Beer Tales: St Johns, Portland

Last Friday night, Sally and I drove out to the St Johns Theater to catch the 7:30 showing of 50/50. We drive out to St Johns for movies because (1) it's not a Regal-owned cinema, which means we don't have to pay a premium to be assaulted by ads, (2) it's a nice theater and I like to support independent businesses, and (3) they have several tasty draft beers. So there we were, tix in hand, surveying the tap handles. One was a beer called "Clutch," in what appeared to be the New Belgium font. I inquired. The server told me it was a sour brown ale--which provoked the guy in front of me, departing the counter with a full pint of IPA, to groan with regret. Turns out it's a Lips of Faith series beer, and the theater had scored a mighty coup to get a keg.

All of this probably seems like an average Friday night to those of you who are unfamiliar with the neighborhoods of Portland. But St Johns, while it does boast some interesting culture (Plew's Brews, Vinyl Resting Place), is a place studded with far more old-school cigarettes-and-Hamm's bars like The Wishing Well and the Bluebird. Of course, the smokers are now on the sidewalks, sometimes in clusters larger than those still inside.

It's geographically separate from the city, located about ten miles north of downtown Portland, in the peninsula formed by the convergence of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers. At about the 6700 block, a large, tree-lined rail line bisects north Portland ("the cut"), and it seems as definite a marker of place as the two rivers that mark the other boundaries. It's far poorer than most neighborhoods (23% of the population live below the poverty line) and the median price of a house was $180,000 last year--compared with $319,000 in the heart of the Beermuda Triangle (SE Portland, Buckman neighborhood).

To give you a sense of the kind of place it is, before the movie, Sally and I popped into Du's Teriyaki, which was manned by a single guy. He took the orders, went back and cooked the food, then served it and bussed the tables. At a little after 7, a buddy of his dropped by and he turned off the "open" sign so he could take a break and eat himself.

All of which is to say that, walking into the theater, I'm always pleased to see several great craft beer choices. They rotate seasonally, so you might get a nice pilsner in the summer and stouts in the winter. But one of the primo kegs in Portland? I wouldn't have expected it. But there it was, at $4.25 a glass, same as all the others. The market for good beer continues to spread further and further out, well beyond the upscale crowd in the inner core. It's not a yuppie tipple. (Roscoe's, out near 82nd in the other direction, is another case in point.) I couldn't be happier. In fact, it was such an unexpected surprise that Sally and I went back the next day to catch a showing of The Guard.