The area of downtown Portland around 14th and Burnside just south of the Pearl District has been one of my favorite Portland locations for quite awhile. It is easily accessible from I-405 and parking isn’t hard to find. First there is Everyday Music, one of the best music stores I’ve shopped. They’ve got tons of great music on CD and vinyl and stock a good selection of used CD’s. Across Burnside from Everyday is a great McMenamins establishment. Street level houses Ringler’s Pub, the second floor is Lola’s Room (a smaller bar) and a small McMenamins brewery, and on the top floor is the Crystal Ballroom, one of the most notable music venues in the city. I’ve seen all sorts of great bands there, and had a pint or two at the bar below.
Just down the street you can find Whole Foods. It’s a little too high class for me in there, but the beer selection is great and the prices competitive. Nearby is Powell’s Books which claims to be the biggest new and used books store in the U.S., taking up almost an entire city block. They have a nice selection of books on brewing and beer. Just a few blocks north, you can find yourself at the Rogue Taphouse, and just a little farther north is Bridgeport Brewing, which offers a fine IPA.
This area, more specifically the block between Whole Foods and Powell’s, is known as the Brewery Blocks (<a hrefhttp://www.breweryblocks.com/index.html>http://www.breweryblocks.com/index.html ). Years ago, Blitz-Weinhard Brewing was housed in this very block (Block 2). The building is made of red brick and bears the Weinhard’s name on some of the masonry. A few years ago, it was rumored that Gordon Biersch Brewing Company had plans to buy most of the vacant structure to open a brewpub or taphouse. Either the rumor was false, or the company gave up plans for the new location. I feel that Gordon Biersch would have been a nice addition to this part of town.
A year or so passed, and it was eventually revealed that a new pub, Henrys 12th Street Tavern, was to open at the location. I originally was skeptical as I thought Miller would run the place (Miller now owns Henry Weinhards), but I then learned that it was an independent business. This sounded interesting, and there were promises of a great selection of beer. One sunny day this last spring (sunny spring days do exist in Portland), I was downtown and thought I would check this place out. The building was gleaming, everything looked new and polished. As I walked along the sidewalk I noticed something funny- two men wearing black slacks and black button-up shirts standing in front of the entrance. As someone approached the entrance, one of the men in black reached for the door- these were doormen. Doormen.
I did not go into Henry’s Tavern that day as I felt intimidated, and I was certainly underdressed to need the services of a doorman. A friend suggested that the doormen were there because of the bar’s grand opening, and I shrugged the whole experience off.
A month later I would finally get to experience Henry’s 12th Street Tavern. One of my friends, a young accountant for a downtown firm, suggested that we go there for happy hour. I agreed to go, figuring that the hype surrounding this new spot had found time to die down. Before we left, I took a look at their beer list (<a hrefhttp://www.henrystavern.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=content.display&pageID=17>http://www.henrystavern.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=content.display&pageID=17). At first the list looked great! So many beers! But then I realized that not only had I already tasted most of these beers, but also that the selections were widely available, not just in other bars buy in grocery stores and gas stations as well. Also, the list was diluted by the presence of quite a few macros and European standards.
As soon as I entered, I realized how out of place I was with my jeans, long sleeve shirt and baseball cap. The crowd was completely yuppie, all dressed to impress. The waiters and bartenders were the same. The lighting was dim, but I could tell that a lot of money was spent to make the interior suitable for the young urban crowd. There were no beers on cask, but I did notice that the kegs were suspended in a glass case above the bar. This must be the “state-of-the-art built-in frozen drink rail” to keep the beer ice cold, as everyone knows it should be. It did look cool, but it was a complete gimmick aimed at people who don’t know their beer.
As we waited for a table, I examined the beer list again, and asked myself what I was doing there. “Just don’t order Bud,” a waitress passing by said to me. Excuse me? I assume that she said this in response to my dress and my obvious interest in the beer list, and had I been smarter and in a little different mood she might have heard from me. I should have told her that the reason I was poring over the list was because I had already tasted most of the beers, unlike the guy in Armani sipping something clear, yellow and fizzy.
I decided on Chimay White, a beer I had not yet tasted but knew from reputation. I was soon informed that Chimay was not a happy hour beer, and that it would cost me $8 for a 10oz glass. I quickly changed my order to Hair of the Dog Fred, one of the few redeeming beers they had, and it too was overpriced. Troubles continued as I was asked to remove my hat- dress code. If Don Younger, the aging owner of the Horse Brass Pub and Portland beer legend, were to walk into Henry’s Tavern, I suspect the management would give him questioning looks for the same reason. I doubt anyone there has even heard of him.
Portland has built a reputation in the beer world by brewing good beer and consistently serving excellent brew across the city. Henry’s Tavern would like us to believe they are about beer, with their 100 beers and the kegs dangling above the bar, but that is far from the truth. Henry’s is aimed at young urban people, and the beer list designed to give patrons something fancy-sounding to order for the off chance that surrounding company might be impressed. It certainly does not possess the open, friendly atmosphere characteristic of Portland beer destinations. When a normal guy can’t walk into an Oregon bar for a good beer, something is wrong. In an attempt to be a beer landmark for the city, Henry’s 12th Street Tavern has only worked to sour the Portland beer scene.
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As I walked along the sidewalk I noticed something funny- two men wearing black slacks and black button-up shirts standing in front of the entrance. As someone approached the entrance, one of the men in black reached for the door- these were doormen.