Shuffleboard makes for strange bedfellows. Tonight my teammate—drawn at random—is Don, a white-haired old-timer with a sunny disposition helped by a decent Pabst buzz. As this is my first shuffleboard tournament, I ask Don—who has been playing at Havana West, the bar formerly Hal's Tavern, for "quite a few years"—for a little advice. "I got one word for you," Don says, squeezing my shoulder. "Win."
There are at least a dozen serviceable places to play shuffleboard in Portland, but the beautiful table at Hal's, with its smooth wood and light-up scoreboard, is widely considered the finest. The bartender tells me she's deadly serious about keeping beers away from it. "The first time I give people a warning," she says. "And then the second time I might tickle them. But I'll throw people out if I have to."
The loose crew of players who gather here for informal tournaments on Friday and Saturday nights—mostly men, mostly past retirement age—like to say the table is "faster than snot." They disagree on the exact date this table landed at Hal's, but the bar opened in 1944 and they figure it has been here since near the beginning. "I'm not sure," one of them tells me. "I've only been playing here since '65. Ask Dan." Dan is Dan Dobbek, who played a season with the Washington Senators before they became the Minnesota Twins. A blown-up 1960 rookie card hangs on the wall not far from where Dobbek is sitting with the same constant smile plastered on his face. He's not sure on the date of the table, either, though he may well have misheard the question.
With help from the regulars ("Use the edge!" "Throw it like you mean it!"), a particularly lucky throw, a trashed young opponent and a bye-round draw, Don and I make our way to the finals, where we lose focus and drop the game to the tune of 16-3. "Hey, we did all right," Don says, shaking my hand firmly. Later I hear him telling his friends that "this was a real good one tonight." I couldn't agree more.
SEE IT: Players at Havana West, 1308 SE Morrison St., hold informal shuffleboard tournaments most Friday and Saturday nights at 7 pm. A five-week tournament begins Tuesday, March 6, and continues every Tuesday until April 3 (with $1.50 Pabst pints during tournament play).
WEDNESDAY FEB. 22
SATURDAY FEB. 25
SUNDAY FEB. 26
MONDAY FEB. 27