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I have always been told that if I do see Nina the Ghost, just to nod and move on”

Joel Corcoran (Local Guide)

Not many restaurants, pubs or businesses that I know can boast of an employee that never leaves, takes no pay and doesn’t talk at all. Did I mention that she wasn’t born this century either? Throw in some amazing craft beer and handmade pizza and you have the recipe for one of Portland’s hidden gems.

RELATED: The Soul of Craft Beer: A Brief History Part 1

Old Town Brewery

Old Town Brewery Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of Oregon Live
A Craft that Ties into History

One of the most special things about craft breweries is the fact that they are usually pillars of the community. Accepted, applauded and even loved. Old Port Pizza/Brewery is no exception.

The pizzeria was founded in 1974 by the Accuardi family, but the building itself was originally built as an upscale hotel in 1880 called the Merchant Hotel. They have kept much of the original interior, which adds to the warm and historic feel of it all. When you walk in and order lunch, you’re ordering at the old hotel’s reception desk.

Kevin Cain manager of Old Town Brewery Portland, Oregon

Kevin manages the day-to-day operations at Old Town and told me about its unique history. They began brewing in 2012 and have accomplished quite a bit these past years. “Portland is still craft brew central so they know beer. They aren’t shy about telling us what they do and don’t like”

The most popular beer sold is definitely their Shanghai IPA, named after the tunnels that still lie just beneath the building. A nice and mellow, hoppy beer with a note of citrus that gives a subtle bite at the end. A truly great beer.

The Shanghai Tunnels
Shanghai Tunnels underneath Old Town Brewery. Photo courtesy of Shanghai Tunnel Tours

You wouldn’t know when you walk by the bar that you’re a mere few feet from a labyrinth of interconnected, underground tunnels. I guess that was the point though, the tunnels were the center of some pretty serious stuff.

The Merchant Hotel wasn’t in the best part of town at that time and if you weren’t careful you could be in trouble. The tunnels were used to kidnap, house, and transport sailors caught off guard. Private tours are available for around $23 and take about 2 hours if you are brave enough.

Who is Nina The Ghost of Old Town Brewery?

Merchant Hotel Portland, Oregon

Even though the hotel was known for its upscale clients it still had one of mankind’s oldest professions: prostitution. This was how Nina ended up there, she was a working girl that had been sold into the life against her will. Traveling missionaries asked Nina if she would be willing to provide information to them in exchange for a chance to leave her captive life behind. She agreed and gave them what they wanted.

Unfortunately, Nina never did have the chance to begin a new life. She was found dead in the hotel not long after the meeting with her would be saviors. She had been thrown down an elevator shaft and has been known to stop in from time to time. Always wearing a black dress, watching patrons or walking around downstairs in the basement.

Red couch in elevator shaft where ghost of Nina perished. Photo courtesy of Old Town Brewery

This is just one of the many beautiful things about craft brew. The entirety of the industry is based on the small owned business that is based in community. When you see the owner, bartender, or really anyone involved, you stop and say hi. You ask if there is any new brew in the works or maybe even if their kid is playing in this year’s little league. Craft brew is so much more than beer, and we can’t help but wonder: what would happen if this art was destroyed for good?

What’s at Stake in the Craft Beer Industry?

Since the rise of craft beer we have seen enormous interest from the “big beer” companies. They have seen the potential and feel that they should be able to tap into this new way of brewing. Though, many questions arise if this happens:

  • Can they take this new style of brewing over completely? 
  • If so, what will happen to the culture behind it?
  • Who really wins if they “offer lower prices to everyone” as they promise to do?
  • Can the soul of places like Old Port really survive the fight against big beer?

Maybe we should all take a long, hard look at what the driving force is behind these Goliath’s. What are their plans and can we do anything about it if we disagree? What is more important to them? To you?

RELATED: Battle of the Beer Makers Part 3

Leaving Old Port tonight I found myself smiling. The experience was wonderful. Pizza, beer, laughter and a scary story. I wouldn’t trade tonight in for the world.

What craft brewery’s history should we look into next? Let us know down in the comments.

This article originally published on GREY Journal.