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Friday, November 07, 2008

Two Cities

Or Why Aren't There Any Brewpubs on the West Side?

When I got out of grad school in 1995 (and by "got out" I mean "bailed from my Ph.D. program and retreated to the comfy environs of Beervana"), I drove a cab for a year. This was both one of the more entertaining jobs I've had, and also instructive. I learned a huge amount about the history, demographics, and regional mores of the city. One of the key discoveries: Portland is two cities divided by a river. (It's actually more like a Venn Diagram with downtown and the urban Northwest as the area of overlap.) In that year, thousands of fares, I never had someone ask to go to the west side. Cabbies who worked the west side said the same thing--no one ever goes past downtown.

I had ocassion to ponder this truth yesterday as I cruised Scholls Ferry Road toward the border of Yamhill County. As is my habit, I scrutinize buildings for their potential as brewpubs (not that I'll ever actually start one) and this led to a consideration of why there are so few brewpubs on the west side. It's not just brewpubs, of course--small, funky businesses flourish on the east side, whereas the west side seems to welcome bland national chains.* Well-regarded restaurants populate the east side but are harder to find in the hills. Even good pubs with lots of taps are rarer there. And I saw but one non-drive-thru coffee hut coffee shop, a Starbucks.

Cities occupy not only geography, but psychic terrain. When I'm on the east side, my attention naturally drifts to areas of my interest--small copses of shops along a former streetcar line. On residential streets, I notice not only the architecture (cottages in Sabin, blending to foursquares in Irvington blending to tudors in Grant Park), but the yards. Are they well-manicured grass or dense thickets of perennials? On the west side, few sights draw me in. Junky late-century buildings cluster along wide, clotted streets. From time to time, massive apartment complexes gape down a cul-de-sac. No doubt west siders have the opposite reaction--for them these places are homey and welcoming, the streets a concourse of pleasure waiting to be driven.

There's something about the west side that resists funk. Is it just the buildings? Could be. I tried to spy a likely place to locate a brewpub, but there's precious few (the Scholls Grange, though too far out, would be fantastic). West siders must spend a lot of time at home--there are so few places to go and hang out. But they also appear drawn to the bland and homogenous; you can't imagine a Roots Organic along the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. And maybe it's those roads, too--in the inner east side, you're almost never out of walking distance from a great watering hole.

Leaving aside the McMenamins, there are a grand total of five brewpubs on the west side (Raccoon Lodge, Max's Fanno Creek, Old Market, Lucky Lab, and Philadelphia's)--and two of these are west-side outlets of east side pubs. Contrast that with the east side, where there are 18 stand-alone brepubs, excluding multiple locations. Throw in all the Lompocs and Laurelwoods and you get 23.

(But why exclude the McMenamins? In fact, the west side has an advantage here, 13-11. It's also worth noting that the first brewpub in Portland--and Oregon--was the Hillsdale, on the west side. But I think this actually confirms rather than refutes the point. The west side likes the familiarity of chains, and the McPubs are known quantities. But it is a mitigating factor, and if I ever find some imperative to live across the river, I'll be looking for a place next to a McPub.)

So an open question to the west siders: why so few brewpubs and good pubs out there in the hills? Explain it to an interested east-sider, willya?
*As an east-sider, my view is not only biased, but uninformed.


  1. Hmm.. something to ponder, but let me ask this.. why are there no brew pubs on the east side south of Portland? Nothing in Clackamas, Milwaukee or Oregon City?

    I have to drive all the way from Oregon City to Portland. I guess maybe Estacada for Fearless, but that's a long way also.

    Oh, and to add to the list of commonalities we now have cab driving, I'll have to ask Angelo if he was a former Cabbie also.
    Boston Fan, Beer Geek, former Cabbie.

  2. I have three thories:

    One, I think the terrain of Portland leads to a lot of self-sorting. There is a clear choice in the city: the near-east side now represents an urban lifestyle rooted in civic engagement and community invlovement. This means getting out of the house a lot, meeting up with firends and family. The west side, hilly and forested, does not represent that same kind of dense-urban community. People who choose to live there probably do so beacause they enjoy the less urban and more suburban aspects of it.

    Two, don't forget that this near east renaissance in Portland is a new phenomenon. Durning the seventies and eighties, the east side was pretty ragged and the west side was less so in general. So property values on the East side, especially in the more marginal neighborhoods were cheap, but you still had the population density nearby. On the west side, cheap properties are more isolated.

    Three, economic geographers uinderstand that there is often an externality phenomenon the makes it benefecial for like businesses to cluster. Knowledge and custom is efficiently contained in a small area and everyone benefits (to a point).

