than at the 39th Street Pub where there were four. Maybe it’s because I don’t have to pay attention to the game, I can just check in, whereas at the sports bar I had to deliberately ignore it and the big empty spaces made me feel isolated.

On the spur of the moment, I decided to sit at the bar (which is why you have the shot of the wallohol) and I like it.

Plus, this bar is more lively. There’s a Monday Night Trivia event and it seems like there is a spirited competition there. As a bonus, if you don’t care about playing trivia there is a back room with pool tables where the patrons are all but isolated from the rest of the bar. I like the setup because I could walk in and enjoy myself no matter what my state of mind is. Which is pretty much what I did tonight, now that I think about it.

The Local: 39th St Sports Pub

“Gonna walk around and drink some more”- the Hold Steady

You know, Terminal Gravity’s IPA has a crispness at the end that works for this beer. Still quite bitter but the finish is lightened by the crisp quality. 

The 39th Street Sports Pub. Or Tom’s Bar. The bartender just ran out after a customer she knew to ask him a favor and give him a hug. It’s a human moment in a bland space.

So I’ve gone local for the next series. After a year of needing transport coupled with some recent thoughts I’ve had on staying local, I decided that the thing to do next would be to go to bars that were within walking distance of my house. I’m quite fortunate in that I live near Portland’s infamous ‘stumble zone’ where there are ten places to get a drink in a three block area, not counting the liquor store. So that ought to keep me busy. 

In addition, walking distance for me isn’t quite walking distance for most other people. I like to walk, especially at night and so there are more bars within my walking range than what most people might consider walkable. Either way, I reckon this ought to keep me busy for a little while. I probably won’t have the range of beers to try as I did before because even in Portland, sports bars are dominated by more well known beers but I’ll do my best to mix the drinks up as much as the spaces I visit. 

Oh, and there will still be bad photos. 

Tom’s bar makes good use of its length, with the three pool tables at one end and four televisions around and above the bar, it’s the kind of place you could almost play catch in. Surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be a scent here. Odd because it’s connected to a restaurant so I’d think there would be food cooking but perhaps everyone here is thirsty instead. 

It’s spacious though and I like that. There’s room to spread out and stretch your legs and you don’t have to worry about bumping into someone at a table while you’re shooting pool. 

Sadly, there isn’t much personality to this bar. It has that inoffensive lighting and all the traditional neon signs. One Ducks schedule up, Coors Light sports flags and lights emblazoned with the Camel logo hang around and on a night like tonight, where it isn’t crowded, there isn’t a motivation to sit near strangers to absorb how they give the bar some zing. The TVs encourage absorbsion into the sports world and  the only way someone could have a semi-private conversation would be if it was loud enough to cover the noise from the next table. At that point, though, it’s loud enough that you’re practically shouting anyway so that kind of defeats the purpose. 

I suppose that’s why I’m a bit down on this space; it is devoid of personality or a point of view. Why aren’t there awesome posters on the wall, memorabilia, or little statuettes of victory? Is there a team this place hopes to see win, hopes to see in crushing defeat? 

This is the problem with most sports bars, I find. I could be anywhere in this country once I’m inside this bar. Arizona, Ohio, Minnesota; it wouldn’t matter. I could be in the middle of butt fuck Egypt and it would have the exact same decorations. Sure, there’s some local color with the presence of some misfits at a nearby table, NW style outsiders in puzzle-piece layers and flannel but after that? Nothing. What’s the point of going to your local if it doesn’t give you that local buzz? 

I’m suddenly tired, in the ‘whoa I could use a nap’ way. At 7:30, it’s a little late for a nap so perhaps it’s just time to go home.