The Cheerful Tortoise
1939 S.W. Sixth(503) 224-3377
As a child growing up in Portland, I cannot remember a time before the Cheerful Tortoise. It is, in a way, a Portland landmark. It is of the few establishments that still exists in this town that I can remember as always being here.
I was aware that this was a college hangout, and as I grew older my awareness of this mystical place was never far from mind. Driving as a teen-ager, my friends and I would pass by this gateway to downtown.
The tortoise always looked so cheerful as it gazed down on our passing car and smiled at us as if to say, “I am waiting for you.” So many questions, so long to wait for answers. What lay beyond that solid wooden door? Was it like something from the movie “Animal House?”
Well, amazingly enough all these years later, I am about to graduate from PSU and I have entered the shrouded bar of mystery on more than one occasion. There are no tortoises waiting inside to cheerfully join you in a drink. However, there are quite a few regulars that are not exactly college students. That’s OK, this place has been around for a while, remember?
And, so it’s got to have a bit of a “Cheers” type crowd, a place where everybody knows your name.
On this particular Friday night, that kicked off the Vanguard staff’s annual Pub Crawl, we began our evening here, which worked out well, since some of our crew took the opportunity to eat some greasy fill-up food before heading out for a night of alcohol induced mayhem. I decided to stick to whiskey.
I began that evening with a Makers and Coke (for which I begrudgingly handed over $4.50, plus tip).
Drinking ain’t cheap anywhere downtown. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the very low ratio of Coke to Makers and nursed my drink until the Whisky didn’t burn going down any more. Looking around I was once again in awe of the dark wood shingles that covered the walls creating a claustrophobic effect and looking somewhat akin to a turtle shell surface.
The walls were strung with advertisements, beer company promotional banners and televisions everywhere I looked, with different sporting events on each one. We pub crawlers gathered around the pool table in the back room and ate our food apart from the regulars near the front of the bar. One of the friendly waitresses took a group picture for us.
The waitresses are always nice, but usually very busy especially on this Friday evening, and it was only 7 p.m. As I sat back and sipped at my strong $4.50 drink with a sense of urgency I began to ponder: now that I have been able to unveil the mystery of the Cheerful Tortoise, what have I learned?
It is nothing like “Animal House” inside, although it does sort of remind me of a bar in Eugene on U of O’s campus. Despite all my childhood expectations it is not my place of choice to hang out with my buddies and sip on a beverage. The ambiance and d퀌�cor clashes with my artistic sensibilities and the confusion of 10 televisions, music and beer banners is overwhelming and unsettling.
“One Minute!” the time keeper shouted at us and my thoughts shifted suddenly to a friend of mine who is under age. Do not be mistaken, this is a bar, not a restaurant and all will be carded who enter here and asked to leave if a valid ID cannot be produced. However there is hope. You can sit outside if you are under the holy, honorable, cheerful age of 21 and eat in the shadow of the Ondine.
Before I could even finish my drink or my thoughts on this establishment I was being jostled out the door. It was time to head to the next bar on our list.