New Lucky Lab (NW)

1945 NW Quimby
Monday - Saturday 11:00 a.m. to midnight
Sundays noon - 10:00 p.m.
Minors until 9 p.m.

Beers: Black Lab Stout, Hawthorne's Best Bitter, Dog Day IPA, Stumptown Porter, Reggie's Red, Organic Golden Ale, seasonals and specials.

Portland urban historian Carl Abbott has described the difference between a river city and a coastal city--relevant particularly in comparisons with Portland and other West Coast cities. Coastal cities like Seattle and San Francisco are port towns--they look out toward the world. They are more urbane and sophisticated, more worldly. River cities, by comparison, tend to have a more regional orientation; they're parochial and working-class (Pittsburgh and Cleveland).

Portland, unlike its coastal sister cities, is a river city. It has historically been a working-class town. In WWII, 1000 ships came out of Swan Island. Until recently, the sight of logs coming up the Willamette through town wasn't uncommon. Portland was a nexus for the cattle, produce, and timber the state produced. And, of course, our parochialism--even in this post-industrial age of "creative classes"--is legend.

All of this is relevant to understand what the Lucky Lab is going for. The ur-vibe they created on Hawthorne was old Portland--industrial and working class. (Their follow-up in Multnomah Village was sort of in that vein, but the style went through a west-side spin cycle and looks a wee bit more ... suburban.) They have tried to replicate that almost to the letter in their new site on NW Quimby, having located one of the last islands of industry in the Northwest for their new pub. From their east, the wicked Pearl encroaches, from the south and west, the effects of Trendy Third and Restaurant Row. One imagines their outpost doesn't have long to cling to its identity.

The Pub
No worries. Something about Portland keeps the river qualities alive, even amid the rush of wealth and youth. The Lab has made a counterintuitive gamble, recreating the Hawthorne pub's vibe piece by piece. Built in a warehouse, the pub occupies a vast space that is scattered with a field of tables. A separate room has been notched out of the pub, just as in the Hawthorne site. The long, handcrafted wooden bar is there, as is the outside seating, suitable for canine companions. Even the menu is identical to Hawthorne's. Two differences: the floor is cement, not scarred wood, and the light fixtures are fashioned from kegs (very cool). In short: new pub, same as the old pub.

Given that a few blocks away BridgePort has renovated its formerly river city pub to a haute Pearl haunt (Seattle wannabe), the Lucky Lab's move seems even more counterintuitive. So far, the gamble looks like a risky one. I've been to the Lab twice, and both times it was sparsely populated (BridgePort was packed). When no one is in the pub, it feels a little lonely--that vast space needs to have quite a few bodies to avoid feeling empty. On the other hand, it's instantly relaxing to walk into the place. It feels like home to me. The beers are the same, and once I got a pint into my hand, I was happy as a clam, despite the empty seats.

I am interested in the gamble. The Lucky Lab is betting on that old, parochial Portland. Even in the trendy Northwest, that aesthetic persists--we remain, after all, a river city. If the new pub can survive while people find it (the location's sort of weird), I wouldn't be surprised to see it become as popular as the old Hawthorne site. I hope so--we definitely can't have too many Lucky Labs.

[Update: By coincidence, the Portland Tribune has an interesting article on the future of the Lucky Lab's new neighborhood--Slabtown. "Hittner’s window looks out on an abandoned warehouse and parking lot — a warehouse that rumors say will be turned into condominiums soon. And it reminds him of years ago, when this area just west of the tony Pearl District was teeming with industrial life. And when dozens of factory workers and longshoremen would frequent his restaurant every day, for bacon and eggs, a quick lunch, even to cash a paycheck."

More here.]

Updated 6/27/06