A lot has changed at Kelly's Olympian since it opened downtown well over a century ago.
The shoeshine stand and cigar vendor disappeared from the entryway a decade before smoking itself was banned altogether. An adjacent cutlery store dating from 1870 was reborn as rock venue the Knife Shop. The back card room survives as a bank of Oregon Lottery machines.
Perhaps most notably, patrons are now strongly discouraged from urinating at the bar.
"I've heard about the trough countless times," says Josh Mabry, a local woodworker behind Kelly's recent renovations and the son of current co-owner Jeff Mincheff. "I've been here 10 years, and I've heard that story from at least a dozen old-timers. When the guys would cash their check, they'd play poker and go drink at the bar. It was standing-only—no barstools, just belly up to the bar—and there was a piss trough below. I have no reason to believe that's not true."
Originally opened in partnership with Olympia Brewing, the bar's first locale was two blocks from its current location on Southwest Washington Street, and ever since a new bank building forced Kelly's relocation in 1957, retaining some whiff of authenticity has been of paramount importance to successive owners. The trapdoor behind the bar still opens to a staircase that descends to the cavernous basement holding traces of a rumored speakeasy. Spittoons remained in use until the late '80s, and a plaque commemorating one regular who died while seated at the bar lingered until just a few years ago.
But the historical record of bygone urinary practices is cloudy. A former bartender reported spying the remnants of a flushing system underneath the cabinets behind the bar, but that evidence seems to have disappeared, along with the bartender. One elderly visitor recalled only phlegm and blood mingling with the spilt beer flowing along an inclined trench at the foot of the bar, and insisted that men would never unzip in public with toilets nearby.
Nevertheless, such policies would best explain why women were informally banned for so long. The card room once held a framed notice from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission supporting the bar's wish to avoid installing facilities for the fairer sex, and Kelly's somehow soldiered on as a "men's resort" without a ladies' room through Reagan's first term.
When new ownership took over the bar and surrounding building near the turn of the millennium, it sought to keep things as they were during the tavern's postwar heyday. Whenever feasible, Mincheff strove to better realize a vintage aesthetic by peeling off veneers and other cheapish practicalities added through the years—though Mabry laughingly dismissed any prospect of a return of the piss trough.
"I think our contemporary health department would have some issues," he says.