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What’s the oldest bar in Oregon? Finding it was harder than you’d think

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What’s the oldest bar in Oregon? Finding it was harder than you’d think


For as long as anyone can remember, the Rainbow Cafe in downtown Pendleton has made a unique claim to fame: The oldest bar in Oregon. It’s on the Rainbow’s menus, website and the T-shirts for sale at the bar.

Portlanders might disagree and point to Huber’s Café, founded in 1879 – but the Pendleton bar claims a key distinction. The Rainbow, its owners said, is the oldest continuously operating tavern location in the state, having served out of the same brick building since 1883. Huber’s moved buildings several times before landing at its current home in 1910.

But there’s at least one other bar that claims to have been founded in 1883 and never moved – the Pioneer Saloon in the tiny, southern Oregon town of Paisley.

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Were there other saloons and taverns just as old across the state? I decided to investigate and determine which might actually be the oldest.

But first, a caveat: During the Prohibition years, alcohol sales were banned. In Oregon, statewide prohibition took effect in 1916 — three years before the ratification of the 18th Amendment made the entire country dry, until its repeal in 1933. During those years, these establishments didn’t close but continued as either restaurants, stores, or pool halls. (Could you still buy booze on the side? Very possibly.)

Other contenders

I put out a call on The Oregonian’s social media accounts, and readers suggested other historic bar locations throughout the state that might be the oldest. Most of these bars didn’t claim an earlier founding date than the 1880s. There’s Mac’s Place in Silverton (1890), the Imnaha Store and Tavern in eastern Oregon (1904) and Luckey’s in Eugene (1911). The Portway Tavern in Astoria says it’s the “oldest watering hole in the oldest settlement west of the Rockies,” and while Astoria was founded in 1811, the tavern opened in 1923.

Trails End Saloon in Oregon City is located inside an old building, but the current iteration of the bar there was established in 1992.

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It’s the same with the Bella Union in Jacksonville. While named for a bar from the 1800s, it’s only been open in its current form since 1988.

red brick building with words Baldwin Saloon across the top

Baldwin Saloon in The Dalles claimed it was founded in 1876, and there’s some supporting evidence for this. An 1878 article in The Oregonian describes how a man in The Dalles, arrested for robbing Baldwin Saloon, killed his accused accomplice while they were both in jail.

That gets us pretty close to the 1876 founding date, but the saloon didn’t last. The building served as a steamboat company office and coffin storage for a mortuary before new owners opened a tavern there in 1991 using the historic Baldwin Saloon name.

Sadly, Baldwin Saloon closed during the pandemic, but its owners, who also own Sunshine Mill in The Dalles, said the saloon was likely to reopen sometime this year.

two story white wood building with balcony across second floor

Another possibility was the Wolf Creek Inn & Tavern, also founded in 1883. About 20 miles north of Grants Pass, it’s the oldest continuously operating hotel in Oregon.

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But the name is deceiving. In a story about Wolf Creek for Offbeat Oregon, author Finn J.D. John writes that the word “tavern” used to refer to a place that offered overnight lodging, not necessary alcohol. Wolf Creek Tavern was built by Henry Smith, who was famously a teetotaler. A 1936 feature on the hotel in The Oregonian confirmed that in its early years, the tavern didn’t serve alcohol.

Rainbow Cafe

The story goes that the Rainbow Cafe opened in 1883 as The State Saloon, a sometimes rough and tumble establishment where its owner was fatally shot in 1899. Today, the Rainbow has all the hallmarks of an Old West tavern, with a long bar on one side of the wall, wooden booths lining the other, and memorabilia of past Pendleton Roundups plastered along the walls.

In Pendleton, one of the best primary sources for local history is the East Oregonian newspaper, which has been chronicling life in Umatilla County since 1875. Official records from 1883 are scarce, but I hoped to find a newspaper mention of the saloon’s opening.

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Most editions from the time period haven’t been digitized for online searching. Fortunately, the publisher of The East Oregonian, Kathryn B. Brown, allowed me access to the newspaper’s archive room, which contains walls of bound copies of the newspaper dating to the 1800s.

It was a tedious task. Early newspapers didn’t always use headlines for local news briefs, and I spent the better part of two days scanning tiny newsprint.

I started with the year 1880, when the building that today houses the Rainbow Cafe was built by Thomas Milarkey. A brief article from June 26, 1880, said he was building a “two-story brick.” The building today is believed to be the first brick commercial building constructed in downtown Pendleton.

