I arrived in Newport mid-afternoon, parked the car outside the hotel. The sound of Newport was the sound of screeching seagulls and barking sea lions, while the smell was of the briny sea and rotting fish (down on a deck below the harbour a seagull pecked at a salmon’s head), alongside the catch of roasting coffee, intense, smoky, burnt and toasty.
Across the Yaquina Bay, Rogue Brewery sat, an establishment whose beers I had enjoyed for years, but today it felt too late to head in its direction, though also too early to park myself on a stool at a bar.
The previous night I had stayed in Astoria, where I’d visited Buoy and finally worked out the constituents of the West Coast IPA (onion/chive hop character and this was 2015 after all) and enjoyed a run through some of its excellent beers in the company of barking sea lions outside. Later on I’d walked past a house that had appeared in The Goonies and drank more beer at Fort George brewery tap and then gone to a late night bar with the head brewer to drink more beer.
I was also going to drink beer in Newport, after I’d wandered around with my notebook — I was on a travel magazine assignment, rather than just a mere boozing trip. Work done, around about 5pm, I visited what looked like a locals’ bar, maybe a dive, definitely a favourite with the town’s fishermen, some of whose boats sat idle in the harbour, returned from the vast deeps of the Pacific.
When I travel in the USA, I always set myself a challenge. That I will go into a locals’ bar and order a pint of Bud or Miller or even Pabst, that I will drink what the others drink. I had set myself the challenge during a previous trip to Vermont in a town called Rutland, which I wouldn’t bother visiting if I was you. Sadly I failed miserably in a lively sports bar as I ordered a beer from Magic Hat and bought some Dog Fish Head for my hotel room.
So there I was in Newport, with Bud Light and Molson-Coors on the bar tap, Paint It Black on the juke box, Fox News with the sound down on one TV, baseball on another. Once again I flunked my challenge by ordering a beer from Rogue and as I drunk it I noted a friendly but extremely inebriated man being politely told that he was barred. He reminded me of Dean Martin’s character in Rio Bravo.
Now though it was time to drink deeply of Rogue so I went to its Bayfront Public House and this is where those surprises and stories that mark out the pub and bar experience came to life. I ordered an IPA and a man at the bar, who was slightly swaying, turned to me and asked me if I was English. We started chatting.
‘I’m very proud of my English heritage,’ he told me. It was either his grandfather or great grandfather who had come out west and made something good of himself. ‘Have you heard of so and so?’ I was asked, an unremarkable town in the north west of England whose name sounds like a low comedian who had a TV series in the 1970s. ‘It’s a fine place and I intend to go there one day.’
I muttered something, but my thoughts were rather, shall we say, less complimentary about his intended place of pilgrimage, but I was a guest. As these kind of evenings do, when we are not expecting anything to happen, stories flew backwards and forwards, and more beer was ordered. Meanwhile, Dean Martin from Rio Bravo staggered in and was served this time. He was a fisherman, who’d come ashore that day, and was drinking away his profits.
Meanwhile, my new friend said to me, in between continuing to declare the delights of this town in the north west, that he was having ‘just one more’ and the evening continued on its very pleasing trajectory. The next day I was driving to Portland for a couple of nights and a different kind of experience, but this night’s drinking in Newport OR was that kind of serendipity that you don’t get in many other places and which is why as soon as this nasty virus is done my travel plans will start again.