The scene repeated almost like a skipping record: a customer entered the North Beach Tavern to the greetings of patrons and staff alike. For many Long Beach residents, the Tavern is a place where everybody knows your name, where regular coteries assemble for after-work drinks, snacks and laughs.
Which is just what owner Carla Curtis intended when she took over the bar early last year. It’s a vibe she understood well; before she bought the Tavern she frequented it.
“In the end, it’s about our locals and our seasonal locals,” she told The Daily Astorian last spring. “Those are the people I want to be able to offer something to.”
Besides reasonably priced food and drinks, live music is a tentpole of the Tavern. Each Thursday, Friday and Saturday, performances begin at 7 p.m. It’s where the band gets back together.
One of my trips synced up with the North Coast Blues Band, whose set of covers included a deft, light tough on Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” and made Muddy Waters’ goofy “Hoochie Coochie Man” goofier.
When the band is electric, music at the Tavern is impossible to escape. Almost like a basement man cave, the low ceiling makes the room pretty loud, even when it’s just locals carousing.
The menu, meanwhile — with burgers, hot dogs, chili, sandwiches — is pub food gone petite.
There are more filling exceptions. The pizza is heavy. The medium crust is dense and doughy, and it feels as if it expands upon arrival in your stomach. The Tavern’s pies ($10.50 to 25.50) are piled with obscene amounts of cheese with layers above and below the toppings. The styles are familiar — Hawaiian, taco, supreme and so on. They’re satisfying, if bloaty and indistinct. They also share an uncanny resemblance with those at the Long Beach Tavern. Try not to get the two confused.
But the similarities end there. The North Beach Tavern finds its own lane with a slate of paninis — or, rather, toasted sandwiches. A panini, according to Wikipedia, is “a grilled sandwich made from bread other than sliced bread.” North Beach Tavern’s paninis are very much made on sliced bead — buttered sourdough to be exact. But forget the semantics, let’s just call them cute, little sandwiches.
I call them little because they’re round. Imagine cutting a circular piece by rounding off the corners of your usual toast and you’re there. I had the Chicken Ranch ($7.50), which was recommended by multiple servers. The sliced, chunky chicken breast was supple, thick and tender, dusted with herby seasoning. The bacon was crumbled and salty. The spinach under-represented. The bread was toasted and buttered, slathered with sweet, buttermilk ranch. All together, it split the difference between lean and gluttonous, a cheap thrill I could’ve eaten two of.
Paninis come with a cup of soup, potato salad or a bag of chips. I went with the Irish Death soup, part of a monthly special in March celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. Something like your grandma might make with a traditional base of potatoes, carrots and onions, the stew made fine use of the namesake beer. The dark ale’s hops afforded depth, a spice and fruitiness that almost smacked of ginger. Indeed, this was one of the few beer soups where the beer really was an integral addition.
Even with cup of soup alongside the sandwich (again, a totally reasonable price at $7.50), I would’ve been left hungry had I not also ordered a salad. The Columbia Salad ($8) featured dried cranberries — a peninsula signature — with a blend of lettuce, pecans and goat cheese, all dressed with a bit too much of an otherwise enticing apple vinaigrette.
Counting both the panini, soup and the salad, I was paying pretty much market rate for a pub dinner. So when we talk about value, let’s be clear: The North Beach Tavern is affordable in terms of snacks. But, say, a construction worker, would require multiple items to approximate the weight of the usual burger and fries of a blue-collar bar. (There are no fries at the Tavern.)
As the burgers at the Tavern stop short of hulking, and they’re served only with chips, the hypothetical construction worker would want to order a couple, plus a cup of chili. I say this because I had one burger, plus an oyster shooter and a cup of chili, and left thinking about more food. The Original Pioneer Angus Burger ($6.50) looked like a prepressed patty, but nonetheless the beef boasted a richer, distinct flavor.
The chili ($4.50 cup, $7.50), though, was a total bummer. It was served not lukewarm but at room temperature. No matter how many jalapeños I tossed in, it was a chilly dud.
This lone mishap came during one of the concerts and the Tavern was packed to the gills, standing room only. Otherwise, staff held up well against a rush that regulars assured me was greater than usual.
And at a place like the North Beach Tavern, the regulars would know.