No place like ... yamhill
Home is where the cheap beer is
'We have some great regulars,' boasts Yamhill Pub owner Kevin Hill, before shouting across the room to his day-shift bartender: 'Hey, Travis, tell them about your one-eyed lover and the time you popped her glass eye out.'
Handsome Travis bashfully denies the lover thing, but he does confirm that the Yamhill is a friendly place.
'There's no one type of person comes in here,' he says. 'We get office workers waiting for the MAX, people drinking before they move on somewhere fancy, punk rockers and transients.'
'We've had Paul Newman in here,' the boss chips in. 'And Paul Allen.'
Hill has been the owner of Yamhill Pub for eight years and has no illusions about what makes this bar attractive: 'Cheap beer. My micros are $2 cheaper than everyone else's around here. Pabst Blue Ribbon is the best seller. Then well whisky and well vodka.'
By 'around here' he means the wine bars and fun pubs of central downtown that cater to the fast-spending suburban crowd. He describes his pub as 'the last of the true Northwest-style bars in this area.'
You have to be a bit of a Home Depot hag to see what he means: The wooden-cooler cabinetry behind the bar, with its shiny steel handles, dates from the bar's debut in 1929. The main wall is wood-paneled, but that's about it for retro style.
The Yamhill is basically a hole in the wall that only holds about 40 people when it's full. The walls are festooned with the sort of nakedly promotional neo-neon claptrap that only begins to look good after five pints: the Fat Tire bike, Budweiser NASCARs, Henry's this and Pabst that.
Written in Sharpie on the bathroom door is the directive: 'Junkies suck. Don't endanger people who work here by leaving your (expletive) around.' That might give the tourists a thrill, but this is not a dangerous bar.
'You can have a table packed with punk rockers in here, and right next to them a load of rednecks,' says a regular named Stretch. He's a Los Angeles transplant who took a shine to Portland's 'actual trees,' which he noticed here on a visit a year ago.
Stretch lives in the Northeast quadrant and comes in on the No. 8 bus Ñ often before lunch. He made the Yamhill his home away from home in January. Now he often shows up in the morning. He does odd jobs for a living but calls himself a professional. Drinker, that is.
'I always start off with water in the morning. Gotta hydrate,' he says. 'Came in yesterday for breakfast and stayed all day. People do that a lot. There's two happy hours.'
One is Monday to Friday from
4 p.m. to 6 p.m., the other is midnight to 2 a.m. seven nights a week.
Up at the window, four video poker machines wink and beckon. Tables are unsentimental Formica; chairs are steel. It's definitely about the people.
Behind the bar is the 86-ers gallery Ñ a dozen Polaroids of customers who have been ejected, or 86-ed in bartender parlance. The snaps are taken just before their exit. Most of them look unsteady and surprised, except for one mean-looking man whose picture has the word 'Violent' written beneath it.
'If we get any trouble, we call the Downtown Clean and Safe police first,' Travis says. 'They do a good job, and there's none of the paperwork. But it's hard to get 86-ed from here.'
Mercedes is the queen bee bartender, but Heidi is the newest staff member. She bartended at another downtown establishment, Mary's Club, for three years.
Tattoo flames lick up Heidi's left arm. Her hair is hot pink. 'I wanted to be the center of attention,' she says with a laugh. She gets it.
A man calling himself William See drinks his fourth shot, slams down his glass, raises his arms in triumph and walks wordlessly out into the night.
Stretch says the bar was very popular during last winter's marathon rains. Travis is more philosophical.
'The rain either brings 'em in or keeps 'em away,' he says.
A 39-year-old man operating under the nom de booze Joseph Marshall has something urgent to say:
'I come here for the cheap beer and the conversation. All viewpoints are allowed. I know I can say my president sucks and not be called unpatriotic here.'
And another thing. 'People buy each other drinks,' he says proudly.
Marshall has two $100 Blazer tickets in his wallet and no one to go with. The game's on in five minutes. Another MAX train rumbles by. He stays.
The Yamhill has a sidewalk sign that changes slogan when the staff feels inspired: For example, the acronymic 'People order our pints' was up for a few hours recently.
''All you need is beer' was a good one,' Travis says. 'But the most effective was just 'Get in here.'Very simple. It brought a lot of people in off the street. They're like, 'Hey, I was looking for something to do, and this was some direction, y'know?' '