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In a changed world, the Nobby stays true

Before there were yuppies, posturing bikers and Starbucks, there was 'the Nobby' on Northwest 23rd Avenue.

According to owner Greg Hermenf, the Nob Hill Bar and Grill just might be the last remaining vestige of old Northwest Portland.

'We're like the last holdout on this street,' Hermenf says. 'That's what makes the Nobby what it is. If this place ever closed, it'd be yuppified so quickly.'

He reflects on how the retailscape has changed on the avenue over the years. 'There was the original Rose's Deli, the Esquire theater was right across the street, there was a Union 76 service station right there where Kinko's is, and of course, there was Quality Pie, down the street.'

'And the hospital was a lot smaller before the addition,' says bartender and cook Millie Harden about Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital & Medical Center, which looms over the houselike structure that is the Nobby.

Harden has worked at the Nobby since Hermenf took over the place from his father 17 years ago.

'It hasn't changed much in here since then, but this area sure has,' the white-haired Harden says. 'It used to be quite a scene out there at 2 in the morning. I remember when Darcie (Darcelle) used to come into Quality Pie in full costume.'

The corner window that looks out onto the increasingly busy intersection of Northwest 23rd and Lovejoy Street is the source of much amusement for Nobbites.

'From this window you can see anything you'd want to see Ñ and a lot of things you don't!' Harden says of the rich people-watching that the corner provides.

Despite the dramatic changes that have taken place in the last couple of decades, the patron mix is fairly consistent, Hermenf says.

'Our customers are hospital workers or hospital guests, and a lot of people from the neighborhood who don't have a family,' he says. 'Because of that, we're open every day, 365 days a year. It's about more than the food and drink here: It's a place for people to get out, especially around the holidays, which can be a pretty depressing time for a lot of people.'

Tacos seem to ease the pain on Monday night.

'Taco Night has been a huge hit,' Hermenf says of the 50-cent, DIY feature. 'We usually sell 200 to 300 tacos on that night.'

Tacos aren't the only foodstuff the Nobby is known for. Last year, the national online directory Citysearch voted the Nobby's burger one of the 10 best in the nation.

'We had the only place in the Northwest to be chosen,' Hermenf says. 'The next closest burger was in L.A.'

Accolades aside, Hermenf also has practical reasons for keeping the venerable tavern going. 'I just put in new carpet last night,' he says, 'That's good for another 10 years or so.'

At least. The industrial-strength floor covering looks as if it can soak up all the abuse Ñ and the Budweiser Ñ that patrons can dish out.

'The OLCC was in the other day,' Hermenf says. 'They asked, 'Why don't you guys serve liquor here?' I said, 'Look at these guys Ñ can you imagine them on vodka?''