Covering 180 miles of Oregon coast travel: Astoria, Seaside, Cannon Beach, Manzanita, Nehalem, Wheeler, Rockaway, Garibaldi, Tillamook, Oceanside, Pacific City, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay, Newport, Waldport, Yachats & Florence.
Bizarre Bar Tales of the Oregon Coast - Part 1
By Andre' Hagestedt
(Oregon Coast) – After that most delicious sunset on the beaches, after the sun slides down below the horizon, and the night descends on the foggy, freaky shoreline we all know as the Oregon coast: this is when the region shows its true colors.
It’s when the denizens of the coastline come out in full force – the people who people the hotel counters, the restaurants and the tourist attractions. But it’s also where the tourists run wild and amok, purportedly freed from the confines of their work-a-day existence in the valley towns they come from, and apparently no longer tied to the rules of civilization that normally guide them throughout their lives.
It’s the nightlife of the Oregon coast – and it’s a serious freakzone of inadvertent entertainment, legendary odd behavior, and a litany of weird bars and their even weirder patrons who run the gamut from pleasantly amusing, absolutely kooky to downright unruly and unpleasant.
This is the coast after dark. It’s an adventure that I have been engaged in for more than ten years now, as I’ve wandered that 180-mile stretch between Astoria and Florence, digging deep into anything coastal, and living life “loco” – or “la vida local,” as I prefer.
Like some sort of sauced version of Lewis and Clark, with a compass in one hand and a stiff drink in the other, I’ve explored coastal bars since 1993. These are just a few of my adventures, in largely chronological order.
And it’s so big it requires two parts.
But first, I must do a bit of background explanation.
In the late 90’s, when I became the main music and nightlife journalist covering Salem, I discovered how inherently violent that town was. I still have a printout from OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) that shows how Salem was statistically so far above the rest of the state for bar fights that it’s mind-boggling. I still, to this day, have an email folder full of reports from various Portland musicians how disturbing that town was to perform in, with all the fights and confrontations they had to deal with. Some even go back to the 70’s, with rocker Jon Koonce’s experiences there.
The point of all this is to note how typically violent and sickening Salemites tend to be at home and across the state – at least the bar hopping crowd. This fact slapped me in the face one day about 1993 – long before my stint at Salem’s newspaper – when I was hanging out at the infamous PipTide in Newport one weekend, during the Seafood & Wine Festival.
It was 1993, at the PipTide (now another bar occupies that spot). I had noticed a few Salem folks there, and said my cursory hello’s, as they were kind of an undesirable crowd.
All of a sudden, a massive fight broke out, with an enormous wave of people crammed together, shifting back and forth as fists flew and bodies heaved from one side of the bar to another, like some enormous ocean wave made of humans.
I soon realized half that cluster of around ten people was comprised of Salem faces. Not a moment of hometown pride, by any means.
Mid 90’s in Newport Northward
The PipTide was still around for a brief period, and yielded more than a few surreal moments, especially with the crummy relic bands that inhabited that place with their buttrock cover tunes and mullet haircuts. This place, and the brief existence of an all-ages club called Cape Fear, drew me to Newport about once a month, partially under the guise of covering music for Salem’s paper.
Thanks to Robert, the owner of Cape Fear, I was introduced to Moby Dick’s, which at the time was still a small, weirdo dive bar with a load of seventies décor smothering the interior, not the least of which was the cheesy oil painting of a sailing ship with working lights embedded in it. It was here I was introduced to a wacky local character I’ve heard was called “Poet Paul” (although I can’t confirm this, as he seems to have disappeared). He was famous for telling bawdy jokes, including one told to me that referenced my spiky blond hair at the time.
At the end of ‘96, my girlfriend at the time and I went for a four-day trip up the Oregon coast from Florence to Astoria, spending our evenings in every bar possible. At the time, the Lotus was still raging in Florence, with a strange blues band on the night we were there. Another bar on the waterfront – now long gone – boasted rounded, maritime windows and creepy, elderly patrons with barely a full head of teeth between them all.
A couple days later, we were in Seaside, where I first discovered the bar that would eventually become Girtle’s. I walked in on one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had, with a drugged out local claiming he knew me (and I’d never been there before), a midget wandering the place in a drunken haze, and a weird man singing karaoke while either pacing nervously back and forth or half lying down on the dance floor. It was all very reminiscent of David Lynch’s “Fire Walk With Me” movie.
Then next night, we were in Astoria, at some bar that no longer exists. Some woman with a faint moustache was hitting on me a bit, right in front of my girlfriend, constantly going on about how she’d never met anyone like me. Whatever that meant. I risked anger from my lady and kept this wacko engaged in conversation anyway, because she was so amusing. She even drew me a strange picture on a napkin, apparently depicting me as a Mayan god or something, and gave it to me.
We ended the night at the Labor Temple, where the décor was odd enough, including giant photomurals of forests. There were the remnants of a redneck wedding party there, who didn’t take to my Portland-esque hipster look too well, and gave me a couple threatening comments.
Later, two of them – who were, hilariously, brothers – got in a massive fight, actually rolling around the floor all over each other, like in some old style western movie. It was the second or third such raucous fight we witnessed that night, and we left shortly after. One of the bartenders muttered something about it being no big deal because they were brothers and it happened all the time. I wonder what OLCC would have to say about that.
More of Seaside’s Wacky Side
After that initial experience at Girtle’s and those in Astoria, I was enthralled by the inadvertent wackiness and humor of coastal bars. I came back for more.
The summer of ’97, my girl and I wound up in Seaside again, this time with another couple, and again wandering into Girtle’s. There, some morbidly obese man and another musician comprised a one-band band-plus-one, playing cheesy tunes from a variety of eras. My friend Jason and I watched in glee at the wild, weird mating behaviors of tourists on the dance floor. Jason coined the unforgettable phrase “trailer park princess” to describe the antics of one skank. I’ve never forgotten that one.
Fast forward to 2005. My Portland friend Allison grew up in Seaside, and I drove her out there to hang with an old friend of hers. We all eventually meet up at Girtles, where Allison and I discover some old, disgusting, dirty cowboy hat sitting in the bar. Thanks to all the liquor we’ve downed, we wind up fighting over the nasty thing. “No, it’s mine,” she says. “No, I found it,” I said.
My experiences at Girtle’s almost always include something off the wall. One highlight is watching the owner zip around the bar on a segway (huh?). He had a small fleet of them for a while, which he was intending on renting out for the upcoming summer months.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this sauced adventure, coming next week. There, you’ll witness the stunningly surreal, mind-bending world of one bar in Lincoln City, more encounters with goofy rednecks, and an interesting list of scandalous, bizarre things.