"Food doesn't come from San Francisco! Food comes from Portland!"
Them's ain't typical fightin' words, at least not for the kind of fights that normally erupt outside strip clubs. But then, how often does anyone outside of farm country get into a brawl over a pig?
If it weren't preserved in a police report and breathless media accounts both local and national, future generations could only presume it was the premise of an unaired Portlandia sketch. But it really happened: On May 17, 2010, two food industry professionals came to blows in front of Old Town nudie bar Magic Garden, and the beef was all about pork.
It had started hours earlier at Cochon 555, a touring pig cook-off being held at the Governor Hotel. Tensions were already high: Several attendees took exception to the fact that the winning porker came from Iowa, not Oregon, and, according to The New York Times, started a chant of "Misrepresentation!" But no one was angrier than chef Eric Bechard, then-owner of Thistle, an acclaimed new restaurant in McMinnville.
"I'm looking at my friend, and he said, 'Eric, just let it go,'" he later told the Times.
Instead, he got drunk. Then he went on a rampage.
First, at an after-party, Bechard head-butted an employee of a participating winery and was forcibly ejected from the venue. (Bechard said the other guy instigated that one.) From there, he walked to Magic Garden "to see some titties," as he was quoted in the police report. That's where he ran into Cochon organizer Brady Lowe and proceeded to confront him about the out-of-state oinker.
In his version of events, Bechard said he was merely trying to "educate" Lowe on the importance of supporting local farms and found himself on the receiving end of an elbow. Eyewitnesses, however, fingered Bechard as the aggressor, saying his attempts at "education" included insulting California chefs, and that he even shoved Lowe's girlfriend.
In any case, punches were thrown, the cops were called, and both men ended up getting tasered, pepper-sprayed and thrown in jail. Lowe fractured a tibia in the dust-up and, two years later, sued Bechard for $28,000.
Lowe did not respond to requests for an interview, nor did Bechard, who now runs Astoria seafood house Albatross.
That's understandable—while most remember the altercation with snickering amusement, it's the sort of thing those involved would want to put behind them. But in the direct aftermath, at least, Bechard was unrepentant.
"I'm very Oregon-centric, maybe to a fault," he told WW a few days after the fight. "I'm not going to withdraw any of my statements. The fact that an Iowa pig won the event was ironic since we were in a room of Oregon farmers."
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