Work was completed that year, and the Jan. 1, 1881, edition of the newspaper contained an ad for the opening of Sommerville & Raley’s drug store “at the new brick store.”

I scanned every edition over the next few years. Stories and advertisements rarely used addresses, but because the building was unique, it was often referred to as “Milarkey’s brick.”

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@theoregonian

The Rainbow Café is one of two bars in Oregon that claims to have been located in the same location since 1883. But an investigation into historical documents puts that claim in doubt! Here’s part two into our look at the “oldest bar in Oregon.” oregon oregonhistory pendleton foryou foryourpage

♬ original sound – The Oregonian – The Oregonian

By following advertisements and notices on sales of businesses and dissolution of partnerships, I followed through the years as the store became Raley’s Drugs, Robbin’s City Drug Store, Farrow & Turner’s store with E.P. Nichols selling watches inside, and F. J. Donaldson’s City Drug Store. The upstairs held offices, at times occupied by attorneys or dentists. Through at least 1889, the location was never described as a saloon.

And then: On Feb. 15, 1889, the newspaper reported that “F.J. Donaldson’s stock of goods was yesterday entirely removed to his new stand next door, and he and his clerks are now as busy as bees arraying it in an orderly manner.” A few days later on Feb. 21, the paper reported, “The flooring of the building recently vacated by F.J. Donaldson is being raised to conform to the established grade of the sidewalk outside.”

And that’s about as far as I got in the archives before I ran out of time. There was no evidence of a saloon.

I later found two other sources that seem to confirm the space was not a saloon in the 1880s.

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line drawing of a downtown street corner showing three buildings, at the center a brick building housing a watchmaker and general store

Author Vic J. Kucera wrote the meticulously researched Pendleton book “Rivoli: The rise of public halls, opera houses and film theaters amid saloons, gambling halls, brothels and opium dens.” It includes an 1885 drawing from the John Wilson Special Collections at the Multnomah County Central Library showing Pendleton’s corner of Main and Court streets, with signs for E.P. Nichols and Farrow & Turner above the door of Milarkey’s brick.

Kucera also suggested I check old fire insurance maps to see what kinds of businesses were operating in various buildings in a given year. The fire insurance maps for Pendleton, available online through the Library of Congress, show that the Rainbow Cafe building was still a general store in May 1889.

The next available fire insurance map from 1896 does indeed list the spot as a saloon.

I also found an 1890 city directory at the Pendleton Library that lists the location — at the time, the address was 725 Main St. — as a business owned by James Marston selling “cigars and tobacco.”

A few more days in the East Oregonian archives might be able to confirm this, but it seems the Rainbow Cafe location became a saloon sometime between 1890 and 1896.

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Pioneer Saloon

The next stop on this quest was the Pioneer Saloon in Paisley in southern Oregon, a five and a half hour drive from Portland. The Pioneer appears little changed since the 19th century. It, too, has an antique bar and memorabilia of Paisley’s ranching and sheep herding families hung along the walls. (And it’s for sale, if you’d like to own it.)

Brenda Morgan, a local historian, got interested in the saloon while researching her ancestors. The Pioneer’s first owner was William Henry Miller, whose widow would go on to marry Morgan’s great uncle.

Miller was killed after being thrown from a horse on May 30, 1883 – a tragedy that turned out to be helpful to research. After Miller’s death, his estate went into probate, and an inventory was made of all his real and personal property. These court records still exist today, in the basement of the Lake County Courthouse.

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There, Morgan found a list of Miller’s assets, which included a saloon building at the southeast corner of Lot 3 in the town of Paisley — exactly where the Pioneer stands today. The inventory also included furniture and bar fixtures (valued at $65), a billiard table ($300), six gallons of gin ($3 a gallon), 14 gallons of whiskey ($4 a gallon) and 4,000 cigars ($25).

L. John Saylor was the saloon’s bartender, and after Miller’s death, Saylor wrote to the estate seeking $53 for “one and one half months labor keeping saloon at Paisley, Oregon” throughout the months of April and May.

handwritten paper court records from 1883 from the estate of W.H. Miller

This confirms the saloon is at least as old as April 1883, but it could be older. Miller purchased the property where the saloon was located in 1880.

