OR: How to drink beer in Astoria like a local
It had occurred to me that it’s been over two years since I completed anything worth posting, or as they used to say, desktop publishing to the internet. Buy me a beer if you remember that phrase because, ohhh boy I need one.
Things have been sketchy out here on the coast for the pandemic, and I’m not gonna lie – I was in a precarious situation when this little bugger moved in from across the way and scared the shit out of everyone for a little while. I had been working at the Rogue outpost in Astoria on Pier 39 – see my new feature-length clip on YouTube for visuals – but the company as whole is just not really my jam, nor jelly. Neither is the beer, if I’m honest (and I am to a fault so let’s just get that shit out of the way – if your beer or your food suck I’m going to try to be diplomatic about it but you’ll know I’m uncomfortable lying to your face while I do it). It’s one of the reasons I’m out here on the far coast, literally almost as far as you can get into the Pacific Ocean before you fall into the water and drown. I bought a kayak just in case.
So it is only fitting that I start my tour of Astoria in the place I started out. Rogue on Pier 39. It is a taphouse and restaurant, with a large board of sometimes-rotating Rogue beers. Almost 3 years after my first stop in here to drop off a resume, the beers on the board are 85% the same on offer that day. It’s a wide selection, but there’s something about Rogue beers that you either like or don’t, and it takes a lot of work to get there if you don’t. I always come back to Rogue when I talk about beer because for many across the country, it was one of the first truly craft beers they might have seen at a pub somewhere that was trying to offer something different. As a company, though, they haven’t really evolved as much as the scene has, and it’s a real shame. I have some inside information on the way they work from people who’ve been in the trenches in Rogue itself, but I can’t really talk about it. Let’s just say that I appreciate some of the beers they’ve developed over the years but they’ve left a lot on the table.
If you’re doing the Astoria beer tour, Rogue is really the ideal place to start, assuming you’ve had something to eat ahead of time or like to gamble. Having working in the kitchen I will confirm over and over again that you’re rolling the dice here, as far as quality. I won’t say it’ll make you sick but the way things were done while I was there don’t portend great things when you’re the 4th large group to walk in on a Saturday afternoon and everyone in the other parties is asking for gluten-free stuff. I was there for a short time and managed less than 20 hours a week while training a very green n00b that had LITERALLY zero cooking experience. Good luck, suck down a beer or two at (checks) $7 a pint – and get back across the pier, heading west. If you’ve got the motivation, head across the street and grab a bag of fresh-roasted coffee from the vending machine at Astoria Coffee Co. before making your next choice:
ONE IF BY LAND, TWO IF BY WATER(FRONT)
Choice one will take you along the main drag through town, past the Safeway and a dispensary, past the strip club and the abandoned bakery to Hondo’s micro-brewpub. On tap you’ll find a selection of pooch-themed brews made on-site on the small system in the main room. There’s some decent brew on hand but you’ll have to ask yourself if you’re into the homebrew scene or the bigger-brewery action before you make this choice because it’s almost a holdover from earlier days, with very small batch sizes and a homey touch. It’s not a bad thing, honestly, it’s just something to consider. They’ve got 18 or 20 beers on tap, some more polished than others but all made on a very small brew system so there’s a good variation between batches, in some cases. They’ve also got a small kitchen to deal with the munchies situation, and you’re likely to sit down next to the owner at the bar if you pop in mid-late afternoon.
Rumor has it that there used to be live music and other events there on a regular basis but it looks like most of the random stuff and instruments have been put in storage for the time being – that is, post-pandemic summer 2022. If you need any emergency brewing supplies or a six-pack of craft beer or even a bottle of wine Hondo’s has you sorta covered – the selection is unique but not expansive. The espresso stout I had a pint of, for instance, was not listed on untapped and had a decidedly sour finish to it. At 7% it shouldn’t really have that funky-sweet cloyingly sour finish but I’d have to spend more time with it to figure out what went wrong…but it’s definitely not an espresso stout I’d be able to label as such. I haven’t spent as much time there as I might have liked but only because the other choices in town are currently more to my liking.
