Sunday, December 30, 2012

Drinking in Eugene: The Horsehead Bar, Oak St. Speakeasy

The Night of Too Many French Fries.
Just about three hours south of Portland, Oregon by train is the hamlet of Eugene. The day was Halloween.

Everyday is Halloween.

Like Portland, Eugene is bisected by the Willamette River and lies in a valley with stunning views of emerald colored mountains.

It is a place settled by misfits - hippies old and young, restauranteurs who insist on "e.e. cummings" styled capitalization and a surprisingly vigorous goth/industrial scene.

It was Halloween, the high-holy holiday for goths everywhere, and I was fresh off the Amtrak. I dropped my bags at the hotel, brushed my teeth, and walked up toward the infamous Horsehead Bar in Eugene: home of the best bar food in Eugene, and possibly all of Oregon.

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Best. Card game. Ever.
The fried catfish sandwich is one of several Cajun-themed items on the Horsehead menu. If I were not delirious with hunger, I would have substituted braised greens for French fries. The fries are hand cut and served in abundance; I ended up giving most of them away.

The sandwich is constructed of lightly cornmeal dusted filet of catfish, shallow fried and placed atop a soft Kaiser roll with habañero mayonnaise, mesclun mix, tomatoes and red onion. I would not be surprised if it weren't the most popular menu item, but the burgers are also quite good.

There are daily specials, that Friday oyster-shooters were the order of the day: $2, your choice of vodka or tequila, cocktail sauce, mignonette or habañero sauce with plump Kumimotos plucked out of the Pacific.

It would be an understatement to say that some of the menu items are rather heavy. The head chef is a Dead-head from Maryland who prides himself on slinging rib-sticking, gut busting hash that has a genuine je nais c'est qua certain people would kill to capture: looking at you, Guy.

Aforementioned greens with bacon and a Swissburger.
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Oyster shooter at the Horsehead Bar.
Eugene is a college town, but with a heavy demographic slant towards outsiders: punks, hippies, metal-heads and goths offset the normal J-Crew knuckle-draggers one associates with undergraduate life.

My companions, Meenk and her boyfriend Hans, walked over to the Oak Street Speakeasy, where the weekly goth night was in full swing.

The drinks were strong and cheap. The music was delightfully dark and arcane (who still plays stuff from Ministry's excellent sophomore effort, "Twitch"?).

A small but committed band of locals danced into the night, twirling around, brushing away the cobwebs, showing their pennies to God and cradling their ghoulish invisible babies.

The Oak Street Speakeasy, like the Horsehead, features local brews (Ninkasi Brewery is right down the street), wine and cocktails. So, come for the martinis and stay for the "undead undead..."

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"I'm going to take you to the best Mexican food truck in Eugene," said my friend Hans. It was 4AM and I was too soaked in vodka to be skeptical.

I ordered a torta of crisp carnitas, avocado, lettuce, onions, cilantro and limes with spicy salsas roja and verde on a buttered and grilled soft roll.

It was indeed a good sandwich, if my memory is to be trusted at 4AM. It generally isn't, since good taste and scruples tend to fall by the wayside at that hour.

I lived to tell the tale, however, so that's a mark in the food truck's favor.

Unfortunately I didn't get the name or intersection, but you can probably bet it's the only Mexican food cart operating at 4am in Eugene.

The spoils of a foraging mission laid out on a picnic table at the Horsehead.
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Horsehead Bar
99 West Broadway
Eugene, OR 97401
(541) 683-3154

Oak Street Speakeasy
915 Oak Street (Basement)
Eugene, OR 97401-3142
(541) 683-2000