The podcast related to this post can be found right here.
So I have this problem. An impossible problem of legendary proportions. I want to drink in bars that have been closed for 100 years or so…
And when I say drink, I mean fuckin’ drink! Like shitty drunk – hang over for days kinda drinking. Bourbon, Scotch, Beer kinda drunk. I just want to get up in these pieces and party like it was 1999 (or 1899 maybe?). I want to drink like 20 of the 5 cent beers – talk shit to Jumbo the bouncer – place wagers on the Japanese American pugilist twins (more on all of this below). For if it were possible to drink in one of these long-closed barrooms, I would want it to be a memory that lasted a life time – sitting on my death bed, grand children and great grand children at my feet – telling them the tales of the Kenck-Crispin Family Yore – “And that’s the story of Your Bastard Uncle that you never met. Now about the night I got black-out drunk at the Bonanza Bar…”
I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one that would enjoy getting intoxicated at these extinct drinkeries. My friends-of-the-historical-variety, Andy Lindberg, Joe Streckert, and Finn John and I will often get together and chat about collaborations, books, or even whores that have been dead for decades. And it seems like when we do, we tend to get together in bars that have been open for decades and tend to be in buildings that look like they would immediately topple in the teeniest of earthquakes. The Death Traps called Eastbank Saloon, The White Eagle, and Dan & Louis Oyster Bar all fill this bill for at least a little while. Even the adopted home of Kick Ass Oregon History, The Jack London Bar, while far from an “established” drinking establishment, seems to have this vibe to some degree. But you’re still drinking PBR, or a McBeer, and eating those freezer to frier cheese dicks. It has the aura, but it is certainly not THE experience I am craving.
In some shitty Star Trek episode, I could actually go back in time and try to work this shit out. But I can’t.
Now I AM going to podcast about these places – so don’t think that this is it – but here are three historic bars that I REALLY want to drink at:
Erickson’s (pictured) is a Portland legend. Established in the 1880s by August Erickson, the establishment occupied the entire block of west Burnside between 2nd and 3rd, and was considered “unrivaled in the western world.” The 684 foot bar was reported to be the longest in the world, and the 50 bartenders that staffed the place wore fancy vests with heavy gold chains. A 300 pound bouncer named Jumbo kept the place in line. Erickson’s offered 5 cent beers and a free “dainty lunch” that was laid out with sausages, roasts, pickled herring and Scandinavian cheeses. The home made mustard was said to be quite tasty.
Erickson’s featured a trough that ran along the bar – a urinal trough. That way loggers and sailors and miners drinking at the bar didn’t have to take a break from their drinking and dainty lunch repasting – they could just whip it out and piss right at the bar. A wonderful old-timey accoutrement that really is a harbinger of “days gone by…”
Kunkel & Hoch’s Place – This spot was also in Portland at Fourth and Washington. It had been damaged pretty heavily in The Great Flood of 1894, and undertook some serious renovations after the event. In something akin to a Theme-Park-with-Copious-Amounts-of-Booze-Move, the bar seemed to take on the flood as a meme, and had a wall sized mural painted from a photo taken of the bar during the deluge’s high water point. The saloon’s interior finish was claimed to have been “unexcelled in the city,” and a 38 foot black walnut bar graced the establishment. There was a yarn spun that a two-foot fish was caught inside the bar during the flood, so a souvenir of a small fish, also caught during high water, was placed in alcohol and displayed at the bar.
Big Bonanza – This Pendleton bar was opened by famous shanighaier Jim Turk and his partner Bill Daly in 1876 on East Court street. A seriously rough and tumble sheepherder bar, there was a ring in the middle of the bar, where Turk and Daly would fight for the drunken patrons. Occasionally Daly would stage fights with his eight year old Japanese American twin sons – apparently quite a draw for the, rugged dusty establishment. I have a weird suspicion I would get my ass kicked at this place, so I might just make like I was at a GG Allin show at The Satyricon – have my back against the wall, real close to the door, nursing my beverage.
So what is a historian looking to nurse some aged alcoholic tendencies to do? The short following list might help curb some of these celebrated drunken desires, at least temporarily…
Jake’s Famous Crawfish – Ok – so the food is way over priced (but the etouffee is pretty fucking good!), and it just feels a little starchy in the spot – but it has a fucking urinal trough at the bar (pictured at the top of this post)! When’s the last time you saw a fucking urinal trough at a bar? Enough said, right?
Mary’s Club Yeah, it’s from mid-last century, so not that crazy old – but it seems like it hasn’t changed a goddamn day since Roy Keller bought the place. And the black light Tom of Finland merchant marine murals on the walls? Can’t be beat. Oh yeah, and there are naked women here. On poles.
And feel free to add any more Current “Olden Days” Bars recommendations that we shouldn’t have overlooked in the Comments below!
So PLEASE – get out there and get a beer, or a neat rye. Maybe three. Experience these historic watering holes before it’s too late! Create your OWN Old Man/ Old Lady stories that will follow the Your Bastard Uncle revelation. Do enjoy these places before they face the fate like Estacada’s The Safari Club just did. Cause I mean, you Don’t Know What You Got (Til It’s Gone), right? For real though…
But even when you DO know, sometimes it’s still too late…
Photo credit: Lake Oswego Public Library