Well last night was weird…
Not sure if you have heard the news, Dear Ass Kicker, but there is some work going on at the location of the former big daddy of them all.. Erickson’s Saloon. The Erickson-Fritz Project is an enterprise led by a company called Innovative Housing to create 62 low-income housing units inside this storied saloon. Last night, they held a party in the space to increase awareness about the endeavor, and to provide everyone a chance to party one last night inside the space that was once Erickson’s (if you aren’t familiar with Erickson’s Saloon, check out this podcast right here.)
Now realise – the place is under construction/demolition. And to be honest, Erickson’s hasn’t really been Erickson’s since… oh, right before Prohibition (which Oregon adopted in 1916). So trying to replicate a Saloon experience from 100 years ago isn’t really all that easy. But damn if they didn’t try!! The place served beer and wine and a few house cocktails for the occasion. At 7pm, keeping in character of the original Erickson’s, beers were only a nickel. After an Old Fashioned (I really fuckin’ hate Old Fashioneds. I really want to like them – but they are so sweet, I fuckin’ hate them.), The Resident Historian felt it was best to just stick with straight bourbon (Gus would have wanted it this way…).
Sarah Stevenson of Innovative Housing had put the party together. And I’ll be honest – when she first invited me to the event, I was a little apprehensive. These “period parties” (for lack of a better term) can go terribly, terribly wrong. Bad costumes, bad music, and really chintzy dollar store accoutrements. It can just feel tacky. This was NOT the case at the Innovative “Friendraiser” (as they called the event), and Sarah pulled out all the stops – well, as many stops as can be pulled by a non-profit, hosting a “gala” inside a construction site.
There were folks in 1920s period costumes. A black jack and a poker table. Copies of the appropriate pages from Holbrook’s Wildmen were on the cocktail tables along with bowls of peanuts in the shell. The whiskey bottles had photos of August Erickson affixed to them (as did his house whiskey, back in the day), and interpretive signs were hung about the space, giving the history of Erickson’s Saloon, as well as information about the new housing project. And perhaps the highlight of the event was… The Dainty Lunch..
Now many bars in Portland in the 1880s – early 19 teens offered free lunches to their patrons – “free,” as long as you were buying drinks. It was usually a buffet affair, where the men could come in and have a few beers and make a sandwich and so on. It was a way for these working men to feel that they were getting a good deal (“A Free Lunch!!”), all the while dropping more and more coin on marked up alcohol.
The Erickson’s free meal was called The Dainty Lunch. It was HUGE! Roasted beef and pork, cheeses and pickles, and other items of a decidedly Scandinavian fare. Pickled herring and at certain times of the year, lutefisk and getost. There was sourdough bread and a house made mustard that was reported to have run decidedly quite hot. And ALL of it was free, as long as you kept buying those nickel schooners of Henry Weinhard’s beer. The Innovative Housing’s Dainty Lunch was a lovely nod to the original, with roast beef slices, mustard and rolls and a selection of cakes – oh, and pickles and pickled herring too!
Just ate pickled herring. Didn’t hate it.
— Joe Streckert (@JoeStreckert) February 21, 2014
Now – the bar was no 680 foot wonder (it was like 8 feet long), and we had to stand in line for a long fucking time to get a drink. It was hard to picture The Real Erickson’s as we were standing in essentially a stripped down to the studs version of The Barracuda. But goddamn if it wasn’t a fun party, and a damn good time. Other historians of the establishment were there too – namely Joe Streckert and Michael Jones of The Shanghai Tunnels.
As I was walking around the Erickson’s space, I couldn’t help but wonder… what would Gus have thought about the evening’s soiree? I tried to picture him walking around, just checking the place out – what his reaction would be. Ultimately, Gus wanted people to have a good time at his Old Timey Saloon – and they were doing just that here. BUT – Gus also thought of every possible way for YOU to spend YOUR money at HIS place, and alas – there could have been more opportunities to do this.
Besides the dainty lunch, another highlight of the evening was when my wife, Joe and I snuck away to third floor of the Saloon, and had an opportunity to check out the actual location of the cribs – or where the prostitutes actually conducted their trade. The giant room had been partitioned off into little spaces – maybe 7 by 5 feet, and you could see the layout of the walls as you walked along the floor. It was bizarre. Then we snuck further up and on the roof, and REALLY had a chance to take in just how fucking big Erickson’s was! Joe made a few comments to the effect of “wow – now you can see how massive it really was.” Looking down on the Union Gospel Mission, then down on where the X-Ray Cafe used to be – just realizing how much real estate in The North End Erickson’s really took up – it was impressive.
There are so many stories told about Erickson’s Saloon. And at this point, I think it is almost impossible to separate the reality from the decades long constructed fantasy. While I don’t think that Stuart Holbrook straight up fuckin’ lied about Erickson’s, I still think he ran with stories that sounded good, and didn’t take the time to do more research on the subject. He was a great writer, but a lazy historian. This fantasy version of Erickson’s has been presented as “the truth,” and here we are, 100 years later, trying to separate out what WAS the truth. It is so diffucult to do at this point. What we DO know is that August Erickson ran a big Saloon – a REALLY Big Saloon. and it was awesome and it was palatial and it was THE place to see when you came to town. Like Voodoo Doughnut today – just with more whores. AND that Dainty fuckin’ Lunch.
It wasn’t the last drink to be enjoyed at Gus’s old spot – not by a long shot. But it was the last drink to be served in the shell of his establishment, the closest that we will ever have to a Real Live Erickson’s Saloon, at the former location of Erickson’s Saloon . And with a plate of pickled herring to boot…
Thanks Innovative Housing. And thank you Sarah. You guys through a great party.
I think a podcast will be coming soon…