It is no secret that the 2013 season will be one of change for the Portland Timbers. There’s a new manager, a new system, a ton of new players, a wider pitch, and there are even new kits. These are all things that take a while for a supporter to get used to but are something we all come to terms with eventually. There’s one more big change in store for us and it is one that I frankly have been trying to ignore all offseason. It is one that has only recently popped into my mind as the preseason tournament at Jeld-Wen Field quickly approaches. It is the loss of the Bitter End Pub.
It is one thing to see your team’s leading goal scorer shown the door two seasons in a row, it is another thing to see the pub where an Army germinated close its door. We’ll survive, of course. There are other places to gather, drink, argue, and sing. There are places with better selections of beer, more appealing décor, and functioning toilets if functioning toilets are your sort of thing. The Bitter End Pub was never much about those things anyway. It was simply a place where you could go for a beer before or after a match and come away with someone you stand next to in the North End for the next 10 years.
For those old enough to remember, the Bitter End’s predecessor was called the Storm Cellar. It was a disgusting dive bar before it was trendy to be a disgusting dive bar. It was the type of place where you could walk in at 7am or 7pm and see the very same red faced older dude chain smoking at the bar. It was the type of place – and this actually happened to a friend of mine – where you could be driving down Burnside at 25mph only to have someone stagger out of the bar, smack into your car, flip over the hood, get up and continue on his way without a second look.
When the Bitter End opened it was not entirely different. The toilet functioned sometimes, the floor was a little less vomit stained, and the older dude chain smoking at the bar had to wait until 4pm to do so. It was small – it took a couple of years before the owner knocked out a wall and converted his furniture store next door into the stage/bar/pool room. It didn’t have air conditioning. It smelled of stale cigarettes and fryinator.
It did have some things going for it, too. It was right across the street from the stadium and it welcomed strange scarf wearing folks carrying pickle buckets. So we met there, at first taking up a table and over time taking over the whole place. In the early days, we would keep an eye on the stadium clock and make sure we left Five Minutes to Kickoff so that we could take our rightful places in the front of 107. At halftime, we would return for a quick pint or three before returning to the stadium for the second half (that readmittance policy didn’t last long). After the match we would sing, “We’re all going to the Bitter End Pub,” in part because we were eager for more pints and in part because it was a huge recruiting tool. If we could get you to come to the pub then Nevets and Lendog and others would give you a Cascadia Rangers business card and get you on their email list and then you were ours.
If we could get you there you also would be treated to post-game revelry that frequently involved a band named the Dolomites whose main attributes were a lead singer dressed as Spider-Man and the burning of various objects in a toilet they placed in front of the band on stage. You would sometimes get a chance to drink with the players and coaches if they were not on the front end of one of those A-league special back-to-back games. On some nights you would end up riding down the middle of Burnside in a shopping cart at 3am (fun!) and on other nights you would end up stupidly challenging the entire Indiana Blast team to a fight while they innocently ate a post-match meal outside the Kingston (not fun!).
Who wouldn’t want to be part of the Army after such times?
Our patronage earned us the privilege of being able to store the buckets and flags in the Bitter End’s basement, a place which might still house the pickled bodies of past Storm Cellar patrons. It persuaded the owners to keep the place open all night so that the masses could gather to watch the 2002 World Cup matches kick off at 4am. On some nights people were literally lined up on the sidewalk peeking in through the windows to get a glimpse of one of the small televisions. It didn’t matter that it was a lousy place to watch a soccer match. The televisions were poor and hard to see. The Bitter End was a soccer bar because it was our pub. It was the Timbers Army pub.
It was the place where we would gather once a month during the interminably long offseason to remind each other of our existence and to do things like design the very No Pity scarf that you probably have around your neck today. It was the place to convene when we mourned the loss of friends and a place to convene when we celebrated and a place to listen to Chris Agnello lie through his teeth.
This year’s closing is not the first time the pub’s doors have been locked. Back in 2004 (or so), it was closed for a while. We faced the same dilemma we face today. Where to gather before and after matches? Back then we took in a preseason match at the stadium and then did a walk around to check out perspective replacements. The Bullpen won mainly because of its back patio and because it was empty enough to handle the growing ranks of supporters. Good times were had at the Bullpen, too. Players hung with us, we painted the big ass mural, and consumed many a pint. But it was not quite the same and so when the Bitter End opened up again many of us returned, happy to be back home. The home got a little more crowded after that fateful afternoon after the City Council MLS vote and Merritt Paulson’s open tab at the pub ushered in a new era.
Admittedly, I didn’t spend as much time at the Bitter End the past few seasons as I once did. My pregame ritual of getting shitfaced at the pub has been replaced by cleaning the shit off my son. My affection for the place hasn’t changed, however. It was always reassuring to know that no matter how good or bad life was, I could walk into the pub, see old friends, meet new ones, and be part of the excitement leading up to a match.
Wherever you gather before the upcoming matches, I hope you’ll join me in lifting a glass in honor of the pub. Even if you never went there, you are a beneficiary of its place in our collective history.