From Blind Pig to Rams Head

Have you been to the Rams Head yet, to try a little something off their updated cocktail list?

Maybe a Fremont Furnace (Aval Pota, Herbal Liqueur No. 7, honey, lemon, hot apple cider, heavy whipping cream and cinnamon) on this dark and rainy day? Or a Mai Tai (Maui Dark, Appleton VX, Clement Creole Shrubb, housemade orgeat and lime) to remind you of sunnier days gone by? Or, heck, try a trio of Jellies to take you back to your college and/or tailgating days.

This cozy spot has long been a good place to settle in to enjoy a drink – read on…

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It was a well-known fact from the early 1900s onward that wherever Sidney McDougall was host, the drinks flowed freely and spirits were high. And for several years, right up to the end of Prohibition, Sidney was a most congenial host and manager of this den-like space known then as the Campbell Hotel and today as The Rams Head. Here, Sidney made sure that the Dry Years were not at all dry. In fact, her renowned restaurant quickly became known as one of the busiest “blind pigs” in all of Portland. She earned a reputation for excellent cooking, but it was the illicit elixir she served up in elegant teacups that made her the toast of the town.

Sidney’s nephew, Dick Randall, recalled that it was an Italian gardener in a Model T pickup truck who supplied the restaurant with the high-demand article. “The old boy would bring vegetables here to the kitchen, but under those boxes were the boxes of booze!”

The celebrants who regularly gathered were a real cross-section of Portland’s populace – from the city’s elite to those of more modest means. That’s how Sidney liked it. McMenamins artists illustrated the point in their panels depicting the McDougall era at the Rams Head by featuring historical characters of all stripes from McMenamins’ other Northwest Portland locations, including the prim Lola Baldwin from the Crystal Ballroom, the majestic former slave Joe Wisdom of the Blue Moon and well-seasoned saloon man Fred Gansneder of the Tavern & Pool.

With the advent of Repeal in 1933, Sidney’s spirited party moved on, relocating to the less-conspicuous but more raucous Tillicum Tavern, way out on the west side. Here at the corner of NW 23rd & Hoyt, things quieted down and remained that way until a reawakening in 1990, when McMenamins breathed new life into the once-storied place. The convivial gatherings returned, encouraged in no small part by the Rams Heads’ featured (now legal) craft cocktails.

 

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