“He honestly could have been operating the bar before this,” Morgan said. “He might have been selling booze out of the back of his wagon or a tent or whatever just to get by.”

We don’t know exactly when the saloon was built. Deeds just list the property, not what was on it. Building permits weren’t needed at the time. The Lake County assessor said tax records from the 1880s haven’t been preserved. We also don’t have records of liquor licenses from those years.

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But there is one clue that could date the bar as even older.

The Oct. 2, 1882, edition of The Oregonian contained an article titled “A New Oregon Town” about the attributes of Paisley, founded in 1879.

“Paisley has now a population of about 200. It has two general merchandise stores, two blacksmith shops, one excellently furnished and fitted saloon, and a photograph gallery,” the article states.

The story doesn’t include the name of the saloon or its owner, but Miller’s bar did have a pricey pool table. Was that part of an excellently furnish and fitted saloon? We might never know for certain.

Huber’s Café

From a plywood-floor barroom in rural Paisley to a mahogany-paneled dining room in downtown Portland, the Pioneer Saloon and Huber’s Café could not be more different.

Notably, Huber’s does not claim to be Portland’s oldest bar, but Portland’s oldest restaurant. And the vibe here is very much not a saloon, although that’s the name it started under.

Huber’s opened in 1879 as the Bureau Saloon at the corner of First and Morrison. According to an article in The Oregonian, Frank Huber was hired as a Bureau bartender in 1884. He purchased the business a few years later and renamed it Huber’s in 1895.

In 1891, Huber hired Jim Louie, a Chinese immigrant also known as Louie Way Fung, as his chef.

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Family lore holds that Jim Louie immigrated to Oregon in 1881 from Taishan in Guangdong Province as a stowaway aboard a clipper ship. He was 11 years old.

“It was a pretty gutsy thing for him, to board a clipper ship and sail to America,” said his great nephew James Louie. “But God smiled upon him, and he was able to get hired by a French woman who owned a bakery. At first, Great Uncle Jim just swept the floors, washed the pots and pans. But eventually she taught him how to bake.”

That would be the beginning of Jim Louie’s culinary career. After he was hired to cook at the Bureau, he introduced the turkey dinners that are still the most popular menu item today.

In 1910, Huber’s moved into the then-new Railway Exchange Building at Southwest Third Avenue and Stark Street (now Harvey Milk Street.) The café is located in the heart of the building, with no exterior windows. Natural light filters in from the building’s inner courtyard through the stained-glass ceiling.

“The theory was that businessmen could come down on their coffee break and have a martini instead and not have their bosses see them from the street,” James Louie said.

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When Frank Huber died in 1911, his widow, Augusta Huber, inherited the business, and Jim Louie took over management. During Prohibition, Huber’s became a restaurant, though, James Louie said, “you could still get a Manhattan in a coffee cup if Great Uncle Jim knew who you were.”

In 1940, Augusta Huber died, and her son, John Huber, inherited the business.

“John Huber was so kind, gracious and generous to my great uncle, he sold him half ownership for a dollar,” James Louie said.

Jim Louie died in 1946, at the restaurant, from what was believed to be a heart attack.

“The newspaper articles say he died at home, and it’s partly because we were concerned that if we said he died here at the restaurant, it might hurt business,” James Louie said.

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Jim Louie’s nephew, Andrew Louie, inherited half the business, and in 1952, he bought out the Huber family. Andrew Louie’s sons, James and Dave, run the restaurant today.

The coleslaw is still made using Jim Louie’s original recipe. In addition to turkey dishes, Huber’s is also famous for its flaming Spanish coffee cocktails, prepared table side. A portrait of Jim Louie, carving a turkey, hangs over the dining room.

Over the years, there were opportunities to expand or open other Huber’s locations, James Louie said, “But, for me, I want to operate one special place. I really wasn’t interested in operating a chain.”

And when you’ve been making turkey dinners and Spanish coffees longer than any other restaurant or bar in Oregon, that’s something special.

— Samantha Swindler covers features for The Oregonian/OregonLive and Here is Oregon. Reach her at sswindler@oregonian.com.

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Oregon Football’s Marcus Mariota Reveals Motivation Behind New Jersey Number

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Oregon Football’s Marcus Mariota Reveals Motivation Behind New Jersey Number


Former Oregon Ducks Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota is experiencing some change to his NFL career in more ways than one.

