The Cheers of South Eugene
Come for the whiskey, stay for the music, leave because you’ve lost at pool
words & photos By Alexandra Notman
“We don’t make any fancy drinks. This bar is blue collar, not white collar. People order straight whiskey,” says Johnny B, the bartender at Mulligans. Besides the whiskey, the only thing Irish about Mulligans is the dark green paint on the humble cinder block exterior.
|the tip jar
|Johnny B tends the bar
|Kevin Davison of the Whiskey Chasers belts out old-time folk songs
Mulligans has existed as a bar in some form for more than 60 years, starting as the The Gables in the 1940s. Walk through the door and find a sea of baseball caps, sweatshirts and the occasional bolo tie. A large blond mermaid cutout looks down from above the dark wood bar — her ample bosoms are aquariums that a couple of lucky fish call home. There are two pool tables where you can play a game for 25 cents, video lottery machines lining one wall and a handful of tables with worn chairs that look like they came out of a 1970s airport. Nothing about this place is ironic. If something looks old or vintage, that’s because it is.
“It’s totally a local hangout. I call it my Cheers,” says Hayley Stafford, a twenty-something regular.
Stafford started coming to Mulligans almost two years ago because it was within walking distance from her home, but she stayed for the casual, safe atmosphere. “It’s not a shark bar,” she says.
On a typical night, you can expect to find weathered old-timers mingling with university students in Duck sweatshirts and hipsters smoking cigarettes. This is not a meat market. People come to drink, play pool, check in with their friends and listen to open mic. Many Mulligans patrons consider the open mic the best in town.
“It’s a great secret that no one knows about,” says Amblin, the open-mic director, who goes by just one name. “Leon Russell’s band played here once.”
Sign up for open mic starts at 8:30 pm on Wednesday and Sunday nights; the list usually fills up by 8:45. Music begins at 9 and often goes until you can hear Johnny B yelling out “Last call!” There are always people in Mulligans, but on open mic night the place is filled to capacity. Musical acts range from bluegrass bands playing century-old songs to honky-tonk single acts to Feist and Damien Rice-like vocalists. Musicians play on a worn Persian carpet in front of a curtain beneath a glittering disco ball. An old glass pitcher sits on a mic stand waiting for tips.
“There are a lot of talented musicians here,” says Vince Loving, a self-described old hippie. Loving plays the guitar and sings. To him, Mulligans is real and inspiring. “If I ever make it big, I’m going to have to be able to spell Mulligans because they sent me on my way,” he says.
An even bigger secret than open mic are the jam sessions that form on the back patio, sometimes drawing more people than the acts inside. Musicians and patrons of all creeds gather around the heater under a white tent, even on the the most blustery of nights, to sing songs that they learned long ago.
Aside from dedicated musicians, Mulligans is home to a committed group of regular billiard players. Stafford says that Johnny B has the best shot in town. Loving says it’s the only place where people can beat him at pool. Pool league plays at Mulligans on Wednesday and Thursday nights throughout the year. If you want to play, be ready to get in line — and keep in mind that there are some serious pool sharks who consider it their retirement plan to run the table.
If you’re just looking to drink, Mulligans has a rotating array of microbrews, often featuring Ninkasi and New Belgium. Pabst is always on tap, and there is a different drink special every night of the week. However, if want to drink like a regular, order something on the rocks. And if you have to wait a moment for your drink, relax and settle in. There’s only one bartender, and when he takes a cigarette break, so does everyone else.
Mulligans may have stronger ties to golf than it does to Irish tradition. If you’re looking for a second shot at a good time, it just may be your bar.
Mulligans, 2841 Willamette St. 541-484-1727.