As much as we love our tasting room, our draft and can accounts are so important to everything we work towards on a daily basis. We’ve started carving out space during our days to go visit our beers in the wild; to experience the culture of the places it’s being served with the people who are drinking it.
Over the last several years, we have watched as “craft” beer has gone from a beverage category only available at niche bars, restaurants and bottle shops, to becoming much more ubiquitous to general dining and drinking – especially in a city like Portland.
For the opening sojourn of this project, we wanted to focus on “traditional” bars that had made the choice to carry Bissell Brothers, and get a closer look at a few storied, worn-in locations known for cheap macros who had all asked for Bissell Brothers by name.
Pete Bissell (Owner): I support fully where beer has gone and what it’s become in the last 10 years, but it’s important to remember that beer will ALWAYS be the beverage of the proletariat, and it’s so easy to forget that in today’s ultra-saturated, gentrified, upscale landscape.
Not everywhere needs branded Tekus. Not everywhere needs tapas Tuesdays set to the tune of electropop, with page after page of sans-serif cellar lists and clever beer descriptions.
There still must be a place for wood-paneled walls, Golden Tee & Big Buck hunter machines, two-4-one wing specials on Mondays, and the like. These are places where there is nothing for the beer to hide behind. Just beer and conversation. And a jukebox.
Lucy Henson (Events Coordinator): Historically I’ve probably spent most of my beer-drinking hours at spots like these. We’re lucky that Portland is so rich with artisanal food and craft-only beer selections, but I don’t necessarily need or want that all the time. It makes the more lived-in, simpler, “old-school” spots feel like a special treat, which is how a lot of Portland’s more contemporary bars would have felt in the same landscape a decade ago.
Samantha Galligan (Tasting room/Staff Writer 👋🏻): There are few things as comforting as knowing you’re a regular at a local bar. The familiarity of the location, the ease of talking to the bartender, the smell of the taco pizza as it wafts by; all of it comes together to create a soothing ambiance for those who hold these places near and dear. Cocktail bars are fun, but these places feel like home.
Pete: Howie’s is notable because a young person, Joe Hardy, bought it and changed almost nothing, besides elevating the beer offerings, keeping clean lines, and improving the food quality slightly, while still keeping things super affordable.
It’s refreshing to see a young person understand that neighborhoods still need neighborhood bars.
The pizza was delicious, the game corner with darts, Golden Tee, and a jukebox begs that you spend at LEAST 2 hours here. This is not a stop on a bar hopping night, this IS the night.
Substance, served in a big-beer branded shaker glass, tasted exquisite.
Lucy: Winter is their busiest season which makes sense. I can totally see people automatically stopping on their way home from work when it’s already been dark for a couple hours and there are no plans on the horizon. Would be the ultimate blizzard day drinking spot if you lived within safe walking distance. Weekly food specials and a trivia night, bootleg Gucci-style T-shirts that read HOWIE’S for sale behind the bar for $10. Completely unassuming from the outside, once you’re inside it’s the kind of place you want to hang out at regularly any time of day, any time of year, for hours.
Sam: I was embarrassed that this was my first time setting foot inside this Portland legend. Tucked right next to the offramp from 295 (exit 8), it’s a slight conundrum figuring out the best way to enter. For those wondering, yes, regulars can tell if you’re new depending on which door you enter through. Front says “I’m new here”. Back says “This isn’t my first rodeo”. There was something for everyone on draft: Miller Light, Substance, or just straight Truely from the tap, with options for flavors to add. Dartboards, a jukebox, and a trivia night: These are things that, to me, elevate a bar from “a bar” to a Local Establishment™.
COMMERCIAL STREET PUB
Sam: Many Portland residents, including myself, avoid Commercial Street in the summer with a passion that borders on paranoia. But, one must confront one’s fears in order to grow, and on this auspicious August afternoon, my eyes were opened. We weren’t 30 seconds into Commercial Street Pub before Lucy whispered “they have jello shots here” seductively into my ear (sadly they were sold out). A defunct cigarette machine stood in stark contrast to the bitcoin ATM (?), which at once seemed entirely out of place and just weird enough to make some kind of sense. What prompted the decision to get this Bitcoin machine? Where does one purchase such a device? These are questions for another time. The bar was absolutely packed on this random Thursday afternoon, with people we deemed to be a mix of island residents fresh off the ferry, a couple of confused looking tourists and, well, us. Drinks were poured by a woman with a practiced hand and an easy smile, who carried on simultaneous conversations with everyone sitting at the bar. In the middle of it all, owner Johnny Guinn held court from his ergonomic office chair at the bar. Pete recalls, “We ended up on tap here after a personal appeal from owner Johnny Guinn, in the form of a poem he recited aloud, and had the video texted to me. It’s hard for me to resist that kind of energy”. That transcript is as follows:
I’m Bissellin’ around…
I’m wastin’ my time…
Bissellin’ in this town.
I wanna Bissell here,
Not anywhere but here,
At the pub,
If I need my Bissell today.
As we sipped our drinks, dined on deviled eggs with ghost pepper salt, and watched the teeming Commercial Street traffic go by, we felt oddly protected by this small pub on a busy street. The Commercial Street Pub is cash (or Bitcoin!) only, and is 100% worth the visit.
Pete: Our last stop of our “traditional bar” experience in Portland was Brian Boru. I remember coming here on one of my first nights in Portland in 2005, and looking out over the skyline, and feeling like I was in the big city. The beerhall-style tables encourage conversation. The red-painted brick and ivy on the building scream “distinct” and “we’ve been here a while”.
Little did we know, but the conversation we shared here would be the last we ever had, as the pub closed permanently several days later.
Lucy: Aside from Brian Boru being a quintessential Portland drinking hole, the Guinness toucan mural on the outside feels like a city landmark at this point. Hopefully someone cool will move in because being there during the day reminded me how truly cool that space is inside and out. RIP!
All in all, the takeaway from this excursion was simple.
Some things really do get better simply by staying the same.