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A Conversation with Clyde Jenkins

I met with Clyde Jenkins in the remodeled Lounge of his Northeast restaurant in the late afternoon of October 22. From the first moment until the end of our time together, he was a cordial host, patient with my questions, and visibly delighted to be talking about what, since 2004, has become his baby: Clyde's Prime Rib and Bar at 5474 N.E. Sandy Blvd.

In 2004, Clyde Jenkins, born and raised in Portland , returned to his hometown city after having managed one of the largest telecoms in the country. Located in Minneapolis , company owners decided to sell, and in a scenario like those played out in countless other corporate settings, when the new owners took over, they also let old management go so they could staff these positions with their own. Clyde looked around for a while and before long knew he wanted to return to Portland . But he also knew that there were next to no telecoms in the area, and certainly none hiring at a time when the industry was in a downturn. He looked around, and took some additional courses at OSU. But also taking shape in his mind was the dream he had had on and off for years: owning a first class restaurant which would excel in offering a fine dining experience as well as providing customers a comfortable lounge which would feature live music and dancing. And, he insisted to himself, it had to be located in the Northeast part of the city.

He looked around for a while, and then got wind of the fact that the Prime Rib was for sale. He checked it out, liked what he saw, including its potential, and bought it.

He has never looked back. Business is good, the remodeled bar with its lovely dance floor, new lighting, and more space for tables as well as additional seats at the bar, feels comfortable and friendly. And the fine dining is available in the subdued lighting of the dining room or the lounge. “I worked at the old Harold's at the Lloyd Center when I was in high school (Central Catholic). That's where I got my first taste of the restaurant business; I liked it, and I think it became the seed for my notion of someday running a first class establishment.” Clyde further elaborated, “I've brought in music, mostly rock and blues, Thursday through Saturday, and people enjoy not just listening but also getting out onto the dance floor. As a matter of fact, Paul DeLay played here regularly.”

Clyde had known Ron Steen for many years (another Central Catholic grad), knew he was doing jams around town, such as at Produce Row on Mondays, and he went to check him out. He told him about his restaurant and bar, and that Sunday night was open for entertainment. “So I said to him, I've got this thing going on ...what do you think we ought to do?” Ron came out and looked over the lounge, told me that since he did the Monday night jam at Produce Row, Sunday might be a nice night for a jam, and the lounge would be a nice place to have it. So, we started that three years ago this November!”

We talked more about the place, especially the good feeling it gives off, and the fact that it attracts a diverse clientele that always seems to be having a genuinely good time. Ron brings in great Portland-based musicians like Randy Porter, Tom Grant, Greg Goebel, George Mitchell, Tony Pacini, Phil Baker and Dave Captein ... a long list of the best to which are added local singers and players always looking forward to a chance to sit in with Ron's featured trio. “The room,” Clyde noted, “I think it's one of those places that, if you were to design it, this is what it would look like! It actually wasn't designed for this, you know, as a jazz club. It originally sort of came out like this by accident! So it's great, and when we're close to full, we can accommodate about 75 to 100 people in here.” Asked if the Sunday jams have been a success, Clyde thought for a moment, and replied, “Yes ...it isn't always humming, but it often is, and it's a kind of signature thing you do. Every Sunday night, four or five new faces show up. They tell me they were in town, called friends for advice on what to do and where to go on a Sunday night, and were told to head on over to Clyde's. And you know, it builds up over time.

Also, what we're dealing with here of course ...it's a Sunday. Here's what happens on a Sunday: you're going to come, you're going to order a beer, and you're most likely going to nurse it all night. I mean, you've got to work tomorrow. (If it were a Friday night, of course, you might just not worry too much about having a few.) But what we've got going now is nice, and I want to keep it going, and of course, it may bring in folks on other nights we have music. You never know. But the jam being on Sunday, I know what to expect, and that's where it's going to stay for now. And, oh yeah, people do also eat some when they come in on a Sunday night. So, it's good.”

I came away from my conversation with Clyde Jenkins pleased at having had this chance to get acquainted with him, and convinced the business will continue to flourish. I admired his willingness to make a new venue for jazz to happen, even if it is, being on a Sunday night, a little less likely for the event to bring in the biggest financial payback. I've been to Clyde 's for the Sunday jams, and I'm convinced they will grow and attract more and more people as more and more word gets out. Try it if you've not done so yet. Hey, it extends the weekend, it's cordial and comfortable, the jazz is at its spontaneous best, and, oh yeah, you can eat there too! And eat very well!



Copyright 2007, Jazz Society of Oregon