You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

At sometime around 4pm yesterday afternoon, Cascade Brewing announced that they were pouring the new vintage of kriek at the Raccoon Lodge; by six-thirty, Sally and I were asking the waiter for a pour. Fortunately, we were his first kriek customers of the day (we were, in fact, how he learned it had come on tap), and he blundered and brought us full imperial pints.

For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, this is a beer that generally sells for about $15 a bottle, so a five-dollar pint was a steal. (It's worth the fifteen, by the way.) The Blazer game started while we were there, and so we generally had a great time. Still, there were aspects to the experience that reminded me I was definitely not on the east side anymore.

Portland, Oregon is divided in half by the Willamette River (pr. wuh LAM it, for those of you from elsewhere). And when I say divided, I mean divided. It's essentially two cities that overlap, like a Venn diagram, in the downtown region. On the east side are the things Portland is most famous for--distinctive neighborhoods, bikes, good restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops. It is a very social, connected part of town. The west side is more like standard American cities, a hodgepodge of national chain stories and strip malls with indistinct neighborhoods tied together by a tangle of major roads--a place where houses form the nexus of social life.

After grad school, back in about '96, I drove a cab for a year. (Broadway, cab 133.) It was axiomatic that you were either a west-side driver or an east-sider. In that entire year, not a single fare ever asked to go from the east side to anyplace in the west. I have no doubt that the reverse was true, too.

So last night, there we are, settling in for a lovely pint of kriek, and my eye is drawn to the massive screen with Blazer pre-game activity. Sally is facing the other way, and she sees what's on a little TV in the corner: Fox News. Hannity or someone iconic. This is not alarming so much as mystifying. East Portland is that socialist hell about which Sarah Palin frets. Well, not really, but they'd like it to be. The only way Fox News would make it onto the television in an east-side pub is for irony. But hey, different strokes. In front of the bar, we're all brothers.

What really caught me by surprise was a quartet at the table next to us. One guy was drinking beer from a bottle, one woman had soda, and two others had pints of something pale. When they got up to leave, the woman with a pint had managed to drink about half, but the man's was almost completely full. They left and Sally and I wondered where they were going. Obviously, they weren't leaving, for they had left their beer. We held onto this misconception right until a woman cleared the table.

There's no moral to this story, but I am glad Cascade is putting a barrel house over on the east side, walking distance from my house. No one should ever stray a Ron Gansberg pint--and they won't on this side of the river.


  1. "No one should ever stray a Ron Gansberg pint"

    Oh, there are many standard Raccoon Lodge beers I'd leave behind due to infections. I stick to the ones that are intentionally sour now.

  2. And here I thought "the river divide" had to do with being a Couve-ite vs. a bona fide Portlander. Never thought about breaking it down by the Willamette, but I guess that would be the condition of the psyche of a Washingtonian. Micro-spaces. Interesting.

  3. Beer Blogger.. Check
    Red Sox Fan.. Check
    Previous Cabby... Check

    Man, the similarities are getting eerie. I'm worried I'm going to have some Fight Club realization that this whole time I am Jeff Alworth.

    Any chance Angelo was a former Cabby as well?

  4. A few weeks ago, my wife's parents sent us a gift card for P.F. Changs. We live in Mt. Tabor, and work on lower east burnside, so we almost never leave south east (and because of that, pretty much only visit smaller, locally owned businesses). After we closed the store on Sunday, we decided to walk across the bridge to use the gift card. When we got there, there was a 20 minute wait, and it was raining, so we sat in the waiting area and looked over the menu.

    As we were sitting there, in a big corporate chain restaurant, looking out the windows at people shopping big chain stores, I said "it's like we're on vacation!" I didn't mean it in a good or bad way, but it's amazing how much of a difference a bridge can make.

  5. I think you are right about the fact that no one would leave a pint behind. I am surprised they did over there even!

    It would be nice to not even have to hear Palin's name thanks. Even us Conservative Classical Liberals don't like to hear that name.

    But brother... I look forward to some Kreik.

  6. I'd like to respectively mention that downtown is a good union of both sides, and that my neighborhood in NW is more like the neighborhoods in SE than anything else further west. As a NW live-er, I go downtown and to the east side all the damned time (boyfriend lives NE), but I very very rarely get over the hills, and usually have no want to (hence my lack of familiarity of Raccoon Lodge). I love the fact that I live downtown so I have a good reason to go down there. It's not all big retailers, and I'm sad for those who are missing out on some great shopping, thinking they can get the exact same stuff at Lloyd Center or Washington Square.

  7. @ miracle minnie:

    I hope my post didn't come off as seeming like I thought downtown was nothing but big national chains. I own an independent clothing store, and through my business, have made a lot of friends that own boutiques on both sides of the river. In fact, before I opened my store, I had considered moving into the space at the base of the Ace Hotel where Clyde Common is right now. My post wasn't about what the west side of the river doesn't have, but more about what it does have that I never see (and kind of forget about) in my day to day life in SE.

    You're also right about the inner areas of both sides having more in common than what's going on over the west hills (or gresham or the couv for that matter).

