The Great PBR Debate

Who got Portland hooked on the Blue Stuff?

Everyone knows Portland bleeds Pabst Blue Ribbon. But who injected it into our bloodstream? 

There are two true contenders. Lutz Tavern, in Woodstock, is commonly thought to have introduced PBR to the Reedies, skateboarders and bike messengers who hung out there in the mid-'90s—even The New York Times said so. But EJ's also makes a strong case. The strip club-turned-rock club—now a pawn shop on Northeast Sandy Boulevard—is holding a 20th anniversary celebration this week, so we decided to ask representatives from both bars to present their cases.

LAYNE MARTIN, Lutz Tavern manager, 1994-2000:

"There was this absolute scorching deal on cases of PBR and kegs. We were one of the few outlets in Portland that sold kegs to go, so we could sell them at a really good deal. So we started the PBR dollar-can special. I'd say it was around 1997 or 1998. At one point, I know they said we were the largest distributor of Pabst in the state, if not the country. We got written up in The New York Times about it. We were going through hundreds of cases and dozens of kegs a week."

MIKE THRASHER, EJ's talent buyer, 1995-99:

"I started working at EJ's when it was a strip club in about October 1994. A couple of the key staff and I convinced the owner we would do better as a rock-'n'-roll bar, and decided to launch the new format on Jan. 1, 1995. As a future rock club, we decided we needed to rethink our drink selections to suit that clientele. While comparing the prices of the domestic beers, we found that Pabst was cheapest at $33 per keg. The club gained popularity, and Pabst became the drink of choice. On Tuesdays, Pabst was sold at the full price of $1.75, but there was no cover to see the bands. Things kept getting busier. It was suggested that Thursdays become a 'beer bust,' where a patron could get unlimited Pabst between opening at 6 pm and 8 pm, when the room was cleared for the show. By this time, perhaps mid-1996, EJ's had achieved some recognition from touring bands and had a steady influx of national talent, which again increased sales. During busy months, we were getting three deliveries a week and moving more than 40 kegs a month. Years later, Pabst became known as the 'hipster' beer of Portland. There is no way for me to warrant that EJ's decision to make PBR its house beer caused this impact, but I have done so nonetheless, for years."

MATT SLESSLER, Pabst Pacific region field marketing manager:

"We've always thought Lutz was the first one to sell it. But it's like how people claim they saw Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game or were at Woodstock. The landscape is littered with salesmen who say, 'Oh yeah, I was the first one to bring that in.' The first PBR I ever had was at the Jockey Club, this really old-school punk-rock bar on Killingsworth. As far as the very first ones, there was the Lutz and EJ's, and it's always been our thought that Lutz was first."

SEE IT! EJ's 20th anniversary is at Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 9-10. $5 Advance, $10 day of show.

WWeek 2015

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