The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society
THE NORTH KILLINGSWORTH MAX stop is positively redolent with the scent of fried chicken—it's a wonder that every disembarking passenger doesn't head directly to the squat gray building with a retro neon sign literally pointing to the aroma's source.
George's Corner Tavern is a no-judgment zone: It's the place to be when nothing sounds better than putting back piece after piece of juicy-as-all-get-out bird—and gulping several tallboys while you wait the half-hour minimum it takes to get it.
Drink specials involve $3 wells and $1.50 PBR on weekdays from 4 to 7 pm. During a recent multiple-hour visit, the bartender's most complicated order was a tall vodka soda with a splash of grapefruit. You might start out with a bottle of Ninkasi's Helles Belles, one of the relatively few craft beers on hand, but a glance around the red Formica bar shows that a proper order at George's is a pint of light beer and a shot of something strong, brown, and cheap.
No fewer than a dozen television screens line the main dining room—and two more are devoted to security footage of the back, where booths and video lottery live. A recent Blazers game night brought in a strong beard-and-tattoo contingency, but it's regulars like Byron Brainard, who favors a $3 well rum and Coke, that keep the place running. Brainard claims that George's has been around since before Prohibition (it hasn't; most of Interstate Avenue as we know it today was built up around 1939) and that it's on the historic registry (it's not; at least not that we can find).
But Brainard grew up in St. Johns and remembers trick or treating at the tavern as a kid in the 1970s. When I asked about how often he drops by nowadays, he laughs and strikes a Superman pose. "I only come here on days that end in a 'Y'! This place is my living room."
Tuck into that crispy chicken—the burgers aren't bad either—and add dollops of Cholula and ranch as you go. Drain a shot of Old Crow neat, if that's your jam. Just try your hardest not to look out the window and into the brand-new yoga studio across the street. No one needs to be reminded of that right now.
George's is the kind of place where a former bartender no taller than 5' 2" once marched a belligerent 6' 4" patron out by his ear—at least that's how Brainard recalls it. Another regular makes his way to the bar, where the current wisp of a bartender notes she hasn't seen him in a while. He asks about a recent job interview she had. She adjusts her glasses and says the hours and pay just weren't enough for her to jump ship.
"I couldn't leave here," she says, turning to pour his drink.