If I wanted water, I would have asked for water.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Beervana Bests - The Pubs and Alehouses

Beer fans visiting Portland are confronted with a quandry: how do you get a sense of Beervana's diversity without having to visit every brewpub in town? My suggestion is this: visit a brewpub or three (by all means!), but then go to one of the pubs listed below. They all feature a wide range of great beer from across the state, obviating the need to pub-crawl.

I did a poll of readers' favorite pubs, and unsurprisingly, the famous Horse Brass came out on top. It is certainly in my list below, but I'll buck convention and start off my descriptions with my favorite, Bailey's Taproom.

Bailey's Taproom
213 SW Broadway [map]
(503) 295-1004
Mon-Sat 4p - Midnight
Website
  • Ambiance: Austere and clean. With its spaciousness and exposed brick, iit has a coffee-house feel--Brussels more than Starbucks. It has two walls that are mostly windows, so whatever light the clouds allow are available inside. Although it looks a little upscale when you walk in, it's unpretentious and draws a wide variety of clientele, from construction workers to businesspeople.
  • Beer List: The twenty best-selected taps in town in constant rotation. Bailey's features few or no international selections, and 75% or more are Oregon and Washington beers. They are selected for their range and innovation, and I've never failed to find something rare and unique there. Beers come from all over Oregon and Washington, not just Portland (handy if you're not traveling around the state).
  • Food: Just cheese and chocolate--no meals or appertisers. Again, the coffeehouse feel.
  • Pros: Imperial pints, free wi-fi, a small, good wines also available, no smoking.
  • Cons: No food makes for shorter sessions.


Horse Brass Pub
4534 SE Belmont [map]
Mon-Fri: 11a -2:30a, Sat-Sun: 9a - 2:30a
(503) 232-2202
Website
  • Background/Ambiance: The venerable Horse Brass dates back to the pre-micro period in Portland pubs. And, while it's ostensibly an English-style pub, a lot about it reminds me of an earlier time when Portland was a downscale, working-class city. It is warm and cozy and generally cloudier inside than it is out on the sidewalk. Although the building sprawls, there are cubbies and niches, making it feel snug. (There are also long, party-accommodating tables.) Have a beer at the bar, and you're likely to encounter amiable drinkers who can tell you the stats of their favorite beers, along with a few exaggerations and rumors about its origins. If you want to thank someone for the amazing pub culture we have in Beervana, look for the skinny, smoking, long-haired guy at the bar. That's Don Younger, who founded the Horse Brass, and his version of convivial, pleasant drinking and good beer created the blueprint for others to follow.
  • Beer List: 52 taps, with a wide variety of beers from Oregon. Younger has a long relationship with many brewers, so you'll often find beers at the Horse Brass that are pouring nowhere else in the city. Also, look to see what cask ales are available--at least a couple will be on tap.
  • Food: Hardy, well-made English fare, if "well-made" can ever be used to describe scotch eggs and bangers. I kid--it's good stuff, especially for a pub. (Menu here.)
  • Pros: Imperial pints, darts.
  • Cons: Smoky, loud.

Green Dragon Pub
928 SE 9th Ave [map]
(503) 517-0606
Sun - Wed: 11a - 11p; Thur-Sat: 11a - 1a
  • Ambiance: The Green Dragon was originally planned as a brewpub and is in the warehouse formerly occupied by the long-struggling Yamhill Brewing. When you walk in, it looks a little like the "bistro" of the title (the official name is Green Dragon Bistro and Brewpub), but if you veer left and walk through the door, you'll find a bar in a vast, drafty open space. Looking through the windows, you can see the moorish-looking pot still of Integrity Spirits, which occupies the adjacent space and makes absinthe (among other things).
  • Beer List: The Green Dragon has 20 taps well-selected taps, representing the best of West Coast brewing, plus some international selections. It's not the best place to find a broad selection of Oregon beer, but the taps they have will be excellent choices. Nearly every Tuesday, they host a local brewer who brings and discusses his beer (7 pm).
  • Food: Exceptional food for a beer-focused pub. The intention was to look toward Belgium and offer cafe-style food. The mussels are especially good, but I've never had anything bad there. Light fare and a good happy hour menu (4-6p).
  • Pros: Fantastic food, non-smoking.
  • Cons: Could be more Oregon taps; pints of dubious ounces.

