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Bars where Pete has had a drink

Sunday, June 21, 2020

#4010 - Kirk's Ferry, Brownsville, OR - 6/18/2020

Kirk's Ferry, Brownsville, OR
I am sitting in the old town of Brownsville Oregon next to a cabin that was built before the first white settlers even reached Seattle, sipping a cocktail, and chatting with bar owner Greg Hopla about everything from news of the day, to the towering restaurant and trading store he built himself, to the titanium swords he makes, to the large jousting tournaments and various medieval events he organizes, to swimming in the cenotes outside the ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza. He is, to put it mildly, a remarkable fellow, and he plainly tends to undertake his projects at a grand scale.

The hand hewn log house to my right was constructed by Alexander Kirk, apparently sometime between 1846 and 1850. Kirk moved to the area in 1846, purchased some property, and within a year was operating a hand-hauled flat-bottomed ferry across the Calapooia river. The community that grew up around him was also initially called "Calapooya," after the local native Kalapuya tribe, and also "Kirk's Ferry," and eventually was renamed for Hugh Brown, who had arrived in the same party as Kirk, and established the area's first store. Meanwhile, the current cabin was apparently the second constructed by Kirk, and was "run as an inn or tavern for many years." "Anyone who wished to stop over at Brownsville could stay with father," noted Alexander's son Lee Kirk. The Hoplas found a ledger dating back to 1850 which included goods purchased by virtually all of the town's founders.

Kirk's Ferry, Brownsville, OR
Over the years the house passed down through various family members and eventually to Hopla's great-grandfather, Justice Porter, and from thence to his grandmother, who finally sold it to him, something Greg said he predicted when he was a young boy staying at the place. "It's your turn," Greg says his grandmother announced one day, before dividing the profits of the sale among her family and living the rest of her days happily on a small stipend. At that point the house had long evolved into a modestly modernized home, with extended rooms and siding that left little clue of it's primitive origins and historical significance. Hopla tore down the extensions and stripped it down to the original core, then to protect it constructed a massive outer structure, and told me about learning by trial and error how to operate a crane and set the large beams. Then he filled the surroundings with beautiful wood tables and bar tops he cut himself. The cabin is now filled with antique artifacts and adorned with taxidermy heads donated by the locals.

Greg Hopla, owner, designer, builder,
Kirk's Ferry Restaurant & Trading Post
Hopla's money for the project and his vision for its development came from his many years of putting on various large, medieval and renaissance themed events, including jousting tournaments, elaborate sets, and his own period costumes and weapons. He worked for years in the Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament before striking out on his own with the World Tournament Of Champions -- designing and installing large sets, teaching men to joust and special horseback riding, and forging their weapons. He and his wife Shawna still work producing such events, even as they continue to developer the Kirk's Ferry Trading Post, Restaurant and Bar, and continue to produce titanium swords and axes as Knight Vision Weaponry.

They opened July 4, 2012, with 100 seats inside, surrounding the old cabin, and another 45 on the veranda in the shade of two old walnut trees. Greg scaled back some of his plans for the structure, when it appeared to the regulations imposed by local authorities just didn't make it practical to have large pioneer-themed dinner shows with the horses and activities he's organized across the country, and in Spain and Mexico. The entertainment these days -- interrupted by the coronavirus restrictions -- tends to be live country bands, with the occasional cowboy poetry reading. His son Dakota is now the chef, producing enticing preparations of grilled comfort food classics, including prime rib, fresh smoked ribs, chicken, burgers and wood fired pizzas.

Hopla in one of his other jobs
(Photo: Idaho State Journal)
Old downtown Brownsville, which sits across the river from Kirk's Ferry and just a few miles east of I-5 some 90 miles or so south of Portland, between Corvalis and Eugene, is well worth an extended stop. And I hope by now it is abundantly clear that Kirk's itself is a must-do stop for anyone interested in northwest history, bars and restaurants with a ton of character, or just a fulfilling meal while in the area.

Shawna Hopla

217 W Bishop Way, Brownsville, OR 97327 - (541) 466-5614
Est. July 4, 2012 - Building constructed: 2012 large structure completed; 1846-1850 (interior cabin)
Previous bars in this location: Kirk Alexander's tavern?
Web site: facebook
Articles ranked: eugenedailynewsdemocratherald - yelp - tripadvisor

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