The main streets in towns harboring a working commercial fishing fleet and a thriving tourist industry often are a mélange of souvenir shops, cotton candy emporiums, marine supply outfits and, of course, a mixed bag of bars and restaurants.
The last category ranges from sleek cocktail lounges to funky joints catering to fishing boat hands in green rubber boots and well-worn hoodies or yellow slickers.
The Barge Inn Tavern, located at 358 Bay Blvd. in Newport, OR, fits them to a "T." latter.
Its tongue-in-cheek motto says it all – “Home of the Winos, Dingbats, & Riff Raff.” For reasons known only to management, the menu inserts an “h” into Winos, making it Whinos.
Unpretentious describes it perfectly. It’s a place primarily for local workers and those hearty souls who venture far out to sea in search of fish.
The shop talk among the regulars sitting along the bar is about good and bad catches, and federal regulations, and who just got hurt and what’s being caught in what qualities by which boat, and where
It’s has a long bar with stools and a tiny grill that is tended to during the daylight hours by Renea Teausaw, a congenial woman who pours the beer and wine, does the cooking and deftly handles her predominantly ocean-going, blue-collar patrons.
The Barge’s interior design is basic. There’s the bar, a single pool table, four HDTV flat-screen monitors, usually tuned into sports of some kind, whether tractor pulls or Final Four games. A single entertainment machine is tucked away in a corner; there’s a juke box and a number of recently installed tables – the tall kind for stand-up drinking, though they do have stools, as well normal tables.
The pool table is coin activated and the typical player skill level ranges from mediocre to stunningly awful. If a pool shark ever played there, it is not recorded.
On one wall hangs a stuffed marlin, a fish not found anywhere off the Oregon coast. There are photos of dozens of commercial fishing vessels, some of which have been lost at sea, underscoring the high danger of the trade..
There’s a modest back room dominated by a big, round Formica-topped table and several video gambling machines.
There are 10 beers on tap, both the ubiquitous Budweiser and some Oregon craft brews.
The menu is straightforward and inexpensive. No “gourmet” or “artisan,” or “epicurean” offerings at The Barge. There’s a hamburger, cheeseburger, a bacon cheeseburger, the chiliburger, patty melt, BLT, grilled ham and cheese and so on. Prices range from $2.50 for a cup of chili to a high of $6 for the chiliburger.
Teausaw makes them all flawlessly and, amazingly, manages consistently to produce the prototypical All-American hamburger – a patty, tomato slice, onions, lettuce and sauce, with pickle slices on the side, all served on a flat, paper-lined wicker plate. No alfalfa sprouts, diced jalapeno or avocado slices sully burgers dished up in this joint. Norman Rockwell would have loved it.
Because it caters to fisher and other working folks, The Barge open at 7 a.m. and serves mostly coffee at that hour, but offers limited breakfast fare. It closes at 9 p.m. except Friday and Saturday when the locals can drink until 10.
As the day passes, the customers remain pretty much the same. In the summer, there is some tourist trade, but The Barge doesn’t go out of its way to lure them in. On hot summer days, the front doors are propped open, but when most passing tourists peek in, the interior looks too rough and chancy, and with the “no minors” sign posted prominently outside, they move on, kids in tow.
A note about Oregon and drinking. There are a number of state-issued licences available for businesses where alcohol is served. One category is the “No Minors” mentioned above. But other licenses are available that permit minors on the premises during certain hours and certain circumstances.
The Barge has what might be called an “attitude,” understated, but aptly illustrated by two small posters attached to the mirror behind the bar. One reads, “BEER – Helping White Guys Dance Since 1842” and has a drawing of a smiling white man in a fedora holding a beer stein. The other is a pink box with red panties peeking up above the caption, “Put Your Big Girl Panties On and Deal With It.”
Since it opened in 1935, The Barge has weathered monstrous coastal storms, brawls, street improvement projects, and the enormous ups and downs of the fishing industry.
Still, in good times and bad, The Barge has been a stalwart Bayfront presence.
And that honest cheeseburger is what helps keep it special.
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