The M&J Tavern has stood on the corner of Greenwood and Hill collecting colorful stories for the past 70 years. The tavern, which has changed hands six times, opened in 1947, just after World War II, when Bend's population was barely 11,000. They only served beer and wine back then and their patrons were primarily railroaders and loggers.
Occasionally the soldiers staying in Sunriver would venture into town to visit the red light district hidden behind the buildings on Greenwood, and then head into the M&J for a 10-cent glass of beer. The bar was named after the first owners, Margaret and Jack Christiansen, who sold the business to Mel and Esther Viele after only a year. The Vieles kept it for two years and then sold it to Freddie Vance. Freddie was sick during his ownership and asked his regular bartender and friend, Glen Ennen, to manage it for him. When Freddie passed away in 1949, Glen and his wife, Gladys Ennen Neth, purchased the tavern from Freddie's heirs.
The Ennens owned the tavern for almost 20 years. In an interview from 1978, Gladys said they, "kept it strictly a family tavern. It was the kind of place a man could bring his wife, and a woman could come alone." She explained, "If a stranger went up to a woman we'd ask her if she wanted to be bothered. If not, he'd have to leave her or out he went."
hile the Ennens brought a friendly family atmosphere, they also experienced the most tragic history of the space. Glen Ennen was shot and killed by an armed robber in 1969. The next year Gladys Ennen sold the tavern to Jack and Nancy McDermott.
The McDermotts knew the tavern's regulars liked things to stay the same, but in the 70s they made a big change, switching the bar top to its current cream speckled melamine. Today the melamine edges have smoothed over the years, from patrons leaning their forearms across the bar to imbibe. In 1983 the McDermotts sold the bar to Rick and Pam Whittemore. Rick said he purchased it because he had been doing residential design and found himself out of work. He said, "I need a job. I figured the bar was always there. It was either that or cut hair, I guess. It always seemed like the bars always did well no matter what the economy was, so I thought that was the best option."
Rick was able to buy the building in the early 90s, so he hasn't had to worry about commercial rents increasing—likely a very real reason why the M&J Tavern was able to reach its 70th birthday.
The M&J Tavern has seen a lot of changes over the years. In 2007 it started selling liquor and in 2009 Oregon banned workplace smoking. Many of the regulars remember when there was a two-way mirror so you could see into the adjacent Laundromat (also owned by the Whittemores). There were many times people doing their laundry had no idea they were being watched. Bar guests would giggle as they caught someone picking their nose.
CJ Hitchcock, the current bar manager, told me the philosophy at the M&J is "If it isn't broke, we don't fix it." They have a vintage phone booth, which regulars liked to use until it got too backed up with coins. They called the phone company to fix it but instead of fixing the phone, the company took it, saying it was a relic of another time. Today the phone booth sits in the corner as a reminder of the past, also serving as a water station. You can also find a vintage cigarette machine, one of the few left—if not the only one—in Central Oregon.
One thing is for sure: the tavern is a comfortable, welcoming space. Everyone who comes in is greeted warmly, most by their first name. CJ said, "We try to offer a little bit of everything for everybody." A few things you might not know about the M&J Tavern: it hosts a great open mic night where many local bands got their start. It has over 220 bottles of tequila, the largest selection in Central Oregon. It doesn't have a blender, so margaritas are on the rocks. You can order the kind of bar food that sticks to your ribs, or have a pizza from Old Towne delivered to the bar.
M&J Tavern has been called Bend's best-kept secret. If you haven't discovered it yet, there will be a seat at the bar when you're ready.
M&J Tavern 70th Anniversary Celebration
Saturday April 15th at 11am until Sunday April 16th at 1:30am
102 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend