Horse Brass Pub


105 Reviews
Horse Brass PubHorse Brass Pub

Type: Bar, Eatery

4534 SE Belmont St
Portland, Oregon, 97215-1636
United States

(503) 232-2202 | map

Weekdays: 11:00am -2:30am
Weekends: 9:00am - 2:30am

Added by sinistersteve

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Reviews: 105 | Ratings: 142
Photo of RedDiamond
4.85/5  rDev +12.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 4

After 14 months of being a BA, I'm finally getting around to submitting a writeup for my local neighborhood beer bar. I've been coming to the Horse Brass for years. I brought in New Years 2004 here. I've driven the serving staff home in my taxi after closing. I've gotten pretty hammered here on beer and single malt Scotch, but I've always managed to walk the half mile or so back home. It's a great bar and an institution in a town that knows the value of good beer.

The Horse Brass is a neighborhood beer bar whose resistance to change has earned it something of an enduring legacy. The wooden floors are so worn out, you can see the years of spilt beer, muddy boots, and broken glass that have given them such character. Everything else is equally tempered by years of glass upon wood, smoke, an errant dart or two. I've seen plenty of bars aspire to be what the Horse Brass already is. You could build a new bar tomorrow with an equal number of taps, put some reissued "classic" Guinness ads on the wall, and make overtures to jolly old England all you want, and it wouldn't be the same. The Horse Brass already embodies the genuine character such wannabes can't hope to emulate with mere ornamentation.

There oughta be a law that prohibits a truly great beer bar from having television or video games. These flashy noise makers only detract from a great bar. The Horse Brass has darts, beer, authentic English pub fare, and conversation. Their one large screen TV is kept unplugged, shoved against the wall except when Sunday soccer matches are shown.

This was the first place I ever heard a bartender use the phrase "malt profile." The staff seems to arrive because they genuinely belong here, not because they look good in a T-shirt. Last time I visited, I ordered a beer and the waitress advised me that I might want to reconsider my choice because the tap wasn't especially fresh. How many servers know the product and look out for the customer like that? Not many.

The selection of beers is perfect. 25 American beers, every one fresh from the west coast. 15 thoughtful choices from Europe, one cider, and four cask-conditioned ales. The numbers are just right to provide good rotation and choice. You could drink twice a week here and not grow bored all year long.

As if that wasn't enough, next door is Belmont Station where you can choose from hundreds of bottles of beer from around the world to go. A great place to have a great beer if ever there was.

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Photo of Thrasher
4.85/5  rDev +12.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 4

When the list of best beer bars came out recently, I was disappointed by its bias towards the northeast. I believe the list is inaccurate in its misrepresentation of the country as a whole, and the northwest in particular. But I haven't exactly been prolific in beerfly reviews lately and I was especially surprised to realize I'd never gotten around to reviewing the Horse Brass, my local. So here it is, overdue!

First of all, the atmosphere: it's a British style pub with wood beams, rustic furniture, and a compartmentalized bar that is inviting and homey. The west wall has floor-to-ceiling windows which look out on the small alleyway that separates the Brass from Belmont Station. Dart boards are in 3 out of 4 corners and sections are separated by a couple of stairs. The place is decorated with lots of small brass medallions from which the bar gets its name. Horse brasses were put on the horse's forehead to ward off evil spirits during nighttime journeys. There's a considerable amount of smoke and the walls are yellowed, but I've had smokier experiences in countless other bars. It is a drawback to some. There can also be some old hounds hanging around, the most notable of which is Don Younger, the owner of the bar. To some, he is a local craft brew hero, having started this pub in the dark days before the renaissance and always supporting local brewers. To others, he is an unintelligible souse.

Quality: the beers are kept in excellent condition. The casks are always right on, hardly any suspended yeast and served at the proper temperature. Pints are imperial sized. The regular taps, I believe, have a very small infusion of nitro which improves mouthfeel.

Service: I've always had excellent service here. Honestly, the best. The bartenders are always friendly, quick to recommend something good or give me an honest opinion of an average beer. Lots of free tastings. They are usually busy so maybe they can be abrupt, but they are never rude. What do you want, anyway, someone to hold your hand while you drink your beer? I'm not sure why others haven't had as good service as I have. Just remember to not be an asshole, and if things go well, tip well.

Selection: Over 40 choices, probably 2/3 from the Northwest. Imports are mostly British. 5 casks (1 rotating). Usually around 10 rotating taps with a new one appearing almost every day. A different beer on Randall every Friday. Their cheap lager is a fantastic one from Walking Man and it's 2.25 for 20oz. The website will give you a good idea of what's available although it's not always updated.

