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In Astoria recently, slammed by winds, drenched by a record rainfall, I found myself foundering on the streets with an hour to burn before an appointment. Acting on a tip, I sought shelter from the storm in the Chart Room, the annex lounge of the venerable (since 1916) Andrew and Steve's Cafe located at 1196 Marine Drive. Entering the Chart Room at noon, I read a couple of the handwritten rules of drinking engagement: "No doubles served after midnight" and "One Long Island per hour." Behind the bar, a Rick Springfield movie played as few regulars quietly sipped cocktails. The overhead heater blew comfort my direction. The bartender greeted me kindly, sort of like Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke, and directed my attention to an illuminated sign advertising the drink specials: $2.00 Scotch and $2.25 Black Velvet. Gimme shelter indeed. The Chart Room is a wonderful, cozy, dimly lit, Old World bar with carpet, black vinyl, red lights, wood paneling, wood tables, wood stools, wood carved booth dividers in the shape of clipper ships, and a partially wood cigarette vending machine--exactly the interior appropriate for a lounge where Black Velvet is routinely ordered. It is of course only a few football fields from the Columbia River but inside you'd never know, which is really the point of a good lounge--to create a space that promotes amnesia, temporarily, of where you are. The Chart Room apparently derives its name from a large, (3' x 4') antique, wall-mounted, blinking-light, navigation chart of the Columbia River near Astoria. It is hands down the coolest interior decoration of any tavern or bar on the Oregon Coast I've visited and also has the virtue of being educational, which is nice if you drink alone in the Chart Room and want to learn some local geography. Open seven days a week from 11:00 a.m to 1:30 a.m., the Chart Room sports a regular crowd during the week and "kids" on the weekend. For fun there is a wind gauge, video poker, an on-line golf game, the drink specials (vodka-cran on Fridays is popular), a CD jukebox packed with oldies, thick metal art, and pretty good stories. (Ask about the Shanghai tunnels or the mysterious celebrity from 20 years ago.) The only thing that distressed me about The Chart Room was the rumor of an imminent interior remodel. Why would anyone want to change a place where Black Velvet is a well-received $2.25 drink special? Modernize the Chart Room and I suspect it will lose its bearings.
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