The walls of the Goose Hollow Inn are covered in faded posters and beer ads, collected over the course of its 55-year history. A neon sign over the kitchen declares that the restaurant offers the “Best Reuben on the planet.” Christmas lights hang from the beams, weaving between orange-hued light bulbs. The wood of the tables is worn and etched with decades of incomprehensible words and names.
Derek Dahms has worked at the Goose Hollow Inn for 16 years, whirring through the bar’s wood-paneled dining room and surrounding patio. On Thursday, the restaurant is almost completely full — unusual for a February evening. “It feels like a summer shift,” he says.
The Goose Hollow Inn has been a neighborhood stalwart for decades — not just because of its Reuben or sense of history, but because of its owner. Bud Clark, who served as Portland’s mayor from 1985 to 1992, was one of the city’s biggest personalities. As a mayor, Clark was known as a down-to-earth politician who focused on addressing homelessness, police reform, and public transit. He’s also known as the man flashing a statue on the “Expose yourself to art” poster, a fundraiser for a community paper, and shouting “whoop whoop!” at Portlanders as he rode past on his bicycle. But, first and foremost, he was a publican, tending to his regulars with beer and a sense of humor. “I think this Goose Hollow Inn is my legacy,” Clark once told Oregon Public Broadcasting. “It’s put together well, it still runs, my daughter runs it well. And I’ve met so many friends here.”
Clark died this week at the age of 90 of congestive heart failure. Condolences came rolling in from countless public figures, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer and City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty; since the public announcement of his death, Dahms has watched people come in to pay their respects, dropping off bouquets and sharing their stories.
“The night after Bud died, we had a lot of people come in here to have a beer for Bud, a Reuben for Bud,” Dahms says. “The thing that surprised me was a lot of them were younger than me. I think they have these memories tied to their parents, coming in with their families.”
Still, to his surprise, the bar and restaurant has been relatively slow in the evenings — that is, until Thursday. At 7:30, a group of runners arrives in shorts and leggings, flocking to the back patio; one of them sifts through the host’s stand, looking for board games. As always, the clientele is eclectic — families, dates, retirees, college kids. Even considering the events of the week, the Goose Hollow Inn is lively and warm, as if Clark’s still there, keeping things running. It rumbles on without him.
Clark bought the Spatenhaus tavern in 1962 for $1,600, borrowing money to buy beer for its opening night. In 1967, the same year of Spatenhaus’s premature closure (it was demolished to make way for the Ira Keller Fountain), Clark bought Ann’s Tavern on SW 19th and Jefferson, and reopened it as the Goose Hollow Inn. It was frequented by a prime slice of 1960s and 1970s Portlanders — hippies, politicians, musicians. The clientele was a point of pride for Clark and the bar staff, who wanted to foster its sense of lively, congenial debate.
“Enjoy the Goose Hollow Inn, named to rejuvenate the history and stimulate the continuity of one of Portland’s famous geographic areas,” Clark wrote in the bar’s mission statement. “We are dedicated to Quality Draft, Fine Food, Pleasant Music, and Stimulating Company. We are also dedicated to extremes of opinion, hoping that a livable marriage will result. if physical violence is your nature, either develop your verbal ability or leave.”
Clark ran the bar until he was elected mayor; at that point, his wife, violinist Sigrid Fehrenbacher, took over. The bar remains in the Clark family, and while the number of taps has increased over the years, it has kept much of its original charm; as opposed to replacing elements of the Goose Hollow Inn, the family has added new layers of artwork, photos, memories. Along a hallway between the bar’s restrooms, a long corkboard hangs covered with photos — of Bud, but also of friends, employees, neighbors. Above them all, a framed illustration depicts a rowdy night at the Goose Hollow Inn, with people hanging from the rafters over crowds of chewing customers. At the center of the scene, a relaxed Clark leans against the bar, suspenders stretched over a Budweiser shirt, an open-mouthed grin on his face. It’s signed by William Sanderson, a former Oregonian reporter who wrote the political cartoon The Acid Test. “This is my favorite piece of artwork in here,” Dahms says.
When Dahms started working at the Goose Hollow Inn, he didn’t know anything about Bud Clark. In the last decade and a half, however, that changed; the lore surrounding the former mayor — the oral history that hangs in the air at the Goose Hollow Inn — is one Dahms has absorbed through osmosis in his time here. “There’s not a day that goes by that a customer doesn’t have some sort of story about Bud,” he says. “I’m really grateful for what he created.”
Portland, as a city, isn’t home to many longstanding watering holes; most bars in Portland last a couple of decades, at most, more often closing within their first 15 years. The ability to keep a bar alive now is a borderline impossible feat as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact sales, staffing, and the supply chain. The survival of the Goose Hollow Inn is a testament to its role in the city’s landscape: a true community hub, a place for healthy debate, for jokes, for good conversation, a place — in Clark’s own words — to develop your verbal ability. That won’t change, even without Clark sitting in a corner booth, beer in hand.