As our quest to visit a church and a bar in every state is nearing an end, it should be noted that there has never been much of a strategy or grand plan in choosing which bars to visit. We make no pretense that we’re visiting the best bar in the state. Random factors often play a much bigger role in our choice rather than, well, actual thought.
A quick internet search revealed Portland, Oregon had a number of very interesting bars. There were bars that had tiki themes and comic book themes and one that seemed to be right up our alley called Bible Club. But after fighting our way through weather and snowy roads to make it to Portland, and with reports of another storm coming, we didn’t want to go out at night there. So we didn’t. We waited for Medford.
And though we had recommendations for a couple of different places in Medford, we relied on the time honored method of “wandering the streets.” There were several brewery type places that looked nice -- but sadly, a handicap we have faced throughout the trip is that we really don’t like beer. So we walked on.
We came upon Porters, and frankly, it just looked pretty. It was obviously an older building, and in some quick internet research while writing this I found that it was built as a train depot in 1910 and has since been designated as National Historic Landmark. Post visit research also showed that Porters won a number of local awards for Best Restaurant, Best Happy Hour, and most importantly for us, they won a 2016 award for Best Cocktails. We went in.
Mindy ordered the “Made-in-Oregon,” described as “Wild Roots Oregon Marionberry infused vodka with pear puree and hazelnut liqueur.” Mindy thought it was one of the most tasty drinks she had this year. I ordered the “Classic 007” just because of the name which lured this Bond fan. (Kudos also to the upselling by bartender Blayne, who said, “You’ll have that with Belvedere?” and in a Bond mood one feels one must go with the best. It was okay.)
Something else that drew us into Porters was hearing the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special soundtrack playing outside. We went through the bar door rather than the restaurant door. The place busy, but not too crowded. We appreciated a sign welcoming “Members and Non Members” above the bar. We found a couple of seats together under the sign.
We talked to Maggie as she tended to her barback duties. She said she came to the area from Reno, Nevada about five years ago. As a high school drama student she’d visited the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, and fell in love with the area.
She took the time to answer the two questions we almost always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?” “Atmosphere” makes for a good bar, she said -- but we’ve learned to press for more with that answer, because different people are looking for different bar “atmospheres.” She said, “I think the staff should be happy and welcoming and able to talk to customers.” She said a good bar shouldn’t be too dark, but it shouldn’t be too bright either because people go to a bar to drink "because they're sad or because they want to get crazy, and they don’t want to be seen either way.”
She also appreciates music in a bar but noted that “people can be so obnoxious about music” (I think she meant people who object to anything but their own preferences). She likes a nearby place, The Gypsy Blues Bar, which has a jukebox kept up to date with the latest hits but which also includes the oldies. It’s free, but if you put in money you can get your songs to play first.
Though I assumed she would have been too young to work in bars back in Reno, she said she had worked some in the casinos, and “a casino is basically a bar,” and she said she’d observed some intemperate behavior. She said that Porters was a more upscale place, so that even when there were people who drank too much, “they’re understanding of the reasons when you cut them off.”
As for what makes for a good church, she prefaced her answer with a caveat, “I do not go, but I have been. Whoever runs the church needs to hear the opinions of the people about everything.” She suggested comment cards available to people to express opinion “ case they’re afraid to talk face to face. I think a lot of people feel judged.”
We were waiting for the food we ordered, so I talked with Greg and Liz at a table just behind us. They were celebrating Greg’s retirement after 35 years on the police force. I asked our two questions. Liz said she really didn’t know because she didn’t go to bars.
Greg had a two word answer to the question, “Cheap bar.” I asked him whether he had to deal with bars in his years as a police officer, and he replied that he had many years working day shifts, so he didn’t have to deal so much with “the drunks and the idiots.” He did allow that some bars did a better job of maintaining a “respectful atmosphere.”
As for what makes for a good church, Liz said a “good pastor.”
I asked what made for a good pastor, and Greg said, “someone who talks to you and not at you.”
Greg, Liz, and I spent some time talking about our trip, and I told about meeting Kate Braestrup and her ministry as a Chaplain on the Maine Game Warden service. Greg told me that through the years his department had been well served by a good chaplain, someone who was “one of the guys.”
I talked to another couple who was out for a celebration. Amber and Rick were sitting down the bar, celebrating Rick’s 30th birthday. I asked them our two questions. Amber answered, not surprisingly, that “atmosphere” is what made for a good bar, so I asked what made for good atmosphere. She said, “Friendly, quick service, that’s really it.” Amber said she’s worked in the service industry, and if service isn’t up to par, “I start judging.”
Rick said, “It’s all about the bartender, one hundred percent.” He appreciates a bartender who will make a connection instead of thinking of customers “as just another tab,” someone who will “make you the best drink of the night.”
Amber allowed then that it wasn’t just about the staff, she does appreciates “top drinks,” which is what brings them back every few months to Porters.
As for what makes for a good church, Amber said, “An accepting, family atmosphere, not pressuring regardless of personal choices.”
Rick was hesitant about answering the question because he doesn’t go to church. As a kid he was forced to go church, but he was never told why, which was the main problem for him in going to church. He said he has a problem with churches that “push religion, and there is only right or wrong with no grey zone. They should be understanding of different walks of life and understand where they’re coming from.”
So once again, without much thought or effort, we found ourselves in a delightful place with delightful, thoughtful people. That’s only happened about forty-nine times before on this trip.