Food is hearty and English. Scotch eggs, bangers, and fish & chips are all fantastic. Ploughman's lunch makes a good snack. But this is pub food, make no mistake. Weekday daily specials are varied and cheap, but they're usually so-so tastewise, and they run out early.

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Photo of Crotor
2.98/5  rDev -30.7%
vibe: 3 | quality: 3 | service: 2 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

Dank and dark British pubs I dig, but solid clouds of tobacco smoke I loathe. Despite being a generally cool place, the smoking just about did it in for me. The originally white walls were stained brown with tar. After leaving this place I just about had to burn my clothes for the tobacco stench.

Service (table) was wretched. Our waitress was slow, unpleasant, and non-beer knowledgeable.

The selection was generally quite good, with all sorts of rarities available. However, I dound myself somewhat disappointed by the purely British/PNW ale emphasis - almost nothing in the way of Belgians and lagers.

The quality with regards to beer was a bit disappointing - for a beer bar, I was surprised to recieve mediocre pours - too cold and with almost no head.

The food was downright grubbin' pub fare though. Best scotch egg I've ever had (only scotch egg I've ever had).

Overall, worth a visit, but make sure you have a change of clothes for afterwards...

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Photo of unklesyd
4.88/5  rDev +13.5%
vibe: 5 | quality: 5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5 | food: 5

This is the quintesential British Pub! You can, of course, stay here from afternoon (or morning) to late evening and not have the same beer, or same style, twice!
Fantastic traditional English eats like Bangers & Mash added 10 pounds to my waistline last summer. I should dock the food a point for spite, but damn! those bangers have a spell over me.
Some people complain that the service can be slow, but I've never noticed/encountered this (must be my winning smile). A MUST if you are anywhere near Portland!

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Photo of SamuraiJack
4.15/5  rDev -3.5%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 5 | service: 3 | selection: 5 | food: 3

a beer geek's pub indeed.
the score might indicate i think otherwise, but look at quality and selection - i mean, that's what we go for, right?
the best selection and the best quality in town. no doubt there at all.
incredibly smoky inside. in fact, if the quality was anything less than what it is i would have gone only once and never gone back. it's that harsh on the eyes, the lungs and the palate. the latter is the big issue - after about one hour i honestly can't taste right.
service at the bar is... hmm... knowledgable beyond belief but also a bit "brusque" if you know what i mean. service at tables is pretty weak though pleasant.
food is what you would expect.
Belmont Station (next door) has probably the second best selection of any bottle store in town.

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Photo of PopeJonPaul
4.94/5  rDev +14.9%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5

Every time I go to Portland I have to visit this place.

The HB looks more like an old English pub than most of the places I've been to in the U.S. The only thing that keeps this place from having an exceptional atmosphere is the eye-burning cigarette smoke (in their defense though, they'll let you smoke anything legal in there, even pipes and cigars.) 5 casks, 36 taps, always high-quality stuff. I had the Homo Erectus and a Rogue William Younger on cask this visit. Service has always been exceptional, bartender even bought my brother and I a shot of McTarnahan's (scotch) just because we hadn't tried it yet. I've probably been here 10 times and have never had the food, one of these days...

One of my favorite places anywhere, don't miss it if you're in Portland.

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Photo of GreenWBush
4.43/5  rDev +3%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5

Sometimes in life, things that are supposed to happen actually do.

I had no idea that a favorite beer from a favorite brewery (Rogue's Brutal Bitter) was in fact concocted for the patrons of this particular establishment. I had no idea there was a connection between the places until I returned from my beer pilgrimmage.

When I hit up freed, the BA extrordinare for the Portland area, he was sure to let me know that the Horse Brass was a place not to be missed when visiting Portland. This set into motion some of the best beer-action of the trip.

We took a cacophony of public transit to get to the horse brass, finally waiting for what seemed like hours to get to Hawthorne, a little hippy enclave on the outskirt area of Portland. The Horse Brass pub has an unassuming exterior and an adjacent liquor store. Nothing cries 'world-class' until you're inside.

Take all preconcieved notions of English pubs and cram them into one accurate, efficient stereotype, and you'll have a good idea about the Horse Brass. The place is dim, homey, and seems like it should be near a London Underground tube stop. There's English breweriana everywhere, as well as random London-metro signs, elizabethan light fixtures, and a well-versed, friendly and 'real' staff. The type of place you'd love to haunt with the knowledge that they wouldn't be afraid to kick out belligerents.

