When I first moved to Oregon, I lived in a friend’s basement on the ‘inner’ east side of downtown Portland – but only after a short stint in another basement of a house optimistically labeled as the ‘house of homebrew’ on google maps (it’s still there). I had moved here with ambition, and it was immediately crushed as I ran headlong into the reality that most people were functionally incompetent unless they applied real effort to something as complicated as brewing beer. Even people who professed an interest in making quality beer could in practice be so ignorant of basic sanitary needs that every batch would end up as a ‘surprise sour’. I had previously been fortunate to find brewing friends that were quite good at what they did, and I wasn’t exactly disappointed when the property management company evicted us – it seems the lease holder hadn’t been forthright on the situation regarding occupancy rules. He’d also been ‘camping’ in a tent in the backyard with his ‘other’ despite having a house, and was generally ‘not right’ in some other ways that have added to my anxiety about finding housing in Portland. This person did find himself on Vice’s video piece on the Portland beer scene, somehow, so cheers to him I guess, but my first foray into the brewing scene here put me off a little.
I decided to just drink instead
I mean, how are you going to go through all the effort of brewing small batches of beer (and dealing with the various characters in the brewing scene), when you can just walk down to any number of local places for a quality pint brewed within a couple hundred miles (often much less) from where you’re sitting? I moved here on my motorcycle – with some complications – and got around without a vehicle at all for the first 3 years, and, as a renter of a room, in the end, the amount of space I could claim in the house was limited as well. Since I could find a dozen beer-centric hotspots within about a mile of my front door, I decided to just immerse myself in the enjoyment of other people’s hard work. Since there was so much of it, I reasoned. *clears throat
It turns out that my second basement location was much better suited for those adventures. At the end of the block was a bar called Roadside Attraction, an eccentric neighborhood hangout with a large outdoor patio and firepit. I think they’ve got like 6 taps, but they’re all something local. I had some Everybody’s Brewing hazy last time (appropriate), but they also have cans of Montucky, which are popular. It’s an interesting mix of folks there, so it’s a mix of beers. It’s also a smoker’s patio, but it’s got character and more private alcoves around the side if you’re having a date or something.
I typically went a few more blocks down the street, though, since there was once a place in Portland called The Green Dragon Bistro and Brewery. It sat across the street from the famed Cascadia Barrel House taproom and featured a huge taplist of 30+local beers. It was all PNW all the way, and then Rogue bought them out and turned it into a shitty corporate taproom with a small handful of the OG taps and a bunch of garbage from Newport. I can’t tell you how heartbroken I was when I returned after several years on the coast to see the entire block-long property has been covered in ugly red and black and Rogue logos and the once very treed outdoor area has been de-flowered (in more ways than one) and paved. It is now not unlike every single other developed spot in Portland, with fresh modern fire features and tables and *yawn. The rest of the character that made the location – now called Rogue East Side Pilot House – was painted over and cleaned up, and there is no reason to visit this location unless you’re a Rogue fan – in which case…I’m sorry. I have little respect for the way Rogue treats their locations (full disclosure: I worked as a cook at the Astoria location, which they did zero advertising for, and my hours reflected that) or the beer or the company overall, really. I do appreciate the branding, which is conflicting for me because I want to not like them at all…
The Green Dragon, however, is gone forever, and the only thing that remains is the small brewing operation in the back of the building, which was once a ‘community brewing’ co-op but I suspect that’s not there anymore – I haven’t been to this spot in several years, and no, I am not going to go find out. I walked by earlier this week, July of ‘23, and was not inclined at all to go in. There were fermenters inside the door, but one was also being hauled away on a trailer.
I never said I was an actual journalist. If you want real-time updates, there are dozens of ’beer blogs’ that basically work as RSS feeds – go check them out, they seem to be popular for some reason. It seems like the regular announcement of closures might keep beer twitter alive for a little while longer just because people like bad news.
WHAT WAS THIS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT?
