Not everyone would spend one of their days off stomping through the city in the rain, through campgrounds, railroad crossings and service roads just to find a tiny ramen joint and a brewery not long for this world.
Those people aren’t me, and they surely don’t live in Portland.
If you had asked a lot of Portland small businesspeople back in 2019 about the future of Portland’s lauded, Wild-West food scene, they would have told you that food carts and food pods were on their way out.
Alas, they say, the laws and fees required by the city to maintain such a business (some seemingly to protect brick-and-mortar businesses, others just nickel and dimeing,) as well as rising property values encouraging landowners to kick out food pods in favor of development had made running a food cart involve a bit more investment, anxiety, and heartache than a lot of prospective entrepreneurs were prepared for. The rise of delivery services- accommodating of which is sometimes overwhelming for the small team of a common food truck- have also deprived newer food carts of the all-important foot traffic exposure they get from people coming into a pod to visit more-established neighbors.
Then COVID-19 came to town, and food carts were the best and safest way to do business.
By all accounts, Caldera Public House should have been my preferred local bar.
It was walking distance from my house in a historic building, had an eccentric vibe, a beautiful back patio, decent food, and hosted live Celtic music? I have even have an amusing memory about the place. Before we got married, I came home from work one day and heard Emily in the bedroom. I said “hello,” and she called out “Oh… you’re home already? Um… I’m trying on the wedding dress.”
“Ah… gotcha.” I promptly walked down to the Caldera and got a seat because, before our marriage even began, I’d been kicked out of the house and sent down to the pub for an hour.
All the same, I rarely went to Caldera Public House, and chose other bars that were closer to work or run by friends. The food at Caldera was good, but never very good. The beer list was underwhelming, and I’m rarely a “fancy cocktails” guy. Above all else, the place was just not comfortable for very long. The live bands were good, but loud. You couldn’t sit at the actual bar because there were tables in the middle of the main room, and a small reading nook in the middle of the building had the most comfortable seats, but it was frustrating to read, eat, and drink there at the same time.
When Caldera closed up even before the pandemic, I was sad but not surprised. Then, when a new sign was hung outside the door about a month ago, I wondered if someone was trying to be the neighborhood bar Caldera struggled to be.
Stammtisch- German for “regular’s table.” An information meeting of friends that happens regularly.
It’s been a while since I sat down at Stammtisch. Even before the pandemic, it didn’t seem like the kind of place that you ate or drank at by yourself. Having friends with you seemed as important to the German restaurant on 28th Ave. as large beers, pork, and spicy mustard. As it happened, I was usually alone when I worked in that neighborhood and would pass it by in favor of a quiet barstool elsewhere. Somewhere where I sit by myself, read, write, and let the afternoon slip away in solitude.
When I would go to Stammtisch with friends, the beer just tasted that much colder, the sausages that much juicier, and good things were that much more likely to happen. Case in point- the last time I remember sitting at their great slab of a bar, I had just run the Tabor Challenge 5K earlier that morning, and I was getting some dinner with my wife. We pounded delicious and decidedly non-local beers and split a warm pretzel (VERY local, having come from Fressen down the street) dipped in addictive bierkase and brown mustard. Then, after a quick trip to the john, I came back to the barstool and decided I was going to write a book.
That book will be published later this year. Stammtisch- as the name implies- is best enjoyed with friends and loved ones, and that is why I wanted to be there on my post-pandemic birthday last weekend.
It is my preferred space for book work. It is my preferred space for editing and tweaking my own work. Beyond that little ring of light and cheap wood, though, the rest of the desk is chaos. It is too comfortable. One of my culinary teachers warned us that our workspace reflects our minds- if you have a messy workspace, you have a messy mind. Beyond my laptop, thar be dragons.
When it comes to this weekly blog, I feel like I have to go mobile. The wanderlust of the “nomadic entrepreneur” seizes on me, and I need to pack everything in a satchel and “find a place to write.”
Today, my “office” of the moment is My Vice. It has cocktails and a really good beef sandwich. The table is empty except for my typing machine and a late lunch. Arguably, I could save money and do this myself by cleaning my friggin’ desk up- but what’s the fun in that?
My name is Matt Strenger, and I do a lot of writing in bars.