Sam’s Hof Brau – a 30-something Portlander’s flashback (#1)

samshofbrau.jpgWalking through the Park Blocks between classes one day in the early 90s I ran into my old friend Nick. We’d been buddies in grade school and high school, but when he went off to OSU and I to Reed, we didn’t stay in touch. Several years later we both happened to wind up at PSU. We had a beer and caught up, and subsequently frequently spent our evenings, at Sam’s Hof Brau.

Sam’s was a divey old-school chain restaurant; cafeteria-style roast beef buffet with a full bar and a pool table. On Sixth, where that damn McDonalds is now. There were no windows then, so no natural light was shed on the sedate subterranean setting.

Dark wainscoting predominated. The tables were tall and all the chairs were bar stool height. The pitchers of beer seemed to be as tall as the tables, and they were cheap. Local drunks and college aged drunks-to-be rubbed shoulders peaceably. Sam’s was to PSU what the Lutz was to Reed.

We never did find a suitable replacement when we got the news they were closing. The Cheerful Tortoise was then, and is now, something completely different. A lot of the regulars moved on up to River City, which has its divey charms, but it’s no Sam’s.

A recent article in the Tribune brought back the memory of Sam’s Hof Brau. It appears there are a few left scattered around the country, but the one in LA is now a strip club and the one in Sacramento is known as Plaza Hof Brau.


  1. I loved that place it was a great place!

  2. Well said Dave!

    The second memory I have is that Sam’s would open early. On a cold morning that I didn’t want to spend in the library or my normal quiet space on the 4th floor of Cramer I would hang out in one of the large booths with a $1.00 bowl of oatmeal and a coffee. Perfect breakfast for a broke guy who spent all of his money for a stupid parking pass (before westside max).

    Thanks for the memories Dave!


  3. Ah man, I loved that place during my PSU tenure. That and the Jasmine Tree for afternoon cheap drinks. Good memories.

  4. I used to meet a friend there when we’d go to the 5th Avenue Cinema. We called it “Sam’s Half Bra.”

  5. Yep, truly a place to be missed. A fond memory was when friends and I agreed to meet at Sam’s for beers and pool, and one of us ended up at Sam’s billiards in the Hollywood dist.

  6. chris pez says:

    loved it back in the day. i have spotted the sign in a sign graveyard at the east end of the fremont bridge.

  7. I would like to report that there is a Sam’s like Hof Brau in San Francisco, and it is still there, I believe. It is right on Van Ness and it’s called “Tommy’s Joint,” very prominent – on the right if you are heading south near Geary. Same cafeteria style as Sam’s, fascinating junk hanging from the ceilings, and even a couple old Nickelodeon machines with films from the 1906 Earthquake to view. Good beer bar selection. Last time I was there, they even had the big pickle barrels with the same old pickles and garnish bar. I am guessing there are still similar style places in Milwaukee, WI and perhaps in Michigan. Anyway, if you are in SF, you can have a meal there and relive Sam’s.

  8. I remember Sam’s in Portland in the 80’s. Today in Sacramento the Plaza Hof Brau has changed its name back to Sam’s Hof Brau. Everything is as it should be. No pool table because there’s no place for one. Sam’s is a happening place. Unique and the lines in peak hours are impressive. Ross, the manager, former bartender, is right on top of everything and never forgets a customer or his/her likes. The carvers too, remember you after a few visits and take care of you properly. El Camino and Watt Ave. If you ever get to town, don’t miss it. And you don’t need to take out a loan to dine there either!

  9. Gail Lowery says:

    Just wanted to say that my husband and I went to this resteraunt back in the 70’s. Our first date and continued to go there several times. Thirty years later its still a wonderful memory for us both! Too bad its gone now.

  10. My older brother and I used to drive down to Portland from Pacific County on the weekends when I was in High School. Portland was the only city I had seen. We’d find something to do all day – drive around, throw the football in the park, go to one of the skating rinks for a couple hours. We ate at Sam’s Hof Brau a couple times. I remember having the Reuben Sandwich. George Bush was debating Michael Dukakis on the television. Then one time I went back and Sam’s was gone.

  11. I’m from Sacramento and Sam’s was my favorite place to eat. I miss it so much. I actually found this site because I was looking to see if there was one up here. Now I am devastated. :-/ Time to take a road trip! I would KILL for some Hof Brau right now.

  12. The Plaza Hof Brau in Sacramento has been bought out by an investment group and renamed Sam’s Hof Brau again. Overall, it’s okay. Portions are large (really too large for an old-timer like me), and Sam’s has a friendly staff. Families come but the older generation makes up the bulk of the business. Prices are already good and seniors get an additional 10% knocked off. It has nearly the same atmosphere at the Portland Sam’s, but I did enjoy stepping down into the restaurant. This one is at street lever, but still dark, lots of dark wood, a great old bar and semi-Victorian atmosphere. Only lacks a painting of Mae West as Diamond Lu hanging above the bar. Pints run $4 and $5 with a $3 happy 4 hours from 3 to 7. Seven days a week.

  13. Paige Nienaber says:

    I went to PSU in ’81-’83 and rotated my lunches between Sam’s, Viking Burger and Ione Plaza which was on the 1st level of an apartment building on the park blocks. LOVED Sams and the meat rotating in the window. I also was breaking into radio and worked at KYTE/KRCK on !st at Lincoln. What was the hotel that was up a block or two on Lincoln? Red Lion?

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