I’ve been on the west coast of the United States for the past week, fulfilling a tiny part of a lifelong dream of driving down the west coast of the Americas. This was only about 1200 kilometres of that dream, from Cannon Beach, Oregon, to San Francisco, but…baby steps. It’s the first proper road trip I’ve done in quite a while, too.
We got up at 3:30 AM due to our flight time and the continuing recommendation that people show up for even domestic flights 3 hours early. The cab ride was quick, as it always is at this time of day. At the airport, we were moved from one security line to the other which ended up benefitting us and so we were through security fairly quickly. As with all but one time I’ve been to the airport in the last three or four years, we didn’t need to be so early. (Of course, there was that one other time when we had to be pulled out of the security line…) We had a breakfast at one of those tablet restaurants and mine was super salty.
We flew on West Jet for the first time in a while. And…they didn’t have personal TVs on their chairs. For someone like me, who does not own a smart phone, this sucks. It’s a reminder of the bad old days on planes. I had also eaten a chili dog for dinner the night before so the flight kind of sucked.
We got to Calgary to discover two things I didn’t know, one of which I just may not have remembered: First, if you fly domestic in Canada and then fly to the States, you have to go through security a second time. (Living in Toronto, we don’t normally have to do internal connections so I am not used to this.) This would have sucked but we got pulled out of line for a screening and ended up in the NEXUS line. (Every time this happens to Jenn and I it actually speeds up our trip through security.) Second, the US departure terminal at the Calgary airport is way nicer than the rest of the airport. It’s just a really, really nice airport.
The plane to Portland was much smaller as you would expect for a short flight. We flew over the Rockies and then a really dry area of Idaho or Washington. I know that Osoyoos is at the top of the Colombian Plateau but I’m not sure I fully grasped how much of an actual Plateau it is, or how dry it is even south of there. (When I visited Seattle I both flew in and flew out at night, so I never saw it.) For those of us used to crossing BC’s multiple mountain ranges, it’s weird to fly over the Rockies and then get confronted with this big flat space before you get to the Cascades. Landing in Portland, we got a good view of Mount Hood, though we didn’t know it at the time. One of the things I didn’t appreciate about Portland until I got there was how many major mountains you can see from the city.
The first thing we noticed when we got off the plane was how hot it was. We couldn’t help avoid noticing it because we disembarked on the tarmac, something that happens all the time in countries other than Canada but which I always forget about until I have to do it again. We knew it was going to be hotter than normal, but holy shit it was hot. High of 33 or 34 the first day.
We were both zonked, having not slept very well and gotten up at 12:30AM local time, so we decided to take a cab to the hotel instead of Portland’s Red Line, which runs from the airport to just about near our hotel. This turned out to be mistake, as it was “Game Day” and apparently our very expensive cab ride was actually not as bad as it could have been given the date and the Timbers game.
I had become increasingly concerned about how far our hotel was from downtown before we got there. I had booked it mostly on price. As we drove through downtown and out the other side I started to worry – we were on the other side of an interstate – and then when I saw the hotel I got more worried, as it looked pretty rundown. However, not for the last time on this trip, a hotel surprised. Not only was the room totally fine, we had an incredible view of Portland. Moreover, the hotel is located just on the outside corner of Portland’s northwest, which turned out to be be a good place for us to stay.
So we headed out along 23rd, which turned out to be an excellent choice despite how arbitrary it was. It’s one of the major streets in the city for restaurants and bars. We walked down the entirety of the part that has those things and Jenn got a coffee. We went to get ice cream but the line was so long that I just couldn’t handle it.
We walked this way in order to head to The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium and Museum, one of the things that certainly makes Portland “weird.” It’s a small museum/store that specializes in weird stuff, with a vague supernatural theme to it, but not exclusively supernatural. This is one of the exhibits you get to participate in:
Then we headed back up 23rd in the direction of our hotel to visit a Monkish popup. Yes, it’s weird the first “brewery” we visited in one of the capitals of Craft Beer was a brewery from another state but, what are you going to do? The beer was excellent and was, either fortunately or unfortunately, the best beer overall we’d try the entire trip. (I say ‘fortunately’ because we got to try it and ‘unfortunately’ because here we were in one of the centres of craft beer around the world and the beer just wasn’t mind-blowing.) In particular, their barrel-aged barley wine (at a whopping 17.3%) was one of the best beers I’ve ever had in my life.
