On a recent listserve exchange with Oregon Brew Crew members, someone asked our various respondents which bar might be a favorite. Not wishing to nail myself into a given space, and also not wishing to “endorse” any of the establishments in which I hang out, I answered carefully, in my usual fashion.
A good grungy pub is neither sleazy nor greasy-spoon-with-beer.
“My favorite pub is always the one I’m drinking in, and my second favorite is the one I’m heading for next. In general I like well-lit, grungy places with good beer on tap, and food you wouldn’t bring home to your mother, although you might take a doggie bag of it for your father–or the family pooch.”
However, I went ahead and named one such establishment in Portland. This set in motion a short discussion and submissions by others of their choice of grungy Portland pubs, beginning with a note from an immigrant friend, to whom the word was a new one: “Let me ask you what the shade of the meaning or nuance or the real meaning of ‘grungy places,’” he wanted to know.
Grungy Is Beautiful
In my view, grungy should have a lived-in character about it. Grungy is defined, in the dictionary, as “shabby or dirty in character or condition.” The word has even been applied to a certain type of music; but when we use it in regards to pubs or taverns, it does not mean “dirty” as in unclean.
Of course, it may be seedy, or even be a bit messy; but a good grungy pub is neither sleazy nor greasy-spoon-with-beer. Homer Simpson would love a grungy bar. There might be peanut shells or sawdust on the floor, and it certainly won’t be the neatest place in town. Finally, if there is music, there’s not much of it, although a honky-tonk piano would be an asset if it weren’t played all the time. A small library of newspapers and magazines would be helpful as well.
I have since had time to consider my life-long love of such establishments.
In Portland, the grungy bar scene has always been great. The first of the new wave, circa 1972, “J. L.” Maxner’s old Wurst House, was the beginning of Portland’s multiple-tap establishments. Beer selections were slim, but in those days, Rainier Ale was my beer of choice.
These were only precursors of things to come.
Some Choice Establishments
In 1974, Don Younger’s Horse Brass was to inaugurate an era of gentlemanly elegance in the British workman’s mode. This pub is the epitome of grungy as I see it; well lit and crowded, and a menu that your mother might put up with, but which your father would love (fish and chips, or a ploughman’s platter), and your dog, too, if they could have let him in. The beer selection has always been upscale, however. In fact, it is still almost too good to be true.
Goose Hollow Inn, the home of some really fine Reuben sandwiches, was established by Bud Clark in that same era. He endeared himself to many of us by his stand in kicking the other “Bud” (Budweiser) out of his bar. This happened when California voters defeated Proposition 11 (1982), which called for California to adopt a bottle deposit similar to Oregon’s.
We Oregonians are very proud of our pioneering law in this field, but one TV commercial, aired in California during that campaign, depicted disgruntled Oregonians talking about how bad the bottle law was for Oregon. When it came out that these “disgruntled Oregonians” were employees of the local Budweiser distributor, Clark kicked that beer out of his place. His tavern had been one of the state’s largest Bud outlets, with sales of 30,000 kegs over the previous 21 years. It was a grand moment that endeared Clark, the beer curmudgeon, to all Portlanders and played a large part in getting him elected mayor in 1984.
There are many other grungy bars in Portland, but the BridgePort fits (best pizza in town), as does the Lucky Labrador (with an out-of-tune piano, the best BLT sandwich in Portland, and you can bring your dog). The McMenamin’s operate an entire nest of beautifully grungy bars. About two-thirds of their establishments fit that definition. If you, gentle reader, enjoy grungy, Portland is the place for you.