One of Portland's oldest, strangest, often confusing and certainly most erudite breweries is closing.
In a month, downtown's 28-year-old Tugboat Brewing——known for its vast bookshelves, collection of exotica and board games—will be no more. The last half-pint of 14 percent ABV Chernobyl Stout will pour Aug. 29, if there's any left by then, and the bar dog will close the door behind you for likely the final time.
On their website, Tugboat's owner-operators Terry Nelson and Megan McEnroe-Nelson say that it's not for lack of customers. Rather, it's the "atrocious," "decayed," "fleabag" apartments upstairs.
Tugboat was forced to close for repairs in March when a fire ripped through the upstairs Stewart Apartments, collapsing the bar's ceiling.
As an onlooker put it: "The roof didn't cave in—the ceiling fell on the floor," describing a scene with "books all ruined, carpet squelching water underfoot." A terse sign announced the bar's closure for repairs.
Tugboat recovered in June and was able to re-open, but the owners now say the conditions and frequent damages incurred by the upstairs Stewart Apartments, often home to transients, has made the bar uninsurable.
"The decayed condition and the dangerous incidents originating from the address above us, increasing in frequency and severity, forces our Portland institution to it's final month of operation, August 2017," write the owners. "Based on the damages routinely imposed on us, no insurance agency can provide us coverage. Our business was marvelous. Those overseeing the building above us: Atrocious."
A bartender at Tugboat offered additional information on a public Facebook post.
"The ancient fleabag Stewart Hotel, which sits above the bar, suffered structural damage during a fire earlier this year," wrote longtime bartender Linsel Greene. "The Bureau of buildings has stepped in and demanded an evacuation of all Hotel tenants. The company that insures the bar claims that the business is uninsurable in this location, and so the bar is going to close."
We've reached out to the bar to see whether they're likely to re-open elsewhere, but Greene sees it as unlikely.
"The owners haven't told me any plans to do something else with the name, and I don't think there's much likelihood that they'll open another bar," he wrote. "I think Terry might be done moving kegs, and I can't say I blame him. I'm pretty tired of it too."
Departed beer writer Brian Yeager first took note of Greene's post on his blog, posting an elegy to the old brewery—calling it "the most mysterious, misunderstood, and maligned brewery in Beervana."
Alongside the still-ticking Goose Hollow, Tugboat is perhaps the strongest link to a dandified vision of Portland bar that feels almost gone in Portland—a makeshift and well-read blue-collar world of the convivially opinionated and mostly self-taught. The bar's sole television screen cannot be tuned to sports by management decree. Albums from Herb Alpert and the Village People hang next to old paintings of Portland, and the beer is defiantly cloudy. Tugboat has always been personal, self-consciously eccentric and seemingly oblivious to the art of making money.
"What made us unique was our successful pursuit to remain intimate, humble and indifferent to modern marketing convention," write the Nelsons. "We wanted to be a tugboat, not an ocean liner."
Is the beer in Portland better now? Yeah, it is. But we're not better for losing Tugboat.
Here's the owners' full farewell:
Yeah, we know: it kinda sucks. Everything must come to an end.
The decayed condition and the dangerous incidents originating from the address above us, increasing in frequency and severity, forces our Portland institution to it’s final month of operation, August 2017. Based on the damages routinely imposed on us, no insurance agency can provide us coverage. Our business was marvelous. Those overseeing the building above us: Atrocious.
What made us unique was our successful pursuit to remain intimate,humble and indifferent to modern marketing convention. We wantedto be a tugboat, not an ocean liner.
How do you measure the Tugboat? It wasn’t “annual barrel production”.
It wasn’t the depth of swag inventory. It wasn’t the numbers of televisions we had fixed to sports channels. It was instead measuredby a generation of human analog encounter, unexpected, organic andappearing before you as you helped create it. Oh yeah and the multiplemillions of pints that nudged all of this along.
Since 1989: Live music, art exhibitions, spoken word, open mic,deaf theater, weddings, wakes, engagements, business gatherings,chess duels, dance exhibitions, makes ups, break ups, job interviews,silent film festivals, yet most meaningful: humans engaging face to face: sharing observations, memories, ideas, art and issues of the day.
Stop by soon to visit with Linsel, Nicole, Dan, Megan and Nicki, for another moment of good cheer. They’d like the chance to expresshow much your patronage and friendship means to them.
Updates will appear here on this site detailing more about our last month on Ankeny Street. We’ll do what we can to accommodate larger gatherings during our last month of operation.
If you’d like to send us one of your Tugboat memories and photos, we’d love to hear from you and may even post it. Donate art and stories to: email@example.com
Who knows where you’ll see us next. The soul of the Tugboat won’t die.