Every great bar needs a great woman to play host to the crowds. A brassy kind of broad that can out-drink the best of them, while telling fascinating stories of the wild nights and good times from her own past. At our bar that woman was a fiery, redheaded and a local legend that lived a full life behind the bar at the Yukon Tavern.
Vivian McCarty came onto the Portland bar scene as a talented saxophonist, heading up two all-girl bands; the San Su Strutters and the Four Femmes. They spent weekends together traveling around the Pacific Northwest, playing big band tunes in small towns, hotels, and at the grand opening of Southeast Portland’s Baghdad Theater. Not a bad life for a woman in 1930, and one that perfectly fit our sassy Vivian.
Eventually, Vivian stepped behind the Yukon’s long bar to serve drinks and entertain customers with colorful tales of life on the road. The Yukon became a second home to her, where she hosted lumberjacks, sailors, and other ruffians for decades. She loved her role as overseer of a rough crowd and is known to this day as a “feisty bird with a heart of gold.”
The Yukon Tavern is still very much Vivian McCarty’s bar. Years after she retired in 2000 in her 80s (nobody dared ask her true age), we can still recall her flirtatious nature and the welcoming smile she shared with everyone who sat down at her bar. In 2011, Willamette Week named her one of the city’s “Best of Portland” and we couldn’t agree more. We honor Vivian’s memory with a collection of photos and newspaper clippings telling her story at the back of the bar where the musicians she loved used to perform.
Next time you come into the bar for a drink, don’t forget to toast the Yukon Tavern’s greatest lady, Vivian McCarty.