Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Tavern At The End Of The Street



We measure things in lifetimes, and not necessarily long ones. Even a five-year-old talks about things she's known her whole life. It's hard to take the long view, if you're a human, which is why we're sucking up all the fossil fuel as fast as we can just in case we wreck our climate beyond redemption later. It's just the way we are.

Right down on the corner, there used to be a terrific little restaurant called Bernie's Southern Bistro, with a faithful staff and a friendly outdoor patio, and if you wanted to get your blood congealed to bacon-grease consistency, this was just the place to do it. Hush puppies, blackened catfish, fried okra, fried green tomatoes, fried pickles...you could get a salad. A "Fat Boy Salad." Everyone loved the place and now it's gone.

The owners of the building had renovations in mind. So for a couple years now it's been accumulating layers of graffiti, and finally now it's being stripped to the rafters. Plenty of young people talk about the old Bernie's as though it were a Portland institution, and for a short lifetime, if you're twenty, it was. But before it was Bernie's it was the Chez What? before the Chez What? moved down the street and then folded.

And before that, back when the street ambience ran more to plywood and iron window bars, it was Johnny's Jar Room, noted--although not widely--for serving beer in Mason jars. And before that it was the Homestead Tavern. It was the Homestead when we moved in 42 years ago. Our dog Boomer used to waltz in there for a bowl of Heidelberg and the barkeep would call us up to fetch her back. Boomer didn't smoke but if she had she could've done it right at the bar. Stuff changes.



Naturally, like everyone else, we figured that was all there was to know about 2904 NE Alberta Street, because history begins with us. But that was before the siding was removed, revealing a spiffy Coca-Cola mural dating from 1948. The owners had no idea it was there but it can't be saved on account of the high lead content of the paint. The nanny state doesn't allow unabated lead because it could lead to lower intelligence in children who might then grow up to believe wearing face-masks in a pandemic is sissified or treasonous, and we can't have that. Below the Coca-Cola mural was BILLY ROWE'S in gigantic lettering. As it turns out, Billy Rowe and his wife Doris owned the tavern in 1943, despite being Mormons, although God smote them for it years later, when they both died in a head-on crash. The churchly allegiance of the oncoming vehicle's driver is unknown.
I guess it was Duke's tavern after that, and no one seems to know when the mural was sided over, even though it happened well within Dave's lifetime and he grew up ten blocks away. We forget. We forget. It's just the way we are.

Now, before the new fa├žade goes up, we can see the massive old planks of the building, presumably original, dating back to 1922, when the streetcar ran through. But squint harder at those planks and you can see what really came before: old-growth Douglas fir forest, home to life in crazy abundance, razed and ruined not that many lifetimes ago, never to return. We forget. We forget.





26 comments:

  1. Heartbreakingly true. We do forget. Sometimes deliberately.

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    1. Or we are made to forget--deliberately. Still, it's on us.

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  2. What a compelling read & tragic look back at one establishment; l loved how you peeled the layers back here Murr, especially with that awesomely toxic Coca-Cola sign (and the lurid details of an earlier owner’s demise below that)! But boy does that giant tree at the end say it all...

    Anyway, for all we know the ghostly apparitions of Billy & Doris Rowe are saluting each other with a couple of tall suds, now that they’re finally remembered again after 75 years. Cheers, you bar owning Mormons :^)

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  3. I do my damnedest to forget some things that I loved about the past, lest my heart break by remembering. I don't feel that this is my world anymore. It is no longer recognizable.

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  4. I have found that when a new building goes up, it is only a matter of months, sometimes even weeks, before I can no longer remember what used to be on the site. Do I need to say that I find that disturbing?

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    1. I walk everywhere. Everywhere. Which means the area right around my house I have tromped hundreds of times. But when there's suddenly a pit where a house used to be, I don't remember what was there--right now. Doesn't take me months to forget.

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  5. We certainly do forget and sometimes that's a good thing, but not when it comes to the history of buildings and what came before, or since. This particular building will always be remembered now because you have the photos right here. Well, until one day far in the future when your blog no longer exists.

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    1. Oo! You think this blog is going to be around a long time!

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  6. The cabin I live in was built in the 40s as a mom and pop resort. The daughter of the guy who built it still lives across the street and she is 85. How long will we know these things? Not much longer I would guess.

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    1. This exact thing happens to be the subject of an upcoming post here! (I haven't written it yet.)

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  7. Wonderful essay.

    You've put it all on the internets now and the internets never forget.

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    1. (I was just trying to think if I had a nudie shot on the internet.)

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    2. Was that recently or a while ago?

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    3. Was that recently or a while ago?

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    4. I don't think there is one. On the internet. Except of course this one.

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  8. All the way back to the trees like we go all the way back to tadpoles.

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  9. I have just finished a virtual walk around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. OLD buildings. buildings built with stones from older buildings that were destroyed. Ancient stone forts built without mortar - just rocks stacked together in tall walls that were five feet thick. The rocks will still be here after this silly human race breeds itself into extinction. I was wondering about the stories they could tell, but then I realized that they would tell them
    v-e-r-y s--l--o--w--l--y.

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    1. Well, thank goodness it was a virtual tour. This close to the Winter Solstice, you could have ended up 200 years in the past!*

      *(Geeky reference to the Outlander series.)

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    2. It's also cool to see the concave dips in the landscape in some parts of the Southwest and realize they are all old kivas.

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    3. Most of us in the USA don't have a good feel for really old buildings as may be found in the rest of the world. The oldest buildings some of us have seen are the pueblos. We build such temporary structures. Even now, there is a fight waging in nearby Wichita over the fate of two 50+ years old buildings - a performing arts building and a library. I find the architecture of both, beautiful; but, developers wish to bulldoze them so that they can make their fortunes, larger, by getting the city to finance their awkward, new dreams.

      The oldest building in which I have been was in my overnight business trip to Montreal during which we were hosted at an old, underground pub for dinner.

      P.S. I had kiva fireplaces in my Albuquerque home - not that I burned in them much, what with the (wonderfully scented pinon) smoke emissions.

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    4. "A kiva is a room used by Puebloans for rites and political meetings, many of them associated with the kachina belief system. Among the modern Hopi and most other Pueblo people, kivas are a large room that is circular and underground, and are used for spiritual ceremonies." Per Wikipedia

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  10. I adore the history from old architecture. Thanks for sharing yours.

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