I'll leave it to more observent BA's to give you the ins and outs of the place. When I visited I was blown away by the taps of regional and English beer and heady environment. I had a Hop Rod Rye on tap, and the wifey had a beer from a defunct brewery which we unfortunately did not document.

An experience not to be missed in Portland. You owe it to your English heritage, if not your love of Beer Advocacy.

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Photo of weefisheads
3.73/5  rDev -13.3%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 1.5 | selection: 5 | food: 3

I could probably sum up The Horse Brass in two words - Authentic and Impressive. And smokey, but I'll get to that last...

The essence of The Horse Brass is an Olde English Pub, and upon entering the doors it's as if you've been instantly transported "across the Pond". Though the accents aren't as plentiful as they may be if you we're in England, there's plenty here to help create the illusion that, for the moment, you're not in Portland anymore - lots of dark wood, the obligatory dart area, spacious bar area, a generous selection of scotch, and loads of smoke.

The authenticity of this English Oasis is also reflected in the menu options. Alas, this may not be the greatest thing as British cuisine is hardly known for it's remarkable complexity, but authentic nonetheless. However, that's not the reason for my average score on the food - I feel that the food menu is somewhat limiting, and in the 6+ times I've been to The Horse Brass, I've never had any food that I thought was "wow" in any way, shape, or form. Just...well...average...

As to the Impressiveness of The Horse Brass, one need not look further than the selection of beers they offer. In addition to their "regular" taps, their are always a bountiful array of guest beers to choose from. Upon my most recent visit I had the good fortune of trying some Racer X - need I say anymore?!

Unfortunately, there's another aspect of Impressive and Athentic about The Horse Brass that isn't too positive, and that's the amount of smoke that is ever-present. It's truly impressive they can get THAT MUCH smoke into one bar! On some nights it can be tolerated, but there have been two occasions where the party I was with had to leave for less polluted climes. As good as the beer is, and as warm and fun as the atmosphere is, it's almost moot if all you can smell and taste is smoke. Ugh.

However, despite the occasional assault on one's respiratory system, all in all The Horse Brass is a must visit when in Portland. It truly is one of the select few bars in Portland that pursue the over-the-top beers that I love, and as such will be back again and again.

EDIT: My serivce score was recently changed to reflect a miserable experience - the server brought me the wrong beer (I even pointed to it on the menu!) and REFUSED to bring me the right one! She said she could "add it to the bill" but would replace the beer I HADN'T EVEN SIPPED!

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Photo of HiroProtagonist
4.4/5  rDev +2.3%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5

Upon walkng though the doors, this place immediatly warms you with its atmosphere. I have never been to England, but this is what I imagine a old pub there to look like. Very cozy, and comfortable, even though it was nearly filled up on my visit. The place is full of dark wooden beams, with brass horse charms, historical photographs, beer memoriabilia, ect., afixed everywhere. A beautiful bar adorns a central position The place looks much older and established than it probably is. A very large and carefully selected selection of local and import taps, with a good number of rotating selections. Its all about making a BA happy. They have some rare ones too, like Walking Man's Homo Erectus (woo-hoo!). The service was outstanding, with the waitor showing up uncannily at just the right times. They also have a good selection of single malt scotch, and the menu is traditional English fare (didn't try). They also have darts. A smoking establishment, but the smoke levels were tolerable for a non-smoker. Simply put, this is one of Portland's best pubs, do not miss it.

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Photo of Myk
3.95/5  rDev -8.1%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3

I walked into this joint when italian teabag and i were on tour. we decided to go here with the help of andy and a few other ba's suggestions for some lunch. it was a wednesday at about one in the afternoon, and it was like being in Britain. the place was filled with about 50 people and all being loud and having a great time. it had a great comfortable atmosphere, lots of old things hanging on the walls alongside a mad amount of flags from all sorts of countries. even the menu looked old, i still have it. the beer selection was very good. tons of regional beers on tap that i was told are rotated around pretty frequently. the food was basically english style food, with some normal pub fair as well. the burger i had was damn good. the service was very friendly and knowledgable. i would go again, and often if i lived in the area.

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Photo of Elemental
4.9/5  rDev +14%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 5 | food: 4.5

A really nice Old English style pub.

Atmosphere and quality: Great, old wood work, a couple dart boards, triva games the second Wednesday of the month, and of course Soccer

Service: The service was wonderful, the wait staff was always there to get you a new drink when you were about finish with your previous beer.