Ahead of his 10th season in the league, Mariota is set to play for his fourth team in four years after signing with the Washington Commanders earlier this offseason. Getting to know unfamiliar surroundings has been nothing new for him over the past few seasons, as the constant change of scenery has led many to question whether or not the veteran can still produce at age 30.

He has an answer for the doubters, and is using his new jersey number as a way to constantly display the message for himself and those watching.

Aug 24, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) after a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Aug 24, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) after a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports / Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Mariota will be wearing No. 0 for Washington next season after sporting No. 8 for the Philadelphia Eagles last year. He revealed Friday when speaking to reporters why he decided to make the change. 

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“Zero is something for me that’s just a reminder,” Mariota said. “I’m in year 10. People don’t think I can do it anymore. It’s just kind of a reminder everyday of ‘nobody really gives you a chance.’ And it’s cool to be able to remind yourself.”

Mariota was the No. 2 overall pick out of Oregon by the Tennessee Titans in the 2015 draft. He played five seasons in Nashville, leading the Titans to the AFC Divisional in Jan. 2018 where he squared off against Tom Brady in a 35-14 loss to the New England Patriots.

However, he’s failed to eclipse the 3,000-yard passing mark since leaving Tennessee and has struggled to find consistent production. Last season with the Eagles, Mariota appeared in three games, passing for 164 yards, one touchdown and one pick.

He and the Commanders will begin their regular season on Sunday, Sept. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.



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Readers respond: Oregon should choose ranked choice voting

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Readers respond: Oregon should choose ranked choice voting


In Oregon this year, we can vote to establish ranked-choice voting on future ballots, (“Ranked-choice voting could come to Oregon, if voters say yes in 2024,” June 25). RCV is a system of ballot voting that allows voters to list their top three to five candidates in order of preference instead of casting their vote for a single candidate. This form of voting gives us the chance to strengthen our democratic representation and to ensure that each vote counts.

Giving us the power to choose a list of candidates would mean that our representative may end up being someone other than our first choice. However, your other favorites could be a winner. According to a survey conducted by Gallup, 63% of U.S. adults agree that a third major party is needed.



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Oregon citizen-soldiers, airmen take part in Memorial Day ceremonies across the state – KTVZ

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Oregon citizen-soldiers, airmen take part in Memorial Day ceremonies across the state – KTVZ


SALEM, Ore. (KTVZ) – Oregon National Guard Soldiers and Airmen took part in Memorial Day services and community events around the state on Monday, pausing to remember fallen service members who have given their lives in defense of the nation.

Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, an Army veteran, along with her husband, Oregon Army National Guard Maj. Ian Beaty, spoke to those in attendance about their own family experiences in uniform before introducing Oregon Army National Guard Col. Russell Gibson, 82nd Troop Command Brigade Commander, who was the Keynote speaker for the Memorial Day service at the Veterans Memorial Park in Beaverton.

“I welcome any opportunity to gather with my brothers and sisters in arms, and it is truly a gift to have the opportunity to honor those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to our great nation—may their memory be a blessing,” said Gibson, during his opening remarks. “Through their selfless service, they portray the values and ideals for which this country was founded.”

Gibson, who has deployed twice to combat areas of operations, spoke about those who have been lost in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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“I know that many of you have stories of loved ones, friends and fellow service members you hold in your memory and in your hearts,” he said. “I would also be remiss during this solemn day of reflection to not also recognize and honor those providing support from the home front. Those that paid the personal sacrifice for us and our nation—our Gold Star Families.”

U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (Oregon 1st Congressional District) also spoke and the American Legion Post 185 Band provided patriotic music throughout the event in Beaverton. The 142nd Wing and the West Coast Ravens conducted two separate flyovers during the ceremony.

In Salem, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek and Brig. Gen. Alan Gronewold, Adjutant General of the Oregon National Guard, spoke at the Oregon World War II Memorial. Both the 142nd Wing and the 173rd Fighter Wing conducted flyovers around the state as well as in SW Washington at parades, memorial services and other gatherings.

The Memorial Day holiday can be traced back to the conclusion of the Civil War. On May 5, 1868, John A. Logan, as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued General Order No. 11. This order was designated May 30, 1868, “for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion.”

Since 1971, Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday of May, marking a solemn time each year to mourn those who have died while serving in the U.S. military — while reflecting on their ultimate sacrifice to our nation.

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