Horse Brass Pub’s Former Owner Purchased the Place With a Drunken Deal Written Out on a Napkin

It would eventually become one of the most iconic beer bars in the United States.

Horse Brass. (Thomas Teal)

In the fall of 1976, when Don Younger first wandered into the bar he'd eventually make famous, he had no intention of leaving as its owner.

He had never been to the Horse Brass, the homey English-style pub on Southeast Belmont Street, before. At the time, he'd never drank anything other than light American lagers in his life. Nor had he ever visited the U.K., for that matter. He was just looking to kill some time waiting to get the brakes on his car fixed.

What began with a single pint turned into an all-night drinking session with the bar's owners. The next morning, Younger awoke to find a napkin with a couple short lines and some signatures scribbled on it.

Turns out, he'd bought the place.

(Tricia Hipps)

"He came into the office and said, 'I've got some good news and some bad news,'" says Joellen Piluso, who has owned Horse Brass since Younger died in 2011, and previously worked with Younger and his brother, Bill, at their hotel novelty distribution business. "'I went to this most incredible bar. And the bad news is: I bought it.'"

So began Younger's ownership of what would eventually become one of the most iconic beer bars in the United States.

Younger's eventual love for craft beer was also a happy accident. He discovered foreign beers after an expat bartender poured him a pint of Bass at the pub he'd stumbled into owning.

"The minute he had it, he was hooked for life," Piluso says.

Don Younger. (Photo courtesy of Lisa Morrison)

Younger went on to offer early craft brewers like McMenamins, Widmer, Sierra Nevada, Rogue, Deschutes and Portland Brewing some of their first tap handles. And it was at the Horse Brass that beer lovers came together to draft the 1985 Oregon Brewpub Bill, which allowed breweries to make and sell their own beer onsite.

"If someone was starting out, if he liked them and he liked their idea, he'd help them out in any way he could," says Piluso, citing Younger's early aid in service of such acclaimed Portland businesses as Belmont Station and Stumptown Coffee.

When asked if staring at that napkin ever managed to scare up any memories of when he actually purchased Horse Brass, Piluso replies happily.

"Oh yeah," she says. "He just fell in love with the place."

See Related: An Oral History of The Horse Brass.

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