So, one of my favorite places in the world is gone. Berbati’s Pan in Portland, Oregon closed up for good in 2011. Man, my favorite little Italian restaurant turned into a sports bar (and really, just in time because where oh where can someone go if they want to watch sports in a bar?), and now this.
This place was perfect for me when I was living in Portland. Oddly, the first time I heard about it was when a friend of mine said, “Have you been to Berbati’s? You’d love it, it’s perfect for you.” I did not go, though, because the name is already homophonically problematic, and when you add in that my friend was Czech, with a sizable accent, it never occurred to me that he didn’t say, “Have you been to Bare Bodies…?” I remember sort of smiling and something non-committal (“Really? Perfect for me? Huh. Well, that’s a thought for… yes. Hm.”) and wondering what about our relationship made him think that I was not only a strip-club guy, but such an aficionado that there would be certain strip clubs that would be “perfect” for me.
Then, in the midst of grad school, I wanted something to break up the dry academia and to scare me, and to be fun, and heard there was an open mic comedy night there. After a brief slap to the forehead (“ohhh… that’s what he was saying!”) I went and walked in and fell in love with the place immediately. Black walls, floors, tables, chairs. Black, circular stage over by restrooms grown several inches smaller from the years of fliers pasted on the walls. In a small back room was a pool table and a jukebox that had not only Ministry’s A Mind is a Terrible Thing To Taste (which I was confident was only liked by me. Well, and probably Al Jourgensen), but also Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, which had not yet been rediscovered as brilliant. Also the women who worked there were all thrift-store black and extreme haircuts (far sexier to me than the strip club type, ironically). In fact, now that I think of it, it was there that I cultivated #2 on my list of all-time Waitress Crushes (#1: Bistro Montage. A story for another time).
And not a TV in the place. Anywhere. How many social places can you go in America where there aren’t TV’s – big ones, usually several – placed where anyone can see them all the time?
It continued to be my favorite place to do comedy the entire time I did it, and even just to go to, without comedy to do there. I liked open mic night there better than any paying gig I ever had. I reflected, rather frequently, that if that first night had been in the kind of place one usually does stand-up comedy I would never have continued with it. But as it was, it imprinted on me, gosling-like, and I followed it everywhere.
Anyway, very sad. So it goes, though, right? Sic Transit Gloria… (I’m moderately sure that I’m still referring to the club, not my youth…)