Drinking at a Crossroads: Neighborhood Bar Tour 2005-2006
About this series: As you may have read recently, the city of Portland is at a “crossroads.” One path leads to a “yuppie playground,” where everyone lives in a condo and considers kayaking a fun leisure activity. Down the other lies the Socialist Revolution liberal newspaper editors secretly hope for. I mean dread. We dread that.
Anyway, in at least one respect, Portland is at an important intersection. City officials will soon consider zoning changes aimed at keeping bars out of residential areas. The direction the city takes from here will have a profound effect on our cultural and social lives for years to come.
Are neighborhood bars a scourge that must be stamped out before good citizens who drink in the privacy of their own homes see their property values slip from quintuple to merely quadruple what they originally paid? Or are local pubs the key links that keep our community together and make the six months of frigid dusk at this latitude tolerable?
The Bollard is launching a special investigative series called Drinking at a Crossroads: Neighborhood Bar Tour 2005-2006. Our staff will travel — on foot or by designated driver — to neighborhood bars throughout the area and conduct in-depth research to help us answer these important questions, or at least better understand whatever the hell the regulars at these places are mumbling to themselves all day.
501 Washington Ave., Portland
Howie’s Pub is a friendly neighborhood sports bar in East Deering. It stands like a sentinel overlooking the on- and off-ramps connecting Washington Avenue to Interstate 295, just off the peninsula via Tukeys Bridge.
I’d driven past this bar hundreds of times over the years without stopping in for a beer. Not only was East Deering not my neighborhood, but I wasn’t entirely sure how to get inside Howie’s, perched as it is atop a high embankment with no visible parking lot. (Turns out there’s parking on Veranda Street and a small lot in the back, behind Espans Quick Lunch.)
I finally figured this out a few weeks ago, and walking in for the first time, I was immediately glad I did. Formerly called Stacks, the pub under Howie’s ownership is cleaner and less intimidating than I’d been led to believe from sources familiar with its prior incarnation. In fact, Howie’s is not intimidating at all. It’s a welcoming place with what you might even call a “family atmosphere,” assuming your family likes cheap beer, televised sports, darts and video bowling.
Howie’s isn’t a big place, but it doesn’t feel cramped. There are three small tables jutting out from a shelf that runs along one wall, opposite a bar with a dozen or so stools. Sports and beer promotional posters are the principal decoration.
The menu is basic pub grub: fried appetizers, burgers and pizza. Quality-wise, the food is edible but mediocre, with a couple exceptions. (Note: I cannot vouch for the burger, as neither I nor my companions ordered one during our visits.) The wings are a waste of time – small and unsauced, even the “hot” variety needs dousings of Tabasco to attain flavor. The pizza, however, is excellent, and like everything on the one-page menu, it’s cheap, starting under $6 with one topping. (Howie’s runs a two-for-one pizza special on Monday nights – eat-in only, “no doggie bags.”)
The beer is also reasonably priced. There’s PBR, Geary’s Pale and a couple varieties of Shipyard on tap, among others. The bottle and can selection runs from Schlitz to your favorite skunk-flavored, green-bottled import. There’s a full bar.
My only complaint is a familiar one to folks who’ve been following the Neighborhood Bar Tour. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded TouchTunes video jukebox. Howie’s has a floor model that calls itself “America’s Jukebox” (can we sue TouchTunes for that?).
Early on a recent Saturday evening, there was no house music on and every TV muted. Entertaining as it was to hear Howie joshing with the regulars about the Sox, I suddenly felt the urge to hear some British psychedelic prog rock.
If I’m getting five credits for $2, and have to blow two credits to hear a song I haven’t memorized already, I’m gonna get my money’s worth and make a point in the process. Thus the bar was treated to Floyd’s nine-minute live version of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” from the utterly un-hummableUmmagumma, followed by Yes’ “Gates of Delerium,” a nearly 22-minute mess from Relayer.
(This may be just the strategy we need to rid Portland bars of this scourge. Every time you see a TouchTunes juke, play epic prog rock or experimental psych. For example, play “Echoes,” from Floyd’s Meddle – clocking in at 23:27 – followed by, say, “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict,” also from Ummagumma, sandwiched between a couple 20-minute cuts from Yes’ Tales from Topographic Oceans. Note: You may need to flee the premises before this set’s conclusion.)
Howie’s has live music every two weeks or so. Portland bar-rock stalwarts the Kopterz play fairly regularly (their next gig is June 10), and the next few weeks feature acts like Kingpin (May 20) and the Dirty McCurdy Band (June 24).
If you live in East Deering, Howie’s is a must. If you’re just passing through, it’s worth a stop. Howie himself is usually there, running one of the most personable neighborhood bars in town. You’ll be glad you found it.
— Chris Busby
Howie’s is open Mon.-Sat. from 11 a.m.-1 a.m. During football season, the pub opens on Sun. from noon-8 p.m.