Saturday, June 20, 2015

Kelly's Olympian - The Original Portland Dive Bar

 A Portland Original
I'm kind of a weird history buff. I like old buildings, classic architecture, gritty downtown areas, and ancient dive bars. Old, odd, quirky, haunted; any combination really piques my interest, but give me all four and I feel like I've struck gold.

Kelly's Olympian is one of the best dive bars in the city of Portland--and one of the first. The bar opened 102 years ago and has been operating continuously as a liquor emporium ever since--even during the Prohibition Era as a speakeasy. The building is certainly teeming with history. There's apparently a sealed up entrance to the notorious Shanghai Tunnels in the basement that I would love to see for myself. What are the Shanghai Tunnels, you ask? Only about the creepiest part of Portland history EVER!

The Shanghai Tunnels were a legendary series of underground caverns that linked numerous restaurants, bars and hotels with various houses of debauchery and dens of iniquity during the lawless days of Portland’s early history. The tunnels are allegedly haunted by the ghosts of unfortunate young men who were slipped knockout drops and subsequently dropped through trapdoors into underground cells, where they waited to be shipped off as unwilling crew members on merchant ships to China. There is actually a company here in Portland that provides tours of the Shanghai Tunnels. You can find more information about that HERE.

When you walk inside this most recent incarnation of Kelly's Olympian, there's no remaining evidence of the tunnels, or any creepy vibe. The first thing likely to catch your eye will be a number of antique motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and quite a few vintage neon filling station signs decorating the walls. There's an Evel Knievel helmet mounted above a flatscreen behind the bar. The bar spans almost the entire length of the interior space. I like that. I've never had a problem finding a stool to park my butt on at Kelly's Olympian.

In many other parts of the country, you'll find nothing but mega-corp beer on tap at traditional bars. Bud, Miller and Coors, oh my. Gratefully, almost every bar in Portland serves up some highly palatable local beer. The tap list at Kelly's Olympian is actually quite stellar. Offerings like Boneyard RPM, Laurelwood Free Range Red, Alameda Yellow Wolf--heck, I counted 24 taps behind that bar! Truly, a nice, eclectic selection, and they do have Bud, Coors and Rainier for people who don't know any better.

They have a full menu of tasty pub grub and a very affordable happy hour. Friendly, professional service. The bartenders at Kelly's Olympian actually know how to pour a beer properly, too! It's always a gold star in my book when a pint is presented to me with an appropriately perfect head.

I love this bar. I started dropping in when I was commuting from NE to a job in Beaverton. I sometimes got tired mid-commute and had to get off that damn MAX for a cold brewski or two. I liked to imagine that some working stiff sat on a stool in exactly the same spot 100 years ago, with an identical appreciation for the soothing suds he was sipping.

Kelly's Olympian is located in downtown Portland, near Pioneer Courthouse Square, at 426 SW Washington Street, Portland, OR. Check out their website for menus, tap list and a calendar of entertainment.

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