Destinations: Kelly's Olympian, Portland, Oregon

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Joe Berk

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Portland is the pearl of the Pacific Northwest, and for motorcyclists the city and surrounding areas offer incredible roads and majestic scenery. One of the great motorcycling attractions is Kelly’s Olympian Bar & Diner.

Founded in 1902 and located in the heart of downtown, Kelly’s Olympian is the third-oldest continuously operated bar in Portland. In fact, at one point Oregonians consumed more alcohol in Kelly’s than nearly any other place in the state. Kelly’s Olympian started out as the Olympian Saloon, named for the Olympia Brewing Company (founded in neighboring Washington just six years earlier), which sold its product there.

Kelly’s alcohol stats aren’t what make it great, though. That honor goes to the décor. A great place to stop in for something to eat, it’s made all the more interesting by the antique bikes hanging above the bar, the dining areas and in the entrance. Classic BSAs, Triumphs, BMWs, Harleys and even an Indian make this a unique experience. Vintage photos, neon signs and other motorcycle-related items add to the general wonder of the place.

Kelly’s Olympian was owned and operated for three generations by the Powers family. When Greg Powers retired several years ago, he sold Kelly’s to two local businessmen. Fortunately for us, one of the two collects antique motorcycles, and he needed a place for his collection. Using Kelly’s Olympian as a motorcycling museum was the natural result.

Kelly’s Olympian is a Portland landmark, both from an historical perspective and because it is still a prominent local watering hole and dining spot. Portland once had a secret underground city of Chinese immigrants who inhabited the “Shanghai Tunnels,” rumored to have at least one outlet in Kelly’s basement. The place is also rumored to have been a speakeasy during Prohibition, and yet another rumor says it used to have the hottest card games in town. Some people think Kelly’s is haunted, with deceased former clients hanging out (if they were motorcyclists, who can blame them?). Kelly’s is a great spot to grab a bite to eat, with good food, motorcycle parking directly in front of the restaurant on Washington Street and local live entertainment on a regular basis.

There are a lot of great reasons to visit Portland and the surrounding areas on a motorcycle, and Kelly’s Olympian is just one of them. As anyone who’s ever visited can attest, Portland is a magical place with many attractions. The city has the largest bookstore in the country, Powell’s Books, and yes, they have an extensive collection of motorcycle books. The downtown Portland area is clean, easy to negotiate and it has marvelous restaurants. The Governor Hotel is a first-class place to stay. They have underground parking, and the rates are reasonable. And Oregon’s Vietnam Memorial, considered one of the most tastefully presented and moving ones in the country, is located in Portland. Nearly everything in Portland is within walking distance, and for whatever is not, the city has a great tram system.

The surrounding area is stunning, offering lots of great riding. The Columbia River Gorge leads right into the city from eastern Oregon and Washington; majestic is not a strong enough word to describe it. Make sure you take the Bridge of the Gods if you cross the Columbia River. This bridge has a grated, see-through surface, and on a motorcycle it’s almost a religious experience. And the roads heading east out of Portland lead through incredible forests to Oregon’s Coast Highway. The Oregon riding experience is one of life’s great adventures on a motorcycle.

The Skinny
Where: Kelly’s Olympian Bar & Diner, 426 S.W. Washington St., Portland, Ore.
Why: Great food, live entertainment and an awesome motorcycle collection.
Best Kept Secret: The rest of Portland. This is a magical city, with great restaurants, friendly people and a vibrant feel.
Scenic Route: The Columbia River Gorge and the Oregon Coast Highway are at the top of the list, but it is difficult to find a boring road anywhere in Oregon.
Avoid: Going too fast (you’ll miss too much); visiting the area without a camera; heading into the mountains without checking on road conditions (they get a lot of snow up there); and traveling without rain gear (yep, this state is green for a reason).
More Information: www.motofoto.cc, www.kellysolympian.com