We had a flight plus a goblet of that barley wine so we needed to eat, a little bit earlier than we would have normally. We found our way to a buzzed about fried chicken place. Fortunately, it was earlier enough that we were basically the only customers in there when we got there. We shared two sandwiches and some of their potato wedges. The food was awesome.
Given that we were in Portland, we decided to try another brewery. So we went to Von Ebert, one of the breweries recommended to me and much closer to where we were than Great Notion. (We never made it to Great Notion in part because it is off by itself, on the northwest side of town, but near nothing else we were visiting.)
The experience at Von Ebert was not good, and it had nothing to do with the beer.
We came here because I was told this was one of the best breweries in Portland and because it was closer to where we were than Great Notion.
We arrived to find it extremely busy for the Timbers game. I was looking forward to it. There are banners all over the bar showing off the beer awards they have won. The menu was accessible via QR code, a common tactic since the pandemic. This is a common annoyance for me, as I don’t own a smartphone, but Jenn obviously has one and we used it. Basically every other place we’ve been to with these QR menus except the airport lets you order in person but here they want you to order using that same menu. We figured we could make it work.
My first trip to the bar to get help was to ask about the sizes of the bottles. There were a bunch of bottles on the menu but they had no sizes. The prices seemed like they might be for 500ml or 750ml (wine-bottle size) if we were lucky. The bartender didn’t know but found one for me and confirmed the price. I went back to our table.
We decided, based on the bottle prices that we would do flights. But the flights were greyed out on the digital menu with no explanation. So we decided to assemble our own. We picked six samples, but the menu did not make it easy. The samples didn’t have descriptions, only the full pours did, so we had to keep going back up to read the descriptions. You had to click through to read the descriptions. Sometimes, when you clicked through, it added the full pour to the cart. So Jenn had another browser open with their beer list so we could read the descriptions and select the samples.
The system would not accept our Canadian credit cards. Jenn does not use Apple Pay because we don’t need it in Canada. We couldn’t place our order.
So my second trip to the bar was to order the samples. However, the bartender told me they couldn’t provide me with a flight paddle because they don’t do flights on “Game Day.” (This is why they were greyed out on the menu.) I am a clumsy dude and there is no way I am carrying 6 sample glasses across a crowder bar without incident. I go to breweries and bars and restaurants so that servers will do that for me.
I went back to the table and told Jenn that we were not getting a flight unless we both went up at the same time and carried the drinks back. I wanted to leave. She persuaded me to split a bottle.
My third trip to the bar was to order a single bottle. They gave me one glass for it and I didn’t ask for another because there is no way I am carrying a bottle plus two beer glasses across a crowder bar without incident.
The beer was good. I drank from the bottle, she drank from the glass. She liked it more than me but that’s probably because I was grumpy.
When we finished the beer we went to Deschutes. Deschutes was busy, though possibly not as busy as Von Ebert. At Deschutes, a server came to our table and served us a flight and a beer. She checked in on us several times. Based on my flight, I suspect Von Ebert’s beer is better (at least the stuff they are currently serving in the brewpub). But the experience at Deschutes was miles better, it felt like we were at a restaurant, treated as diners, even though we didn’t order any food. At Von Ebert, we were another sale, and clearly not the right sale.
Had Von Ebert operated like any other brewery or restaurant, we would have stayed and spent a bunch of money. I suspect would have gone on a beer app and given good ratings to their beers. I would have tipped well. (I still tipped well because it’s not the bartender’s fault the system is stupid. But the tip would have been bigger because the cheque would have been much bigger.)
Instead, we went to a competitor and had worse beer but much better service.
It’s possible my experience of Von Ebert would have been completely different had we not shown up on “Game Night.” But we had no idea that the bar is a major pre-game destination for the Timbers. What we found instead was a bar clearly trying to optimize its profits by having fewer staff, to take advantage of volume of customers, especially on “Game Night.” I understand lots of bars do this and it works for them.
But this is supposed to be a brewery first, not just a brewpub. If the beer is important, the beer tourists should be at least a little important, right? We went to a bunch of brewpubs on this trip and every single one of them treated us much better than Von Ebert. You know I don’t bitch about restaurant/bar service much, if ever. I’m not that person. I tip well and I don’t expect much. But I will never know if Von Ebert is a great brewery because they’ve decided that what they care about is “efficiency.”
Okay, so that rant is over. The beer at Deschutes was mostly extremely middling, except for a pseudo Geuze. But it really was a much better experience. We cabbed home because we have been up for like 20 hours at this point.