June 11, 2010 by John Chilson
Continuing the “before they were famous” look at popular breweries and bars, the Produce Row Café has a bit of a different twist. Where many breweries are now housed in much older buildings that had completely different uses, current owners are taking the venerable, thriving beer establishment and completely revamping it.
A bit of a background if you don’t know the story: Originally opened in 1974, the restaurant was the first McMenamins pub which helped set the course for Portland’s eventual Beervana title. Sold in 1978, then most recently to current owner Alan Davis, the bar will continue to offer thirsty Portlanders top-notch craft beers, drinks and food.
If you’re a fan of local jazz, you’ve probably seen Ron Steen play in an admittedly small [but cozy] space. In fact, he’s been performing every Monday at Produce Row for 17 years with his jazz jam.
“Ron is just as much of a fixture as anything else,” says Davis. “One of the benefits of the renovation is that the space will be much more conducive to having music. What we used to do is have to clear out a big section of the tables and the band would take over but that didn’t allow for a lot of people.”
In fact, here’s a review of Steen’s Monday night jam, probably from the early 1990s [it also mentions an acoustic set by Heatmiser]:
Davis says the building was built in 1951 and from looking at the records there was some type of café on the same location, a barbershop at one point and then Produce Row café, founded in 1974. Like anything else, prices were a bit cheaper than now.
“We found a flyer that has got to be when the bar first opened in 1974 – it has coupons on the bottom that featured two burgers for 35 cents,” says Davis.
While the iconic ‘shroom logo and signage is being retired, Davis is embracing Produce Row’s cobble-stone ambience in the new space through the use of recent torn-up train tracks and ties from the neighborhood and incorporating them into design elements in the back patio.