When I asked one of the bartenders at the Bayway Tavern when the place first opened, she wasn’t exactly sure. What she did share we even more illuminating.
“We have a regular,” the bartender told me, “who started coming in here when he was 19. Now he’s 88.”
So the Bayway is nothing if not of vintage distinction.
At the bottom of the hill in the country-meets-coastal crossroads, the at-least-70-year-old bar backs up against the Nehalem River. It’s got a deck overlooking the water, though you might not know it from the street, or even inside the bar itself. There’s a room in between, with a short shuffleboard table and big-screen TV that’s ideal for gangs of football fans. (I witnessed a gaggle of crestfallen Ducks fans, flabbergasted as Oregon fell apart against Stanford in September.)
While there’s plenty of space at the Bayway, don’t expect creature comforts. It’s raw and rough-edged. Oversized fishing lures and dusty beer memorabilia hang from the plywood ceilings. Somewhere between gutted and waiting for a remodel, it’s as if you can see history in the peeled back layers of renovation — the last of which seemingly took place in the 60s.
The Bayway is no frills, no nonsense. The drinks are cheap, the bathrooms dirty, the food filling and the company familiar.
Speaking of regulars: The Bayway count among theirs members of the Nehalem River Valley’s farming/ranching community. And, to the best of my estimation, you can’t sell ranchers a crummy burger.
The Bayway’s is robust, hand-pressed and well-cooked. On a better-than-average bun, it’s a square deal sure to satiate ($9, served with fries). It’s among the reasons locals keep coming back, not just for drinks — which are also value-priced — but for dinner.
Another reason they return is for the broasted chicken.
If you’re unfamiliar, a primer: That’s “broasting” with a “B,” a combination deep-fryer and pressure cooker developed and branded in the 1950s. (I wonder when the Bayway got theirs?) When submerged in the gurgling, scalding hot oil, the chicken is sealed almost instantaneously within the breading. Inside, the molten hot meat stays absurdly juicy and tender — it practically gushes.
While your taste buds rejoice, my arteries shudder. The amount of golden, oil-caked crust on a plate of broasted chicken and jo-jos is heart-rending in more ways than one.
Once ubiquitous, broasted chicken has become a rare treat. Besides the Bayway’s, the only other broaster I’m aware of in the region is at BJ’s Pizza Palace in Seaside.
Decades after broasting’s popular peak, the Bayway still gets plenty of mileage out of their machine. On more than one occasion, I was told that the full menu wasn’t available, as the bartender, the lone employee at the time, was responsible for cooking, too.
The option on nights like these is either a burger and fries or broasted chicken and jojos ($10). Despite being short-staffed, when a lone bartender cooked my burger she did so, not as an afterthought, but with care: perfectly medium-rare.
(It’s also worth mentioning that every time I visited the Bayway, it was staffed entirely by women. The Bayway has a female owner, and the presence of multiple women, particularly behind the bar, affords levity and keeps the place from becoming a toxic boys club.)
When the full menu is available it doesn’t veer much from the bar’s staples. You might enjoy a more involved burger, say with bacon and a fried egg, or hot and cold sandwiches like a BLT or tuna melt. That’s about it. There are no surprises, salads or anything dainty. Anyway, you’re mostly better off sticking to the burger or broasted chicken.
Though the bacon was thick, the patty of Chicken Ranch Burger ($10) was reconstituted and fast-food like. It didn’t hold a candle to the beef burger.
The Bayway Dip (at $14, the most expensive item on the menu), though, with a thick stack of thin-cut roast beef, was delightful. Swiss cheese glued in the bell peppers, onions and mushrooms, as salty au jus made the bun practically dissolve.
That said, when I come back it’ll likely be for a burger and a Budweiser. Nothing new, to be sure; rather, sturdy standbys at low prices.
You know, the kind of staples that cause a regular to keep returning for, oh, I don’t know, 70-plus years.