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Food & Drink » Beer & Drink

An Ode to the Tugboat

Portland's oddest brewery closes

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n a Pearl District back alley in Portland is a bar. A dark bar, one that seems to exist on a different plane from the sun and heat of the current PNW summer. One that ostensibly was a brewery, but few went there for that. And one that, as of this past Monday, is closed, located in too decrepit of a building to continue.

"The kindness and generosity of my customers has been absolutely mind-boggling," said Linsel Greene, on his final night behind that bar at Tugboat. "I'm struggling to answer questions I keep getting, like 'what's next?' when all I can think about is how difficult it is for me to say goodbye to an old friend."

Tugboat Brewing, which opened on 711 SW Ankeny in 1996, is a holdout from when the Rose City was not a hip place for the young and rich to move to The chairs creak. The floor occasionally has foreign matter on it. But it also has a charm that no urban-chic beer bar — of which Portland has dozens, could boast. The small, subdued space is lined with shelves of old books and board games. The walls feature décor straight out of the best thrift store ever, from old album covers to a piece of barbed wire from the Korean DMZ. There's also an Emmy award, won by Greene's father for directing TV in the 1970s.

This lived-in charm, however, stems in part from being located in a very lived-in building. More like caving-in, actually. The Stewart Hotel building—which also houses a mom-and-pop convenience store and Mary's Club, the oldest strip joint in the city—is a throwback to old Portland in ways the tourist board doesn't like to advertise. The tenements on the upper floors, best viewed from across the street at the Upper Lip bar, look more at home in Jakarta than atop some of this city's most expensive real estate.

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t was here that an arson fire started in March. Tugboat avoided the fire itself, but suffered extensive damage nonetheless, with water seeping into the carpet and the ceiling falling on the bar space. It reopened in June, but disaster struck: the city's Bureau of Development Services ruled the building was too structurally unsound to house apartments. "The Bureau stepped in and demanded an evacuation of all hotel tenants," Greene said, "and the company that insures the bar claims that the business is uninsurable in this location. So the bar's closing."

Nobody will remember the Tugboat for its beer—it produced the 13 percent Chernobyl Stout, a surefire showstopper, but saw more business off its extensive guest-tap lineup. The local block houses far better beer options, from Bailey's across the alley to Kelly's Olympian, the nearby 1902-era dive with a surprisingly large tapwall (and Untappd Verified Venue status). But Tugboat offered warmth, friendliness, and charm, the sort that some cookie-cutter brewery in a warehouse filled with IKEA furniture can't provide. "I can't imagine I'll ever have another job quite like it," Greene said, "but I can only hope I'll find something which suits me as well as the Tugboat did."


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