Dive Bar Challenge: The Nite Hawk
A few Saturdays back, after we'd sampled a number of fine ales at the Farmhouse Fest, I coerced a group of friends to join Sally and I as we looked for a TV set playing the elite 8 Wisconsin matchup against Arizona. We were out in North Portland and decided to walk over to a venue I'd not haunted for at least two decades--the Nite Hawk Cafe and Lounge.
Established in 1931, the Nite Hawk is divided neatly between two halves--the cafe, which has a Village Inn vibe about it, and the neighboring lounge, which is the classic pool-tables-and-video-poker dive bar. It's not a great sports venue, as the TVs are small and few, but that makes it better in most other ways. Interstate Avenue used to be one of the skeeziest thoroughfares in the city, but now that the Max light rail runs down the center, you're seeing some very slow gentrification--a New Seasons grocery store is just across the street. (But so is an adult video store.) Yet despite the fact that it's only five miles from downtown, the vibe is very much North Portland working class and on the day we visited, hipster-free.
Breweries in ZIP code: 0
Distance from the heart of downtown: 4.9 miles
Neighborhood hipness factor (1-5): 1.5, not hip
Seediness factor (1-5): 3 neither seedy nor not seedy
Beers on tap: 12
Mass market beers: 2 (Bud, Coors Light, Pacifico)
Craft beers: 9
Verdict: Pretty crafty
It has a retro taplist which was nevertheless heavily tilted toward craft. Of twelve taps, just three were devoted to macro (and one of those was Pacifico, the thinking-man's macro). The craft taps were studded with nostalgic classics--Rogue Dead Guy Deschutes Mirror Pond and Black Butte, Widmer Hef, and Full Sail Amber. That's a line-up straight out of 1997. But there was also some Ninkasi IPA, Fort George 1811, and Breakside Pils. Unfortunately, the taps weren't spectacularly clean, so the pints came with a fair dollop of diacetyl. The food was also mediocre (soggy, limp, flavorless are a few of the adjectives that jumped to mind)--even by the standards of dive bars.
It is, however, a great place to shoot pool, so there's that.
Incidentally, while I may do one or two more of these, I think I've more or less already proven the point that no matter where you go in Portland (Lents will be my final test), you're going to find good beer. So far, I note with some interest that no one has conducted the Dive Bar Challenge in other cities. I'd love it if you would--it could easily be the case that good beer is more widely available than we imagine, and that might say a lot more about the state of beer in 2015 than the latest brewery-count figures.
*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.