Crawl across Hawthorne

One could explore the diverse regions of Portland just through its bars and come to intimately know the area. And that’s what we did.

Portland is its bars. When we aren’t hiking trails or biking off to God knows where, we are at any number of bars, pubs, taverns or other neighborhood pastimes. One could explore the diverse regions of Portland just through its bars and come to intimately know the area. And that’s what we did.

A Vanguard community of writers, editors, designers and other aberrant characters trekked through the Hawthorne region, specifically those hanging farther out east where the bars cluster together like vampire bats waiting to suck cheap-beer money from the pockets of patrons.

During the day, Hawthorne is a pleasant mix of breakfast spots and hippies and hipsters digging through secondhand stores for the perfect pair of jeans that will fit just that much tighter. When the night falls upon the boulevard, the locals run inside to the various hangouts lining the popular street.

Bar of the Gods – the pseudo dive bar

The Bar of the Gods (BOG) was the first stop on the crawl. The bar promotes that it was once voted best dive bar in Stuff magazine. This gives a misleading impression. While sure, the place wasn’t the Ritz; it wasn’t exactly a greasy spoon, either. It wasn’t dirty enough to be a dive, and doesn’t attract the usual dive crowd of regulars. Rather, on this night, the BOG hosted a marriage of meatheads and hipsters.

What sort of godly whiskey would such a mighty bar offer? The usual short list of generic brands. Sad. One glass of The Glenlivet, with only a couple of rocks, did the trick.

I turned from the bar and whom should I find but Shannon, former production manager. I promptly spilled scotch on her jeans and said hello. The Vanguard crowd quickly grew. Copy editors, writers and section editors were all rolling in—some with significant others tagging along. With a few dirty looks and some well-placed watchers, tables were annexed and seats were had. But not enough seats. The BOG was swelling with cheap beer fanatics and aficionados.

Smokers found refuge on the back patio; no need to freeze on the sidewalk here. The patio has been converted into a nicely heated smoky oasis reminiscent of better days when customers could freely light up in a bar because, well, it’s a bar.

The BOG is a nice addition to the outer Hawthorne region, laid-back enough for down-to-earth folks to enjoy a beer. But this was a mere starting point, and it was getting tight among this godly crowd.

The Watertrough Saloon – the dive bar

A few short steps from the BOG is the Watertrough Saloon—a true dive bar. I felt as if any moment Clint Eastwood could walk through the door, with an orangutan in tow. Legend has it an old regular firmly held territory in a chair at the end of the bar—so firmly that over the years, the cigarette smoke infusing the wood-paneled wall stained around his body. To this day you can see the regions of the wall where the smoke could not invade.

With a healthy mix of Johnny Cash and Iron Maiden pumping from the jukebox, it was clear that this was my kind of bar—it only lacked a more extensive line of booze. Cheap beer and cheep booze lined the bar, above which hangs a menu offering greasy delights, including a plate of cheese and crackers—that’s right, cheese and crackers!

“What’s the chance of getting some food?” inquired Nick, an arts editor with a fetish for video games and Jack White.

“There’s plenty of penis in the bar,” the bartender quickly responded. We weren’t quite sure what that meant exactly, and it was admittedly pretty loud, however with that thought we weren’t so hungry anymore, and let it go.

A four-way pool table showdown was orchestrated between Justin from production, editor-in-chief Virginia, Noah the copy editor and production designer Colby. By the end of the game, we all discovered that Virginia cheats at pool, and that pints were empty. The line to the bar was long; it was time to move on.

The Tanker – the sports bar

Next door to the Watertrough is the Tanker bar, representing the sports community on our crawl. But it wasn’t very sporty. The Tanker was a hipster hotspot for the evening—as if the kitchen managed to send the scent of Kombucha and bad techno wafting through the night air, and these urban bohemians were irresistibly drawn in. There was one barfly sporting a cowboy hat…but then again, that too could have been a hipster utilizing the hat as a sarcastic display.

The hipsters lined the walls and occupied themselves with video golf and Buck Hunter. The rest of the bar was brought to a standstill as the latest episode of Portlandia was showcased on various TV screens and pumped through loudspeakers.

This bar was packed wall-to-wall. The stench of irony rode the air as the cramped crowd elbowed and squeezed, all yearning and fighting for the cheapest beer they could find. Half the patrons lingered outside smoking, only entering back inside when the next wave of greasy mustaches and vintage sneakers exited for a smoke. This exchange continued, and maintained the medium of Hawthorne hooligans inside and out. This was no place for the hygienic.

I imagine that on game days, the bar could be even worse—it could be filled with sports enthusiasts. While I could understand how this bar could entertain a certain demographic, The Tanker was tanking for me that night.

Finally outside again, I found myself suddenly being strangled by an anonymous news editor. The madness of this sad corner of Hawthorne was clearly affecting the pack. With her grasp around my collar, I figured it was time to leave.

The Space Room – the gimmick bar

With one side mocked up as a diner, and the other a lounge, The Space Room comes off like a welcoming roadside watering hole—on the moon. It’s dark except for the blacklight illuminating the hazy air and curious stains upon your companions’ clothing that you’re afraid to inquire about.

Nick found the Pac-Man tabletop arcade game—he was lost to us then.

Another cheap beer, another glass of whiskey on the rocks—my companions sunk into curved booths shaped like crescent moons.

Time slows down in The Space Room. Your stride lingers and your banter stretches on into the evening. The dark lounge cuts you off from the outside world and blankets you in tiny starry specs of light poking through the walls. One becomes lost in the dark and the conversation. As you sink into the booth, you sink into an evening in the Space Room.

“I am the smartest man alive,” Nick screamed, breaking the hypnotic ambiance. He was a Pac-Man master.

The Space Room claimed the rest of the night, and the Vanguard claimed the Space Room.

Every stop competed with its own cheap beer from PBR to Hamm’s, and we happily exploited the deals. A crawl through Hawthorne almost exhibits the Portland archetype—thick-rimmed glasses, bicycles and unique kitschy bars. It is a land of cheap beer and time to kill. If these bars held vegan or Thai menus, then the boulevard would indeed fit the city’s stereotype too well.