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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dive Bar Challenge: 'Reel M' In Tavern

Now that the holidays are safely past, it's time to get back to the Dive Bar Challenge.  Recap: this series is a barometer to determine just how far good beer has seeped into the crevices of supposedly good beer cities.  I'm testing the waters here in Portland, but if enterprising bloggers elsewhere felt their cities stacked up against Beervana, we could have a friendly competition.  Either way, the idea is that good beer towns should be measured by the places you are least likely to find good beer, not the best.  (Read more here.)

Today's entrant is the oddly-punctuated 'Reel M' Inn Tavern.  It is located along the no longer scuzzy segment of Southeast Division Street, but stands testament to what once was.  (Indeed, after the inaugural Challenge, Bill Night suggested it as a "true dive"--and challenge accepted.)  At some point in the not-distant future, we'll get into the philosophical nature of the term "dive bar," but I think 'Reel M' Inn (henceforth "the Reel") passes muster.  It is the kind of place where, on a late Friday afternoon, you'll find guys drinking mass market lager and bourbon shots at the bar (two examples) while others choose rum and coke while feeding their video poker jones (one).  Another patron had a Hamm's tallboy, pulled from a case that has a wide selection of talls for the discriminating customer. The sole video game is played with a rifle. 

Its been a decade since I've been in the Reel, but it seems little changed.  Nevertheless, four of the six taps were local: Worthy IPA, Manny's Pale, Breakside Irish Stout, and something from Hop Valley. Here's your tale of the tape:

The Stats*
Breweries in ZIP code: 8
Distance from the heart of downtown: 2.6 miles
Neighborhood hipness factor (1-5): 2.5, transitioning
Seediness factor (1-5): 2, homey
Beers on tap: 6
Mass market beers: 2 (Coors Light, Pabst)
Craft beers: 4
Imports:  0
Ciders: 0
Verdict: Pretty crafty

Overall, the Reel has a lot to recommend it.  The bartender was super, and my stout was fresh and clean.  The guy next to me at the bar was friendly and welcoming.  Like so many dive bars, the music was retro, but well-curated, oscillating between louche 70s (Bowie and Steely Dan) to crunchy rock (Grateful Dead, Neil Young). It's been a decade since I've been in the Reel, but it seems little changed.  Except the beer.  Not only were two-thirds of the taps local (Worthy IPA, Manny's Pale, Breakside Irish Stout, and something from Hop Valley), but they were all high-cred local, not just gestures like Redhook and Pyramid toward a new, incomprehensible customer. The Reel is serving people who like good, local ales, and they've chosen taps to appeal to them.

*Breweries in ZIP code determined by the Oregon Brewers Guild listing.  I selected Pioneer Courthouse Square, "Portland's living room" as the heart of downtown.


  1. Go to the Hourglass Pub on Glisan!

  2. A review of the Reel that neglects to mention its fried chicken, which is in the running for best in town? For shame! Or were you just trying to keep that to people in the know..?

  3. Eric, recommendation recorded.

    Andrew, I didn't have time to stop for a meal. On that point, though, I arrived at around 4, 4:30 in the afternoon. The barkeep, a cherry woman about my age, asked brightly, "Would you like some lunch?" Where lunch is served at 4:30: that's not a terrible definition of a dive bar, either.