Selection: A nice large selection of local micros, imports (mainly Enlgand, Ireland, and Belgium). There are various varieties in the bottle, on tap, good selection of nitros, and my fav multiple cask conditioned ales.

Food: The food was really good, typical pub fair variety

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Photo of bridgeporter
4.18/5  rDev -2.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4

One of the really bright spots in the Portland pub world. I've been going to the brass for 20 years and never really tire of the scene. Well maybe I get a little burned out on the smoke but if you can't take a little nicotine buzz choose another place to drink.

The beer selection is first rate as the other reviewers have stated. The food is decent if you like basic pub fare. However you don't go to the H.B. for the food. The atmosphere and the clientele are what make the place a big step above most other pubs in town.

The Horsebrass is another British ex-pat hangout of the first order. It's the only (that I know of) american pub mentioned in the annual CAMRA pub guide. It's twinned with it's sister pub the Princess of Wales in Merton S.W. London. I"ve had the chance to drink at that fine establishment as well, but thats another review.

The only bad thing about getting to know the regular Brit's at the brass is when my wife say's"What the hell is this $75 bar tab from the Horsebrass doing on our visa statement!"

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Photo of freed
4.5/5  rDev +4.7%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 5 | service: 4 | selection: 5 | food: 4

Though somewhat hidden beneath some sycamores on the street, we found our way to the old brick building. I was immediately struck by how wide the selection of beers was, but was somewhat nervous about the smoking. My only complaint about the place was the smoke, which wasn't too bad most of the time. But the smoke was quite authentic as well, so I'll only take point off. But damned if this isn't a great place.

Maybe it was just the lovely waitress that was so friendly, maybe it was the excellent selection of beers, maybe it was the best halibut chips, and maybe it was the wonderful rough hewn timber beams inside.

I managed to sample a wide selection of cask and draft beers, some were even Nitros. There was a stunning selection, and the beers were all still within their best drinking age. The food was very standard english pub fair, and was really very good. Our waitress was very accommodating, and was very eager to make recommendations, and even brought out samples of things she thought we might enjoy. She was right too.

As we were leaving I immediately started to formulate a way to work another visit into our schedule soon.

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Photo of mikes2923
4.22/5  rDev -1.9%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 5 | food: 3.5

First thing I would say if you're an out-of-towner like I was you might want to make sure you have the addres written down and maybe even visit mapquest before you go out there because surprisingly my cabbie had no clue where the place was!!! <sigh> but on to the review...

As others have mentioned it really did transport you to an old English pub with the old world benches and all dark wood finish, a little smoky, but not overwhelmingly so. Admittedly I've had more comfortable seating, but the goal was ambience over comfort and they succeeded in spades so credit them for that. The range of beers there was very good indeed! I've been to some other bars that had better selections of imports, but in terms of local brews they had a better range than anywhere else I went while there. The food was about what you would expect, better than average but certainly nothing to make a special trip for. No, the beer is what makes this place great, and what makes me highly recommend it!

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Photo of sinistersteve
4.53/5  rDev +5.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5 | food: 4

First off, here are the bad parts of this place. I once saw some macro swill beer coasters on the table. Althought this was the first I've seen such contraband in this bar, I quickly voiced my displeasure to my server. Secondly, this place is really smokey. So smokey in fact that the walls have taken on a nicotine paint job where individuals have scrolled names and messages on them. Finally, they have video poker machines or, as I like to call them, video-crack machines. But hey, they have to sell that Bud to somebody.

Now, onto to the great parts of this place. The only 'crap-on-tap' they have is Bud and Oly. All other taps are dedicated to imports and micros from across the USA. I haven't done a tap count but I'm assuming there are probably easily 40-50 different beers to choose from.

Not too sure about the food here. The only thing I have ever eaten here has been the fish and chips which are probably the best I've ever had. I can only assume that the rest of the menu will have similar outcomes.

Also, upon your visit here, you are literaly 10 steps away from one of the best beer retailors in the state, Belmont Station. (read the reviews here on BA)

Also, interestingly enough, the dart boards are the old fashioned steel-tip styles with the blackboard scoreboards. This is also an English style pub which also shows the Englsih Premeir Soccer matches on a big screen on the weekends during the season.

This is one place I would recommend all BA'ers to visit if they ever make it out to Portland.

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Horse Brass Pub in Portland, OR
4.3 out of 5 based on 142 ratings.
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