As scores of vehicles lined up for blocks on West Burnside Street in Portland on Saturday morning, onlookers wondered: Was it a protest? A new COVID-19 testing site?

Neither. It was a sale of frozen steaks.

RingSide Steakhouse announced this week that it would sell its dry-aged steaks and other meats to the public at discounted prices during two separate time slots Saturday and Sunday. It was the first opportunity for many well-heeled Portlanders to return to a civic institution since Gov. Kate Brown ordered restaurant dining rooms closed in March. Six dry-aged rib-eyes were selling for $205.

"Drive up to RingSide and enter our lot at the entrance on W. Burnside," the instructions say. "We will present you with a menu of items available and direct you to a parking space.…Note that supplies are limited."

Onlooker and cars jammed into the RingSide steakhouse parking lot Saturday morning.
Onlooker and cars jammed into the RingSide steakhouse parking lot Saturday morning.

The well-intentioned sale quickly devolved into chaos Saturday morning. Buses struggled to get through traffic on the four-lane road, which at points was blocked completely with vehicles. Onlookers gathered in crowds—some in masks and some not—to figure out what was going on.

Portland police officers arrived at the scene to direct traffic, and customers got out of their cars to argue with police about others who purportedly cut the line.

"Do you think this is a police issue about who cut a line outside a steak restaurant? No," an officer said to a woman who was upset by the practice. "We've gotten hundreds of calls from people saying they can't get to work. We could solve the problem and just get it shut down and then nobody gets steaks."

Asked how well they were handling the crowd, an officer responded: "We shouldn't be. This shouldn't be happening right now."

For the lucky few who made it into the RingSide parking lot, a masked employee would walk up to their window and hand them a sheet of paper—presumably a menu from which they could select their meats. Minutes later, that employee would return to the vehicle with a cart full of boxes containing frozen rib-eye, top sirloin, bacon, chicken breast and ground chuck.

People reported waiting for over two hours to get their steaks. KOIN reporter Adam Bjaranson, who also waited in line for steaks, tweeted that he moved 50 yards in an hour.

It is unclear how long the supply of meat will last, or if the three additional steak sales planned for Saturday and Sunday will still take place.

RingSide Steakhouse could not be reached immediately for comment.