    I think the last point is one explanation for da beers question, but local economic conditions (similar to the third point above) explain a lot as well. There is not a lot that used to get people to downtown Milwaukie, for example, now that the downtown is getting more lively perhaps a brepub will open up. But the density aroudn Milwaukie's downtown (or Oregon City) is still nothing like the near east side of Portland.

  3. Sellwood's got a couple in Philadelphia's and Oaks Bottom (of the Lompoc variety); that's… almost Milwaukie. :)

    Having grown up and spent the first 28 years of my life in and around Milwaukie/Oak Grove/Gladstone, then moving into the armpit of Lake Oswego (right on the border of Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties - practically Tigard) a couple years back, I'm all too familiar with the East/West divide… I almost never came West until I started working full-time, and now that I've moved over here I very infrequently go East. If it weren't for the scarcity of brew pubs/tap rooms and/or the occasional visit with family, I don't think I'd ever set tire to bridge.

    Sadly, as much as I love Cascade's wares, I need a tad more variety, and neither Old Market nor Max's does much for me - nor do the majority of McMenamins' (CPR being a nice exception). Fortunately, my upbringing has grown me accustomed to driving for a drink.


  4. Brewing is fundamentally industrial. The east side has the infastructure in place to support it. Bridgeport used to be in an industrial area. Portland/Pyramid is in an industrial area. New industrial areas don't just pop up and if they do they're more expensive than what is already available. Supply and demand is my guess.

  5. it's not for lack of love of beer - Old Market and Max's are packed on Friday and Saturday. Max's has decent beer, Old Market the same.

    my work constantly has "beer nights" and both of those pubs are favorites.

    the McPubs that are outside the strip-malls are probably some of the best - all quirks attached.

  6. why...because the west side primarily sucks. I work out here, and there is no where to go. I go home to the north side and it is great. The difference intimate, rustic places that are NOT chains.

    That is the key, on the west side people are like...oooh buffalo wild wings, on the east side, people disgusted by BWW and understand that Fire on the Mountain is the place for wings.

    For further examples see the mercury from a week or so ago with the article "Beaverton, the other Gresham" and references nothing but strip malls and religious mega places.

  7. There is a Philedelphia's in Sellwood? I thought the only one was in West Linn(west side).

    I'm surprised Oregon City doesn't have a brew pub yet, the Highland Stillhouse does really well and it seems like a similar client base.

  8. Simple answer: the west side is the 'burbs.

    You have a special way of making things more complicated than they really are sometimes, Jeff!

    Oh and you forgot to mention the SW Lucky Lab, which is relatively funky and cool.

    You also forgot to point out that everything east of 60th is a frickin' train wreck beer-wise in Portland...why is that?

    As for the Scholls Grange, wasn't that the original Apizza Scholls location? One of the reasons they moved to Portland was that they were on the verge of losing their lease, due to TOO MUCH TRAFFIC. (Their landlord was weird)

  9. Bridgeport is on the West side.

  10. Anon (8:46pm),

    I wonder if those residents of Multnomah Village and the inner west side consider it the 'burbs. There's a fair amount of the west side that's not the burbs. But the point is well-taken; there are roughly as few brewpubs beyond the inner east side as their are on the west side (maybe that's the density thing). Two points of clarification: I exempt the inner NW and downtown as the regions of our collective overlap. There're actually a lot of brewpubs in this region (Lompoc, Rogue, Deschutes, BridgePort, Rock Bottom, Tugboat). But BridgePort does have an east side branch.

    And I did mention the Lucky Lab--the one west-side brewpub I've been to.

  11. Along with what Patrick Emerson mentioned, I would also like to point out that the Portland that we hipsters/urbanists know and love (as evidenced by Jeff's descriptions of types of buildings that would make a good brew pub, amongst other things) is really limited to a subset of the city bound by the west hills on the west, the Columbia on the north, 82nd Ave (or so) on the east, and probably Johns Landing/Sellwood/Woodstock across the south. Nearly everything outside of that circle is interchangeable with 'burbs just about anywhere else in America. Check out the commercial real estate if you don't believe me. Cedar Hills Crossing looks just like developments in the San Fernando Valley. Gresham, Lake O, Tualatin... you could plop them down anywhere else in suburban 'Merica and not know the difference. They may be tighter in than the sprawl in Phoenix or Houston, but they have the exact same charachter.


    PS: And as a resident of the close in SW(just a bit past Hillsdale), I do consider it suburban - sadly.