Dive Bar Challenge
There's a lot of talk--way, way too much, actually--about which city is the best beer city. It's a pointless argument because no one can ever define the terms of debate. Every city has at least one good brewery and some great beer.
Limit the variables, though, and then we're talkin. When I travel around, I judge cities on a single dimension: how advanced is the culture of beer in the city? There are a lot of ways to measure this (who's doing the drinking; what are they drinking; and where are they doing their drinking?), but one sure way is to see what they're drinking in places you don't expect to find good beer. Like dive bars.
The notion is this. Go into a dive bar, see what they're serving on tap. We would expect that bars on the outer fringes of the city to have fewer good beers on tap, while in the heavily-breweried, hipster enclaves, there should be more. I've been toying with the idea for awhile, but fate forced my hand when I found myself in the Clinton Street Pub, a dive in the pretty-cool 26th and Clinton nexus. I decided in the moment that the time had come to issue the Dive Bar Challenge.
Anyone can play. I assume Portland will easily crush all comers, but I don't actually have the data yet. Over the next few months I will tour the city's dive bars and report back to you, tavern by tavern. Should you live in another city and like to participate, just follow my handy template. If you fancy your city as "Beer City USA" or "The Napa Valley of Beer" or somesuch, let's put it to the test. I'm pretty sure Portland is in a class all by itself, but I'd like to see for sure.
Okay, now onto the inaugural entry...
Clinton Street Pub
The Clinton Street isn't at ground zero for beer in Portland, but it's ground-zero adjacent. Moreover, it is immediately next to the Clinton Street Theater, the kind of place that has hosted a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Saturday since 1978. One door down in the other direction is a vinyl record store (trivia note: I held the lease on that property for a year in the late 1980s when I has a teenage hippie artiste--way before that neighborhood was cool). In other words, it's definitely a neighborhood where you should expect to find a decent beer.
Nevertheless, Clinton Street is a true dive bar festooned with old beer paraphernalia like a classic Meister Brau sign and the distant-yet-lingering scent of cigarette smoke from years gone by. Clinton Street specializes in pinball, and on the night we were there, had a rousing pub quiz going on. It caters to all ages, but gets a lot more young customers than some dives. Of eight taps, only one was given over to mass market lager (Hamm's, my fave). Perhaps tellingly, the pub also had an obscure-to-Amerians Czech pilsner on tap (Staropramen).
Breweries in ZIP code: 8
Distance from the heart of downtown: 2.8 miles
Neighborhood hipness factor (1-5): 4, pretty damn hip
Seediness factor (1-5): 1, not seedy
Beers on tap: 8
Mass market beers: 1
Craft beers: 5 (three IPAs, a sticke alt, and a stout)
Verdict: Super crafty
*I may tune these up over time, but this seems like a good start. Breweries in ZIP code determined by the Oregon Brewers Guild listing. I selected Pioneer Courthouse Square, "Portland's living room" as the heart of downtown.