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Just over four score years ago, the Drys and their severely parched souls punched American tavern life with a Prohibition right hook. It left a cultural black eye that remains to this day. I loathe this stigma for two reasons: I've witnessed stellar acts of humanity in taverns (local media never bothers to report them) and Boston patriots plotted the American Revolution there. Yes, lives have been destroyed in these places, but great taverns provide more than just alcohol. They can offer a sense of community for those who are bereft of kin or don't dig large church or high school football games. The Mad Dog Tavern at Sawyer's Landing on Yaquina Bay is such a place, a great unpretentious tavern, near water, with Rainier on tap, in cans, maybe in bottles too. It's open seven days a week, exudes a wonderfully non-corporate aura, and sports a goofy logo of a dog in speedboat hoisting a pint. It boasts a colorful history, takes pride in its community orientation, is spotlessly clean, and now commands a regular stop for me and my wife when we hang out in Newport. On approach, the Mad Dog's two story, stucco facade, neat white with red trim paint job, and close proximity to Yaquina Bay, mesh together to create a visual invitation that screams--this won't be an ordinary tavern inside. And it isn't. My wife and I were greeted by a kindly bartender who hailed from Alabama and wore Black Carhartt overalls and a tweed cap. I ordered a draft for myself but embarrassingly discovered I didn't have enough cash for my wife's beer. There was no ATM and the joint didn't accept credit cards. So he bought my wife a glass of Rainier. We sat at the bar and I soaked in sights and sounds: cool regulars, velvet wallpaper, paneling, phrases like, "Hey Tony, another pounder?" groovy new carpet, video poker, light country music, 25-cent pool, a large Scooby Doo, cigars for sale, exquisite hand made, light fixtures imbedded with sea life, window seating with bay views, and a vast selection of alcohol: beer, coolers, gimmick drinks (like malt cola). There's even champagne by the glass for $2.25, something I've never seen in the Let it Pour kingdom. This offering immediately begs two questions: who would possibly order it and when can we meet? As for food, the official menu seemed a bit pedestrian, microwaveable bulk, strictly OLCC required. That's the official menu. Once a month the Mad Dog holds a potluck and the regulars contribute all sorts of hot and cold dishes. On big holidays, most recently Independence Day, a pig is roasted in a picnic area near the tavern and usually someone brings a banjo and harmonica. Mad Dog also hosts a Christmas Party complete with gift exchange, a 60s ball, and a Roaring 20s shindig. Evidently they celebrate America's past with style at the Mad Dog and well they should since the history behind the tavern's name is one of the best drinking tales I've ever heard and worth documenting. So the story goes, years ago, a large log rested in front of the tavern. It had seatbelts attached to it. In some sort of contest, certain patrons would strap themselves in and then proceed to consume a bottle(s) of a particular brand of fortified wine. The "winner" remained sitting upright. Thus, Mad Dog Tavern. Mad Dog is off the beaten Oregon Coast tourist path and that's exactly why it deserves a visit. Make a day out of it by clamming in Yaquina Bay--the beds are on the way to tavern--and then drink several Pacific Northwest beers formerly brewed in the Pacific Northwest. Or you can drink many beers and pitch a tent or crash in your camper in the private campground across the street from the Mad Dog. It's all so perfect and perfectly American...maybe not for the Drys but definitely for us Wets. Thank God for the Twenty-first Amendment. Could we make it on the Oregon Coast without it? To reach the Mad Dog head to Newport's historic bay front and travel east around Yaquina Bay passing the fishing boats. Drive four miles along Yaquina Bay Drive and the tavern is on your left. It can't be missed.
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