Two Cities

Or Why Aren't There Any Brewpubs on the West Side?

When I got out of grad school in 1995 (and by "got out" I mean "bailed from my Ph.D. program and retreated to the comfy environs of Beervana"), I drove a cab for a year. This was both one of the more entertaining jobs I've had, and also instructive. I learned a huge amount about the history, demographics, and regional mores of the city. One of the key discoveries: Portland is two cities divided by a river. (It's actually more like a Venn Diagram with downtown and the urban Northwest as the area of overlap.) In that year, thousands of fares, I never had someone ask to go to the west side. Cabbies who worked the west side said the same thing--no one ever goes past downtown.

I had ocassion to ponder this truth yesterday as I cruised Scholls Ferry Road toward the border of Yamhill County. As is my habit, I scrutinize buildings for their potential as brewpubs (not that I'll ever actually start one) and this led to a consideration of why there are so few brewpubs on the west side. It's not just brewpubs, of course--small, funky businesses flourish on the east side, whereas the west side seems to welcome bland national chains.* Well-regarded restaurants populate the east side but are harder to find in the hills. Even good pubs with lots of taps are rarer there. And I saw but one non-drive-thru coffee hut coffee shop, a Starbucks.

Cities occupy not only geography, but psychic terrain. When I'm on the east side, my attention naturally drifts to areas of my interest--small copses of shops along a former streetcar line. On residential streets, I notice not only the architecture (cottages in Sabin, blending to foursquares in Irvington blending to tudors in Grant Park), but the yards. Are they well-manicured grass or dense thickets of perennials? On the west side, few sights draw me in. Junky late-century buildings cluster along wide, clotted streets. From time to time, massive apartment complexes gape down a cul-de-sac. No doubt west siders have the opposite reaction--for them these places are homey and welcoming, the streets a concourse of pleasure waiting to be driven.

There's something about the west side that resists funk. Is it just the buildings? Could be. I tried to spy a likely place to locate a brewpub, but there's precious few (the Scholls Grange, though too far out, would be fantastic). West siders must spend a lot of time at home--there are so few places to go and hang out. But they also appear drawn to the bland and homogenous; you can't imagine a Roots Organic along the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. And maybe it's those roads, too--in the inner east side, you're almost never out of walking distance from a great watering hole.

Leaving aside the McMenamins, there are a grand total of five brewpubs on the west side (Raccoon Lodge, Max's Fanno Creek, Old Market, Lucky Lab, and Philadelphia's)--and two of these are west-side outlets of east side pubs. Contrast that with the east side, where there are 18 stand-alone brepubs, excluding multiple locations. Throw in all the Lompocs and Laurelwoods and you get 23.

(But why exclude the McMenamins? In fact, the west side has an advantage here, 13-11. It's also worth noting that the first brewpub in Portland--and Oregon--was the Hillsdale, on the west side. But I think this actually confirms rather than refutes the point. The west side likes the familiarity of chains, and the McPubs are known quantities. But it is a mitigating factor, and if I ever find some imperative to live across the river, I'll be looking for a place next to a McPub.)

So an open question to the west siders: why so few brewpubs and good pubs out there in the hills? Explain it to an interested east-sider, willya?
*As an east-sider, my view is not only biased, but uninformed.