The year was 1900, and a young, Wisconsin-born George Besaw Jr. had just arrived in Portland. Though he quickly found himself a job in Slabtown, at the Eastern Lumber Company, it wasn’t long before he set his sights on a new line of work—hospitality. In 1903, he and a partner opened a saloon on the northeast corner of 23rd & Savier. They called it “The Oak.” But after just one year in business, the pair split and George opened a new saloon and card room with a new partner, Medrick Liberty, right across the street. With the local workingmen’s loyalty, Besaw & Liberty turned a nice profit for 13 years, right up until the start of the Prohibition in 1916—but not even the nation’s dry spell, and subsequent departure of his partner, could stop George. With no booze behind the bar, he bolstered his food menu and cheered on never-ending games of rummy and pinochle. Pretty soon, Besaw & Liberty was renamed the Solo Club, and garnered the reputation of the “working man’s favorite.” And all the while, George lived upstairs with his growing family, right above the card room.
With the Repeal of Prohibition in 1933, George was among the first in the city to obtain a license from the newly established OLCC, and began to serve beer again. Many pints were poured, and with George’s son Clyde manning the door (and showing notorious favoritism to Slabtown residents only), the business maintained its reputation as a local hub, a place for the working man.
George Besaw Jr. died in 1942, and his three sons kept the doors open for another 30 years.