I’m sitting at the bar of my other-favorite place in Portland, Loyal Legion. It opened the same week I arrived in Portland, and I took it as a sign I had made the right choice. This place occupies the main floor of an old union hall, and maintains that old vibe, but it was remodeled from the basement-up to serve local PNW beer at the peak of its quality. When they designed Loyal Legion, they made the beer the focus – and built the keg cooler directly below the central tap island that dominates the middle of the bar area on the main floor. This took more than a little work, but they’ve since expanded to several other locations with the same ethos, so they must be doing something right.
They are, honestly, with 99 taps that sit only a few feet from the kegs they’re mated to downstairs. With a strict line cleaning program and a constant rotation of beers, you’re sure to get the very best sample of whatever beer you’ve ordered from anywhere in the city – with no offense to any of the other great beer spots in the area. When they first opened, they weren’t really focused on offering food outside of the bratwurst and sausages that were made with the beer that was flushed through the lines every day, making sure that nothing went to waste. That initial small menu has changed, and now they’ve got smash burgers in addition to a bunch of other regular pub foods (I’m waiting on a pretzel, but would’ve been happy with the loaded fries or happy hour sliders).
But it’s really that focus on the beer itself that makes this place so great. Sometimes the service can be iffy, since this place is immensely popular, but if you can navigate your way to the bar station to order a pint you’ll get something great in that glass. There are always plenty of IPAs on tap, and the printed menus are just barely big enough to list the beer with it’s claimed style, with the abv and price per pour listed below. Most of the beers are listed several times, but today they’re split up in a few categories as a recent ‘tap takeover’ from Level Brewing is featured first. This is tied into a month-long promo about board, card and video games month, which has some other beers themed after games in one way or another.
This is typical, with seasonal specials (Oktoberfest, Fresh Hops season, and even whiskey tie-ins)keeping some sort of cohesion to an otherwise expansive range of styles on tap. There are sections for lagers/pils/kolsch, browns/porters/stout/barleywine/ipa, sours/wilds, wheat beers, ambers/esb, and a section for nitro. CBD, N/A, and wines round out the sections. It sounds confusing, but the way everything is arranged on the menu, you can easily scan and find a section you’re interested in before finding a specific beer. There are 7 taps devoted to Cider, gluten free or hard seltzers, for instance, and another 7 beers classified as saison or farmhouse. Obviously, the section for IPAs is considerably longer than the others, but that’s not ALWAYS the case. Just most of the time.
Yeah ok, maybe a little. I have spent a lot of time here, though not nearly as much as I have spent at places like John’s or Beermongers. Loyal Legion’s most direct competitor on paper would be APEX, but the lived experience is another world apart from that, with bespoke wood bars and a massive, insane collection of whiskies from around the world giving a nice amber glow from behind the bar. There are also other features that make LL different – the eastside location has a large event space on the 2nd floor, for receptions and such. The Beaverton location has a speakeasy room behind the bar, several different seating areas and a massive outdoor patio with permanent shelter (as compared to ‘temporary’ tent cover at APEX). This is what it looks like to put real effort into the location and invest on the kinds of details that really impact the atmosphere and vibe of your experience. Presentation matters.
Where else would I go, if I were you?
That’s a good question. I don’t want to pretend there aren’t dozens of other great places to cop a bar stool and pound some beers. I’ve been to a bunch, but spread out over years, and things have changed a bit since my initial rounds pre-covid. I’ve been trying hard to refresh my experiences, and have found some great places to tip some brew back…thing is, this isn’t about them. Not today, we’ve got lots more to talk about, and this is already long enough to have a part 2.
But for other reasons. Johns is my absolute favorite because they’ve got the ability to cover much more territory since the ability to can became so much easier for breweries to obtain. Loyal Legion is a different beast, a great place for a night out because of the layout. There are secrets I haven’t told yet, for both locations. I could tell you, but you’d have to buy me a drink first.
Oh, you wanted one more dumb photo?