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For nostalgic bar patrons, the glass is always half-full

On the Rocks
by: L.E. BASKOW, A longtime admirer of Portland’s taverns, Paul Pintarich has penned two tributes to them. He recently stopped in at Billy Bang’s in Johns Landing to talk about the old, the unusual and the unforgettable taprooms in the city’s history.

'In those days, newspapermen were a lot different than they are now. We were a lot of boozers and smokers and hell-raisers. We had a lot of fun,' Paul Pintarich says, adding after a pause, 'I'm not saying that's good.'

Pintarich worked at The Oregonian for 30 years as a reporter and as the books and poetry editor.

He's the author of 'History by the Glass: Portland's Past and Present Saloons, Bars and Taverns.' An expanded edition of the book, originally published in 1996, called 'History by the Glass … A Second Round,' was released late last year by Bianco Publishing, a local press.

The paperback is a guide to Portland bars that provides practical information - what's on tap, what the food is like, how to get there - but focuses on history and lore.

The drinking spots profiled are a motley crew. This is by no means a tourist's guide to Portland's hippest hot spots. Rather, it's an affectionate look back for a man who hasn't taken a drink in 25 years as well as a way for newcomers to explore some historic bars.

When I show up at Billy Bang's (5331 S.W. Macadam Ave. #105) in Johns Landing to speak with Pintarich, he's drinking coffee and reminiscing with an old-timer at the bar about a long-gone saloon called the Chocolate Moose.

The owner had an enormous nose, Pintarich says, and he used to tend bar stationed beneath a stuffed moose head.

Tall and hale, Pintarich doesn't come across as someone who lives in the past.

Uncork the bottle of the 'bad old days,' though, and the memories of vanished watering holes start frothing over: The shuffleboard at Montgomery Gardens, near Portland State. The bullet holes in the walls of a downtown dive called the Old Glory. Dime beers at the Chat'n'Nibble on Sandy Boulevard.

Then there was the Fungus Room: 'That was the Beats with the berets and the sunglasses and the dark clothing … cheesy stuff.'

At one time, Pintarich worked as a police reporter. 'The police station was down on Second and Oak,' he recalls, 'so we hung around Skid Road. There were a lot of bad places down there: the Caribou Club, the Apache Club and tons of them.

'The Lotus - the Lotus was a deadly place. Some of them, thankfully, are gone. You'd get killed down there real quick. It was exciting.'

Long ago, Pintarich quit that life for good. That doesn't disqualify him as a docent, however. He believes, as I do, that there's something more to a good bar than four walls and some booze.

'It's the history,' he says.

That's why the city's high-profile music venues and martini bars are nowhere to be found in his book, supplanted by obscure, tenacious dens like the Lariat (17238 S.E. Division St.), Crackerjack's (2788 N.W. Thurman St.) and Joe's Cellar (1332 N.W. 21st Ave.)

'Some of them have changed so much,' Pintarich say, 'they're hardly what they used to be and there are some that haven't changed at all.'

There's Huber's (411 S.W Third Ave.), for instance, which is an open-for-business time capsule dating to well before Pintarich's 'tavern rat' heyday.

Then there's Kelly's Olympian (426 S.W. Washington St.), a rock club that bears no resemblance to its earlier incarnations, except that the same old neon sign hangs outside.

Pintarich speaks disparagingly of the motorcycles that now dangle from Kelly's ceiling, but he hints that the place started to go to hell long before the recent remodel, back when management broke down and installed a women's bathroom.

There's satisfaction in running down the list of remaining relics, reciting the lost details of the musty old tavern life.

A better reason to delve into the past is the stories you pick up along the way.

'People stories are where it's at,' Pintarich says. 'People want to know what other people did in the past … and that's what I was going for, was to try and create this feeling of what it was like in the city in the old days.'

There's nothing left of some of the more fascinating places he remembers, like the lavish Hoyt Hotel, which had a floor show with dancers and an orchestra, or the tiki-themed Zombie Zulu Club.

The world inside a nightclub is not sober or serious, but I don't think trying to preserve a record of that world is a frivolous pursuit.

'It's like being a museum curator,' Pintarich says. 'You gotta gather all this stuff up before it disappears - if you can, because Portland's changed.'

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