  8. As a former Close-In-Eastsider now living across the hill, I can attest to the differences in neighborhoods, but don't paint all of us with your broad brush. When I go out for beers, it is typically to Bailey's, Hopworks, Lucky Lab, etc. The one place that I will NOT go is the Raccoon Lodge. I don't care for fruit beers and the service is atrocious. They make your typical McMenamin's staff look like they belong at Genoa. I will gladly cross the river for good beer and decent service.

  9. I have a weekly class on the westside currently, which has happily meant a weekly visit to the Raccoon Lodge. It's always an interesting experience eavesdropping on the majority of the patrons who seem oblivious to the gem in their midst. I'm also greatly looking forward to the barrel house opening, conveniently (hopefully) right about when my class ends and my motivation to venture into that strange land on the other side of the hills diminishes.

  10. I know it's tempting to paint everything west of the Willamette as sterile suburbia, but it's not particularly accurate. Sure it's accurate if you're talking about Beaverton or Tigard, but those are different cities, not part of Portland. Gresham and Milwaukie don't compare very favorably to the "cool" neighborhoods in SE/NE either. There are some great close-in neighborhoods in NW and SW that are anchored by independent businesses and great parks and are highly walkable, but most people aren't really aware of them.

    Sorry to hassle you on my very first comment. Your blog is great reading - keep up the good work!

  11. @KeAloha,
    I agree and thanks for mentioning this. I believe that half of my wonderment with the sour beers coming out of Cascade has to do with the rest of the portfolio.

    How does the '10 Kriek compare to the fantastic '09?

  12. Wow, this post really bothered me. Are we really making gross (and incorrect) generalizations about groups of people based on which side of the river they live? I didn't realize we were in the 1950s. There are plenty of neighborhoods on the westside that aren't about chain stores and suburbia. Like a previous poster mentioned, you can't include Beaverton and Hillsboro, since they aren't Portland. Have you been to the NW Industrial district? Old Town? Even parts of the Pearl District and NW 23rd have small, local shops and boutiques and restaurants.

    I live in SE (and love it) and work in the Pearl. I, for one, just took a cab from one side of the river to the other a couple of weeks ago, and I'm sure that plenty of people do it every day.

  13. Heh... I grew up about 500 ft from Raccoon Lodge... and yes, they are different sides of the river. But NW is more like SE, and NE and SW are miles apart. As you head towards intel, its all NEW. Hard to develop charm in 20 years. Give it time to get its feet wet... my grandmother homesteaded out on SE 82, so it does happen.

    Downtown is downtown, regardless of riverside.

  14. ... this is why I'm always careful to say that my dividing line is the hills, not the river. Putting aside any value judgments, the west side of the hills really does feel like a different city. For what it's worth, I feel like Jeff said roughly the same thing, but perhaps a little confusingly in his "Venn diagram" comment.

  15. Not sure if you guys know this, but west of the Hills is pretty much Beaverton. It seems like another city because it *IS* another city. (Yes, I'm aware that Portland doesn't necessarily end at the West Hills, but it's relatively close.)

  16. Shawn, last I checked, the Raccoon Lodge was still in Portland, but thanks for the geography lesson.

  17. The Lodge may have a Portland address, but I believe it's in unincorporated Washington County. Kids there go to Beaverton schools. So for all intents and purposes it's really in Beaverton, not Portland.

    Oh, and I'm the biggest beer snob around and I've left soldiers at the bar at the Lodge. Really can't stand most of their beers, sour stuff not included.

  18. I figured this would spark a bit of controversy when I posted it, and to those of you defending the west side, your points are well-taken. Broad-brush comparisons are just that; they don't allow for much nuance. To add to the conversation, though:

    Kevin (kscaldef) is right about my slightly vague "Venn diagram" comment. The two cities do overlap in the downtown area (including NW). This is our one area of overlap.

    There are definitely areas on the west side with obvious neighborhoods: Johns Landing, Multnomah Village, etc. But I don't think it clarifies things to try to draw a line between the west side and Beaverton/Tigard. At this point, those cities are also Portland's west side.

    West-siders are right to link Gresham to the east side, which goes to show that "inner" is important. (Milwaukie is stretching it: that's a bit like including Hillsboro.) On the other hand, when you look at the number of neighborhoods studding the North, Northeast, and Southeast, it's very hard to find anything remotely significant in scale on the west side. The intact neighborhoods are perhaps 10 to 1, east side to west.

    Finally, I'll throw this out there: does anyone dispute the larger thesis, that the two sides of the city have substantially different cultures and personalities (even if I failed to capture them accurately)? For example, I notice no one comment on Hannity.

  19. Oh, and the newest vintage kriek. It's pretty sour this year, less fruity, and perhaps more one-dimensional than last year's extraordinary beer. (Truly one of the best beers I've had.) This year's does have a bit of nice pit character, which gives it an earthy, slightly bitter note. It will be interesting to see how it ages.

  20. As a former close-in SE resident whom is currently renting in Bethany, and about to complete building a house in Cedar Hills, I can support a thesis that there are different nuances between East & West sides of PDX. But after a near 3yr stint in the Hell of PHX, I must say that the comparison of the West Side to 'any other macro-strip-mall city' is unfair. Do I prefer to drink beer in East Side locations? Yes. But what makes Portland great - beer, nature, different political and cultural perspectives - to name a few, exist on both sides of the river, and not so much outside of our great city.