Henry's Tavern
10 NW 12th Ave [map]
(503) 227-5320
Sun-Thur: 11a -11p, Fri-Sat: 11a - midnight
website
  • Background/Ambiance: Henry's is located in what was, until 1998, the Henry Weinhard brewery--the 150-year-old anchor of downtown. Many of us therefore regard the soulless, corporate creation that now inhabits it with scorn. It looks like any of the modern corporate restaurants in the neighboring Pearl--vaguely urban, industrial, upscale, and generic. But after you get past all that, go sit at the bar, smile ruefully at the silly ice strip on the bar (what real beer geek wants his beer frozen?), and look at the beer menu. Then you'll understand why it gets a mention.
  • Beer List: There are around 100 taps at the Henry, and the majority come from Oregon. It's the one place I know that carries Caldera, Walking Man, Ninkasi, Double Mountain, and Hair of the Dog beers as standards. Add a dozen or so seasonals (for example, as I write this, they're pouring Deschutes' The Abyss), and it's hard to beat for one-stop Beervana delights. Put a Blue Dot in your hand, and everything looks good.
  • Food: Somewhat pro-forma hodgepodge of upscale salads, burgers, Chinese, midrange seafood, and pasta. The food alone is no reason to visit.
  • Pros: No smoking, amazingly broad beer list, happy hour 3-6p.
  • Cons: Shaker pints, overpriced, atmosphere is dreary, massive TVs are intrusive (except during Blazer games).
Other good options
Produce Row is a bit of Portland history: it was originally owned and operated by the McMenamins before they went into the brewpub business. It's got a very old-school Portland vibe, and the beer list is generally pretty broad (204 SE Oak St). Concordia Ale House, just south of Kennedy School, has a dozen plus taps and good food and feels like a brewpub (3276 NE Killingsworth St). Higgins Restaurant is one of the best in the city, and can be credited with starting the good-food revolution in Portland. They also have an amazing beer list, though the emphasis is foreign (especially Belgian) beers, mostly in bottles. There are a dozen or so taps, and about half will feature Oregon beer (1239 SW Broadway). The Moon and Sixpence is similar to the Horse Brass, but with less character and fewer taps (15 +/-)--but all the smoke! (2014 NE 42nd Ave). On the West Side is the venerable Dublin Pub, which played a role in the microbrew movement. It was here that the Widmers first launched their strange (at the time), cloudy beers with a lime wedge on the side. Soon, everyone in Portland wanted a Hefeweizen. It still features 80+ taps and a great Oregon selection (6821 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy). Finally, in my old neighborhood is the County Cork, a nice non-smoking Irish pub with 20 taps that is family-friendly and wonderfully laid-back. Nice patio outside, and good fish n' chips (1329 NE Fremont St).

[Note: post was updated to include more information on 4/16]

4 comments:

Bill said...

Nice roundup! Minor quibble: the Green Dragon is also non-smoking, it should get a "Pro" for that like the others.

Jeff Alworth said...

Good catch, Bill. I've updated it in the post.

ASG said...

Beervana, I've been told that you can order food from the Mexican place across the street next to Tugboat Brewing from Bailey's Tap Room.

Otherwise, agree with your tops list.

ASG
www.hopsandbarleyblog.com

Anonymous said...

I just heard that the Belgium Embassy closed! I know that it wasn't around long enough or popular enough to make this list but I am stunned by the news.

Thanks for the great info on the best places and all the other news in general. I look forward to reading your blog daily.

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