- Joseph Gallivan
- Portland Tribune - Features
Lowbrow, highbrow drinkers meet amid delightful dilapidation at the Jockey Club
The following nine-point inspection of any Portland dive bar can be used to calculate the balance between entropy and gentrification. This week it's the turn of the Jockey Club on North Killingsworth Street.
Physical decay. The Jockey Club probably has never looked worse. The paint on the sign is peeled and faded to pastel. The front door has a hole where the knob used to be and is secured by a large deadbolt. Brown ceiling tiles are bowed and cracked by water damage. Slops are collected in a grubby plastic tray. Where the red flock wallpaper is torn off, it reveals fake wood paneling. The place feels like it's going to be bulldozed at any moment, which as a design element, is not too easy to achieve these days.
Booze. The Jockey Club is a tavern, licensed to sell beer and wine but not hard alcohol. The drink of choice is Pabst Blue Ribbon, the boho's Budweiser, at $1.25 a pint, $5 a pitcher. All day Monday it drops to Section 8 prices: just $3.50 for a pitcher. People with a bit more money can treat themselves to a Black Butte Porter or Bridgeport IPA. A box of Hacienda Burgundy is provided for the real sophistos.
Smell. Bleach is the main whiff here, along with the usual stale beer and wet ash. Depending on where you are, you might catch a top note of unwashed anarchist or, alternatively, the sweet smell of slumming yuppie.
Clientele. Punks have been coming here for about five years. They play pool, compare piercings and pump Iggy Pop, Joy Division, Johnny Cash and the Smiths from the excellent jukebox. The vibe is young and friendly.
Cycle messengers are encouraged to bring their bikes in off the mean streets, so a half-dozen stripped-down racing bikes crowd the second entrance. A flock of young lesbians dominates Medieval Madness, one of the four pinball machines around the dogleg corner. At the bar, a pair of graphic designers stop in on their way from the airport to their home on Northwest 23rd Avenue. Around 10 p.m. two men with architect's glasses and good skin sidle in. Here comes the neighborhood.
Bartender. The Jockey Club has nice bartenders, like Rachael Belknap, an inky mohawker who works days so she can scream nights in a punk band called One Day War.
It also has a truly great bartender, the stapled and studded Tony Mengis. This 28-year-old punk rocker claims he never takes his biker jacket off, even when he's at home watching television. Because there's not much pouring to do, he's happy to chat with customers. On taste: 'The neighborhood people drink Budweiser. The punks and lesbians drink PBR.'
Mengis has been clean and sober seven years, so he knows who to 86. 'The tweakers (people on speed) are no trouble; they clean up after themselves. The crackheads make a mess.'
He claims one nearby corner is a big drug-dealing spot, but anyone caught dealing in the pub is thrown out. He says owner Hugh Davies, who also owns the Sidetrack Tavern, at 417 S.E. 80th Ave., doesn't come around much, but trusts his staff to run the place properly.
Bathrooms. You'd probably find nicer restrooms in a Bombay homeless shelter. The men's has no urinal, only two lavatories with no doors. The women's room is a bit better: Its stalls have saloon doors. But there's an unexplained hole in the floor, and the walls have been attacked back to the laths. Nordstrom ladies' lounge it ain't.
Wretched dŽcor. Things to focus on as you descend into drunkenness include: a yellowing acrylic tower for holding Camel cigarettes; a moose head wearing an Ireland baseball cap, with a stuffed crow on one antler; a painting of a Rubenseque nude who looks like Elizabeth Taylor; small hatches in the walls with wooden shutters over them, perhaps something to do with the equine theme. No one seems to know.
Fixture. Everyone seems to be walking around, except for George (his made-up name), a talkative fixture at the end of the bar. He's been Jockey Clubbing for 30 years, according to daytime manager Darren Mamone. 'We're one of the only places that let him in.'
Funny signs. Behind the bar a sign says 'If you look under' and then someone stuck a paper square with '96' on it, 'be prepared to show ID.' Outside there's a sign that says: 'Welcome home inmates. Thanks to Measure 28.' Says Mamone with a cackle, 'We expect to get about a hundred customers back due to the jails being opened up.'
The Jockey Club passes inspection with flying colors.