The Best Bars for Single Mingling in Portland
Portland is not a specifically prude city, but outsiders can’t help but notice that our notion of a “singles bar” is wildly different than what they’re used to. A lot of our hookup culture is centered on activities, mutual interests, and dating apps (heavy sigh), which means the idea of going to a bar and talking to complete strangers can be a bit daunting. Oddly enough, most females surveyed on the issue complain about how men rarely talk to them at bars, which is in stark contrast to cities like New York or Philadelphia, where most of the aggravation is centered around the exact opposite problem.
That being said, the stock of young single people refreshes almost biannually, with thousands of ambitious 20- and 30-somethings filing in solo with hopes of building a new life. Many aren’t shy about engaging with strangers if drinks are flowing, and if you know where to look it shouldn’t be too hard to snag digits here and there. Only a handful of the bars below are explicitly known as hook-up bars, but if you’re willing to do the work and build off chance encounters in the right environment, the sky’s the limit for singles in the Rose City.
The Dynasty has made waves since it opened three years ago for bringing a clubby, queer-friendly space to folks who’d rather be dead than make the trek Downtown to dance. The mood depends on who’s on the decks any given evening, but the combination of dim lighting, gender-agnostic bathrooms, plenty of events with diverse music, and an all-are-welcome attitude makes this a great place to be single and ready to mingle.
This immensely popular music venue in Portland’s uber-hip Lower Burnside bar district is a great place to bond with someone over a shared love of music. Even if you don’t have plans to pack into the basement and watch one of the many up-and-coming local and touring acts Doug Fir books almost nightly, you’re guaranteed to find plenty of folks smoking and drinking by the fire pit out back just about any night of the week.
Not every West Sider has a tolerance for the chaos and obnoxiousness that plagues the Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood on the weekdays, which means a classier joint that’s not quite a shirt-and-tie affair is bound to be appreciated. That place is Jackknife, a moderately fancy hotel bar attached to the Sentinel that’s known for eclectic DJ nights, tasty cocktails, and an overall vibe that celebs like Bruno Mars or Pharrell would probably dig. If you’re able to at least pretend to be more interesting than a basic bridge-and-tunneler who drives a tricked-out Subaru and thinking liking Drake counts as a personality trait, your chances of getting laid at Jackknife immediately quadruple. Throw in a job at Nike and a condo somewhere near the US 26/Highway 217 interchange and you’re practically made of gold.
No matter what flavor of hipster you’re in search of, you’re bound to find it at Rontoms. The internet constantly drags this place for being packed with all of the young, hot, and terminally disinterested denizens of Portland as if that’s such a bad thing, but no one will argue against the colloquial knowledge that it’s the number one place to see and be seen on the weekends if you’re trying to hook up. Don’t forget the free live shows on Sunday nights, which offer all the upside of an energetic environment for music lovers without the price tag that usually accompanies it.
Radio Room is the Swiss Army knife of Northeast Portland bars. Stop by in the morning and you’ll find hungover locals pecking away at laptops and alternating swigs of coffee and cocktails. Stop by 12 hours later and you’ll see may of the same people, this time a tad more dressed up and with a handful of friends in tow. It’s easy to drop in on disparate crews of complete strangers by the fire, provided you’ve got an extra smoke and a good come-on to shake the requisite hater of the group. What’s better is that Alberta is lined with more bars than any other stretch in Portland, which makes it easy to break away for some solo time if the night appears to be headed that way.
The massive patio, impressive spread of vegan fare, and endless rotation of local DJ talent attracts revelers of all stripes to White Owl Social Club, making it one of the few bars in Portland almost everyone can agree on hitting up if a night on the town is in order. It’s line-around-the-block packed on weekend nights, but it’s no secret that almost everyone who eventually passes through its doors is not opposed to walking out with a new phone number or two after a night of dancing and shooting the shit around the picnic tables.
Like Doug Fir, Bar Bar is usually ground zero for the after party of concerts that take place at Mississippi Studios -- the intimate indie rock venue it adjoins. Enjoy the simple perfection of their beloved Bar Bar Burger, sip a pint of craft beer around the fire and engage in casual conversation about whatever musical greatness you just witnessed next door. You probably shouldn’t date anyone you can’t take to a show, so this is a good way to ensure whoever you’re talking to is on the same wavelength as far as taste in music goes.
What qualifies as “goth” is debatable these days, but anyone who shares a love for all things dark and danceable is certain to agree that Lovecraft is basically Cheers for goth kids. The preponderance of moody lighting and fog machines makes it a perfect place to sulk in a shroud of enigma, emerging from your cloud of ennui only when an ideal mate appears on the dance floor. You don’t need to wear eyeliner or leather to get lucky here, but it certainly helps when haute goth looks are available at places like Forever 21 and H&M nowadays.
The rooftop deck at Revolution Hall deserves an honorable mention as far as top-of-the-world terraces go, but Departure was the first on the scene and has a decorum that’s far more preferable for flirtation and feats of fanciness. Fellas aren’t technically required to dress to impress here, but when you’re hitting up a Downtown bar that’s known to be a hotspot for itinerant NBA players and their impeccably outfitted friend groups, it’s a good idea.
The Liquor Store looks a lot like the bachelor pad you wish you had. Classic vinyl lines the walls, and your check comes served in a tattered paperback copy of Paradise Lost or Ham On Rye. Places like this are dime-a-dozen these days, but below the dimly lit lounge is a basement that packs a rather impressive hodgepodge of dance music, indie rock, and occasional hip-hop that attracts one of the widest arrays of hipsters that any bar in Southeast Portland has seen. Whether it’s wooks, ravers, or disaffected art school kids with bad tattoos, there’s probably at least one night a week at the Liquor Store that attracts them in droves.
Low Brow Lounge is the unlikely post for students at nearby PNCA, which appears to finally be in the end stages of a vast remodel that’ll have the venerable fine arts college back at full capacity sooner than you know it. Prior to being a hotbed for high-rise condos and yoga studios sandwiched between wine bars, the Pearl was a wasteland of warehouses and nothingness, and the Low Brow Lounge is indeed the last vestige of this now-bougie neighborhood’s grimy glory days. It’s a fine place to complain about condos with equally perturbed Portlanders over cheap beer and quesadillas, and it’s worth keeping in your back pocket if your friends finangle you into a trip to one of many detestable bro bars within a four-block radius.
The lack of a proper “Gayborhood” in Portland is a complicated issue, but that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of pro-LGBTQ+ bars situated throughout its many quiet residential districts. Crush is the platonic ideal of a neighborhood bar, and it just so happens that many queer events and proudly out staff makes it a great place for groups of all sexual preferences and identities to have a good time. And if you’re feeling a bit more tawdry, it’s about a $10 Uber or Lyft to any number of clubs Downtown that cater to specific interests, if that’s where the night is headed.
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