When you read this, I will be having a martini at Jake’s Famous Crawfish. In my mind, at least. That’s where I am, psychically, a lot of the time: a carefree and debonair presence at bar side, cooling the rigors of journalistic life in an inverted pyramid of arctic gin. Reality, of course, usually finds me far removed from the woody environs of a restaurant founded in 1892—sitting at my desk, surrounded by slimy food cart containers, for instance, or bleary-eyed at my kitchen counter, dawn-ish, slathering together PB&Js.
In this month’s raucous and wonderful feature on Portland’s food-scene history, we see trends rise and fall, influences wax and wane. You’ll find the Caesar that changed everything (cue ancient Rome–themed dad joke), our hardboiled OGs of seasonal/local/artisanal, the ur-pop-up. It’s an amazing story of change, as a city’s very DNA reconfigures around singular dishes and outsize personalities. And as such, it makes me appreciate places like Jake’s all the more: the fixed points in changing ages. Continuity is underrated as a restaurant specialty.
Life is what you make it, after all, and Jake’s plays its role in mine. Yes, I troop over to this Portland institution for lunch a dozen or so times a year. And sometimes that mental martini meets its actual counterpart. (Today might be a day, come to think of it.) Really, though, I treasure this old warhorse for what it is more than what it serves. I love the dark-stained wood on the walls, the almost-secret back bar, the frontier scenes rendered in oil. They hang the day’s sports section in the men’s room. Old-time music drones from hidden speakers; waiters uniformed in crisped whites and black ties attend with civilized efficiency. Doofus tourists or blowhard business types are almost always having a conversation they shouldn’t have in public. The blue plate runs $10 or less.
As onetime Jake’s regular Humphrey Bogart might have conceivably said to Ingrid Bergman, j’adore. Above all, I love that Jake’s is there, right where it was before World War I. If the gods of corporate ownership and real estate development smile upon it, Jake’s will still be there tomorrow. Let the whims of fashion and market come and go. Let decades roll on and the cost of a prix fixe rise. At the corner of SW 12th and Stark (for the foreseeable) and in my addled brain (for as long as it’s semifunctional), we’ll always have happy hour.