So, we want to know about the “Atmosphere” in which you enjoy beer. Where is your favorite place to have a beer? When? With whom? Most importantly:
Weighty topic, and one I’m quite sure I have multiple answers to, so I’ll be rambling a bit.
In general, my favorites places to drink beer are the brewpubs themselves—especially when I get the chance to sample beers I haven’t had before. A good brewery puts a good amount of thought and effort into their drinking space, though naturally some are more successful than others.
Portland is a great place for drinking beer, there are many great places that range from a hole-in-the-wall niche up through the large full-production restaurant. Many of the McMenamins are somewhere in between, and invariably have a great atmosphere—places like Ringler’s Annex (speakeasy-style narrow basement bar), the Blue Moon (full service restaurant and pub with pool tables), or O’Kane’s (intimate, dark, cozy old building with a cast-iron woodstove) here at the Bend McMenamins.
But my very favorite place for atmosphere in Portland is the Tugboat Brewery. It’s a tiny brewpub located on Ankeny just behind Burnside and just a few blocks down from Powells Books. If it’s not the smallest brewery in Portland, it’s in the top 3 for sure. Extremely limited seating, only two or three beers on tap at any given time, a small stage, and books lining the walls all give a comfortable ambiance that is equally conducive to shooting the breeze with friends, poring over your finds from Powells up the street, or relaxing with a beer and a book from their shelf. More importantly, it’s extremely friendly and the kind of place that strikes you as being quintessentially Portland.
Outside of Portland, the Pelican Pub & Brewery is unmatched for location and atmosphere. It’s right on the beach in Pacific City—how much better a location can you get than that? I reviewed Pelican a year ago. It’s a modern brewpub, lots of wood, brick, and concrete, and sports an unparalleled view of Haystack Rock and the Pacific Ocean. Fantastic! I’ve been tempted to move to Pacific City just to have regular access to the Pelican Pub.
Imagine—sitting in the brewpub with two or three good friends, enjoying the beer on warm afternoon overlooking the beach. Watching the Dory boats come in—in Pacific City, they launch right from the beach at high tide. Kids are flying kites, adventurous individuals are body surfing, sea birds of all kinds are flocking and flying around Haystack Rock. After you’ve finished the last of your beers—perhaps an India Pelican Ale or Tsunami Stout—you can walk out the door directly to the beach and perhaps to a driftwood bonfire where a party is getting started.
On the local front, here in Bend, I rather like all of our breweries—they all have strong points—but my favorite for atmosphere is the Bend Brewing Company. I think it’s the decor as much as anything; it’s a hybrid of brewpub and ski lodge style, with lots of natural wood and large brick, accented with outdoor winter gear, and very airy. I think it best fits the vision of what I think a brewpub should look like, among the local places.
It’s authentic, and inviting, and the good beer and good food are a plus. I like to think that it’s the most local of the locals, and that’s the vibe I get when I’m there.
Of course, good company is what it’s all about, too. I can sit out on a patio with my brother or my best friend, drinking beer, with nowhere to be, and that’s as good as any brewpub visit. Beer is a social drink, after all, and some of the most enjoyable beer drinking sessions I’ve had have been with both of them—both at brewpubs (the Tugboat in particular) and just hanging around the apartment or house or wherever.
As to the "why" of all this, I don’t have an easy answer, but I hope some of it is self-evident. Why not? Better writers than I have expounded on beer’s long history and it’s social aspects and more… I kind of like to think that sometimes I just let the beer speak for itself and enjoy what I’ve got.