Local history on tap at this tavern
Bullpen's crew of regulars have seen it all in their time
'Are you lookin' for me?' Dick Ford asks as I enter the Bullpen tavern on a recent evening.
'I might be,' I reply. 'What's your name?'
'You're gettin' pretty informal, aren't you?' the 70-year-old shoots back from under his baseball cap.
Once I assure Ford that my motives are pure, he introduces me around the place. Several of the Thursday night regulars are settled in at one of the booths that line the wall.
'I've been coming here since the '70s, and my older brothers were here a decade before that,' says James Craycroft, who emerges as the tavern's historian. (He also is known for shouting, 'It's good to be home!' whenever he enters the tavern. 'I strayed once Ñ went to another bar.')
'This place was originally called The Happy Hare,' Craycroft says of the tavern's name in the 1930s, when dog races were held at what is now PGE Park.
'Through the '60s, it was pretty much a man's bar,' he says. 'From 8 to 9 o'clock it was really quiet, because they'd watch 'All in the Family' and 'M*A*S*H.' The front door squeaked, so when someone came in, all heads would swivel to see who it was.'
Like any watering hole worth its suds, the Bullpen has had its share of infamous patrons.
'This is the Bob Packwood booth,' Craycroft says. The former U.S. senator, he says, used to sit there with Elaine Franklin, the top aide who later became his wife Ñ 'or sometimes women who were not Elaine Franklin.'
'Frank Peters bankrolled the tavern at one point,' he continues, naming a local restaurateur and former professional baseball player known for living large. 'Which would explain the rumor behind the naked woman dancing on the bar one night.'
As you watch a couple quietly playing pool and a fellow playing one of several video poker games, such tales of debauchery seem improbable.
Bartender Shalese Mros assures me that the Bullpen is just what it seems: a low-key, comfortable neighborhood bar with an urban address. Just across the freshly laid MAX tracks, the newly restored PGE Park and the Multnomah Athletic Club tower over the little tavern.
'There's a bunch of guys who've been coming here every Friday night for 25 years after playing basketball at the MAC,' Mros says. 'It's funny, now they all need ice packs for their knees when they get here.'
Yes, time marches on, and so does a tavern's need to woo patrons. Six years ago, the Bullpen created what might be the MOAP (Mother of All Patios).
'Our back patio is one of the city's best-kept secrets; it's very private,' owner Kathy McKay says of the space, which is defined by an impressive wall mural and a parking lot. A graceful hawthorn tree is a leafy umbrella for the many picnic tables, the ideal place to wash down the house specialty Ñ a hot turkey sandwich Ñ with a Fat Tire amber ale.
The quasi-bucolic sight is enough to make a longtime patron misty.
'I'll be coming here in 20 years,' Craycroft says.
'You'll never make it,' Ford says. 'I can see the life you're livin'.'