Oregon Tavern Age: Red Meat Memory

An ESPN talk show played. No sound. Thank Christ. I didn’t have to hear terrible grammar. A man doesn’t want to hear that when he’s drinking in a dive bar.

Another talk show played on another monitor. No sound. A picture of a Kardashian was on. Which one? I didn’t know nor would I ever know. The host was no doubt talking about the Kardashian Ass Conglomerate Empire. I didn’t want to hear that drinking a beer in dive bar. No man does.

I sipped a craft malt liquor. I looked around the joint. In a previous lifetime it was a dive Mexican restaurant with a dive lounge that was certainly an OTA hangout. Yes, there was and is such a thing—OTA country in Mexican restaurant lounges. The same held and holds true in some Chinese restaurant lounges

This place, however, no longer qualified as OTA country. That ended long ago. Wimp rock played through the speakers. They used to call it easy listening music. Non OTA people were doing things on their phones. An old lady played video slots.

Oh to seen the heyday of this OTA Mexican restaurant lounge in what used to be a working class neighborhood. You ate the suspect burrito, you drank cheap beer and rotgut margaritas, and you were shitting your pants on the drunk drive home.

I don’t have an OTA Mexican restaurant lounge story, either in Portland or at the Oregon Coast. But I do have one for a Chinese restaurant lounge, in the Rose City, 30 something years ago when the Portland was cheap, gray, and sleepy and the homeless drank fortified wine, didn’t play on their phones, and didn’t make art.

The story goes like this: it went down in the Hungry Tiger, just off SE Burnside and 28th, I think. (I will not Google for confirmation.) It was 1988 or 89 and I was living off SE Belmont. The Hungry Tiger was even then a legendarily dive Chinese Restaurant because of its cheap food and fishbowls of boozy drinks. They must have had 10 or 15 on the menu, all colors of the rainbow, and you were only allowed to purchase one because I suspect each drink—if drink is the word—contained 6-7-8 shots of liquor. I never ordered one but often watched customers consume a bowl and then barely make it out the door.

I was just beginning my teaching career then, and occasionally graded papers in the Hungry Tiger or other inner SE joints on weekend afternoons. I had a little circuit and I always walked.

One afternoon, I was sitting at the bar of the Hungry Tiger, drinking a beer, grading something, when an OTA man walked in, stood at the bar next to me. A bartender emerged. The man ordered a raw meat patty on a white plate. He said he wanted to see the blood run.

Incredibly, the order was accepted, and without any hesitation. The man sat down. He did not order a drink. I looked at him. He stared straight ahead. I no longer recall precisely what he was wearing, but I do have a vague recollection he wore a suit of some kind.

The order arrived. The man ate the patty with his hands. He did not use a napkin. I am not making this up. He paid his bill, stood up, and walked out of the Hungry Tiger. I wasn’t writing in those days, except in my journal, but I knew one day I would write about this incident, and here I am 30 or so years later doing so for no other reason that it simply must be documented. As I look back on it now, it was one of my first brushes with OTA life in Portland, but there were more and I hope to recount some of them later. The hi jinks at Kelly’s Olympia certainly deserve some ink.