Just about a block up and across the street is a gas station that also doubles as Astoria’s Growler Guys location. Growler Guys is a bigger chain-ish operation with 30(?) taps that feature PNW beers and ciders. It occupies about half of the gas station here, with a short bar and indoor and outdoor seating options. Because they’re a larger chain operation, they’ll have beers from larger or more popular breweries rather than just Astoria-specific beers. You can buy beer by the pint or growler, as the name implies – just don’t get too confused about it because you can get growlers and crowlers at every location on my tour today, FYI. In Oregon you simply need a clean class or metal container that’s clearly marked as a half-gallon and you can put beer in it. The location of Growler Guys makes it an odd place to hang out and sample beers, but I have seen ‘regulars’ in that outdoor area spend hours at a time watching traffic. If you haven’t watched the video, keep in mind these two locations are on the main drag through Astoria – there is only one way east-west through town and you cannot miss Growler Guys or Hondo’s if you’re paying attention.
Growler Guys has an outdoor patio and several small seating options inside, but it’s also a gas station, I think they serve some fried foods but also have domestic beers and a selection of singles and craft tallboys that are good for beach adventures and such, if six-packs or cases aren’t. For me, it’s a weird place to sit and have a pint, but the draft selection is tailored to a more ‘popular’ regional selection, bigger breweries like Boneyard, Deschutes and Ninkasi…I think they have a live online listing so check that out for the real deal.
From there you can just walk back to the waterfront trail and head west, it’s worth it to cruise by the Maritime Museum, you may even go in (DO IT!). Sometimes there are Coast Guard ships docked, you can take a look at them pretty close-up, or if it’s a nice day it’ll be tempting to just cruise around for a bit. Be prepared for wind and more likely spotty overcast with fits of rain, depending on the time of year…
Depending on when you start your day, or what your speed is, or if the trolley is running, you’ll head next to THE SEA Crab House LOUNGE for happy hour, something most places don’t have out here. I’ll grab some video so you’ll appreciate the location, the food cost is sorta high but it’s worth it to have fresh seafood to eat on the only remaining restaurant that sticks out into the Columbia in that central downtown area, now that Bouy is down(UPDATES BELOW KEEP READING) …and we’ll get to that soon. Anyways, happy features $3 pints of draft beers which includes (currently JULY 4th) Ft.George’s 3-way Ipa, Reach Break’s Hazy, some Astoria brewing ipa and a handful of domestics. I’m probably forgetting something, though.
The happy hour on the deck I previously enjoyed has moved to the lounge, only, but is now from 3pm to 6pm 7 days a week. The best view is in the main dining area, honestly, but you can snag a pint and walk around if it’s not busy, and if you want some fresh seafood with a really really great view of the river go ahead and go down the hall to grab a seat on the deck, if you can. They’ve got ‘boil specials’ with mussels, shrimp and a seafood sampler. Looks good but it’s beyond my usual interest as I’ve got beer to buy and food just fills that space. It’s got a decent selection for day-tripping beer drinkers looking for something light to wash down that seafood you’ll probably buy once you see one of the platters going out.
I’ve had some other ‘happy hour’ offerings from some other locations here in Astoria, namely the Silver Salmon Grille (it’s got that extra ‘e’) and the sushi house, as well as another mid-scale eatery called Caruthers. Those are usually some food deals and they’re worth looking at if you started early or in midtown. I’ve had spotty service at the sushi joint and the others are trying to be more upscale when they should be happy to grab ‘local and quirky’ instead. It can’t go unmentioned that my impressions were gained during the great covidemic, a time when these places could literally be closed at a moment’s notice and happy hours and regular schedules were not a thing to rely on. I’m also a single guy who doesn’t think too highly of himself to admit I’m also thrifty when given the choice so I don’t go outside of my comfort bubble – which is usually a brewery. I also tend to be disappointed when promised some amazing dining experience, even when I don’t expect much. See my yelp reviews for more on that, oy.
The smelly, wet dog in the room
I haven’t mentioned one of the other working breweries in Astoria much, ever, anywhere, except where I take a moment to look at Astoria Brewing’s building in my pilot episode and say that I basically don’t support their business. It sounds a little harsh but I’ve had a bad experience every time I’ve gone into either location, either because of terrible service or bad food or both. This may have also put me off on the beer but I simply cannot say I found anything I’ve tried there to be something I wanted to go back for. I’m almost always alone when I do these adventures, which would make me the easiest customer to serve, hypothetically, since I don’t have any special needs and I’m not OCD about anything but beer…so take my reviews with that in mind. I have been straight-up ignored at both Astoria Brewing locations on several visits over the years, and it was…almost intentional. Moving on.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (a Spongebob reference of some sort)
Buoy… TUNE IN FOR PART 2 FOR THE EXCITING CONCLUSION!