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.
Where: 2035 SE Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., Portland Oregon
“Hey, want a seat?” The door popped open so suddenly I almost gave myself whiplash after studying the menu taped to the inner window. It was a rainy day and I’d been walking nowhere in particular. I told Emily I was “taking a walk-“ which she knows is code for “I’m going out for a walk and also maybe to get beer or snacks, but I don’t want to admit it.” Today, I had my typing machines with me and figured I’d find a quiet outdoor bar to get some work done.
Coming down Cesar Chavez, I saw a new sign seemed to replace “Trinket” overnight next to the Joe Bike Bicycle Shop. A bold chef’s knife design with the simple words “My Vice” was tacked up on the wall of an improvised patio hanging out into the parking lot- now a normal feature of restaurants in the Age of COVID.
The inside of the cafe proper was painted a dark blue and it looked closed against the grey sky, so I leaned in just to read the menu- then Tarl, the bartender and co-owner, got my attention.
“Oh! Uh.. hey, I was just looking at the menu and, um… you know what? Sure.” ”Right on, man- go around the side to the patio and take a seat, I’ll be right with you.”
It takes some serious cajones to open up a new restaurant in thee middle of a pandemic. Even more so doing it in a city positively lousy with ramen shops.
When I saw the new storefront open up and a couple faces returning time and time again, I figured it was time to take them for a spin. I hadn’t written about ramen on the blog yet, and it’s the perfect weather for a bowl of hot noodles.
After two visits, trying their most popular bowl and a bowl of what they specialize in, I walked away feeling like I had wasted my money. If I am spending money on ramen and “I could have had a better dinner with a pack of Top Ramen and fixings from my fridge” floats through my mind, that’s a bad sign.
Tossing out half of the second disappointing bowl, I decided that the place did not merit a review. Not a bad review, or a complaint on Yelp- that’s not my way.
I don’t give bad reviews, anywhere, ever- and I have good reasons why.
I hadn’t seen the windows of the bar papered up since before they opened. The vinyl logos and graphics had been up back then, but little else indicating that The Nerd Out would be a bar and not a comic book or collectibles shop. Standing outside now, the giant neon logo had since been joined by menus, flyers for events, comic-book inspired graphics for the typical restaurant notices (“Kids welcome everywhere but the bar,” “we welcome everyone,” etc.) and a host of stickers on the door. Delivery services, local clubs, reviewers that wrote about them… and one with a black top hat on it.
I gently knocked on the door. The owner, Mitch, greeted me and ushered me into the Nerd Out for the last time.