Food & Drink

The Best Dive Bar in 25 Portland 'Hoods

Pete Cottell Published On 10/21/2015 Published On 10/21/2015
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Portland When it comes to taste, no two Portlanders are alike. But there’s one thing that we can all agree on: dive bars are wonderful, wonderful things. In fact, we love them so much that even our most sparkly neighborhoods have a few. And our less-sparkly ones are basically like little shanty towns made of places that sell tallboys and loosies. But not all are created equal. Which is why we braved the scenes in 25 very different neighborhoods to find the best in each. It was hard... on our livers, not our wallets. More Stuff You Will Like

Low Brow Lounge

Pearl District

Low Brow Lounge (address and info)   Mismatched, semi-tropical decor and cave-like ambience aside, any bar in a neighborhood crawling with Porsche-driving yogis with year-round tans who prefer to live near the Starbucks with a wine bar in it (and only a block away from Lululemon!) is to be automatically considered a dive. We’re totally OK with that, especially when it’s as great as this one.

Old Town/Chinatown

Ash Street Saloon (address and info)   Like your chain-smoking hesher friend who’s in a perpetual state of giving zero shits about anything, Ash Street is defiant in its unpretentious attitude toward nightlife in what’s otherwise one of Portland’s most obnoxious 'hoods for going out. We’d reckon that referring to a night fueled by cheap Hamm’s and metal tunes as “nightlife” is likely to get your ass kicked here, but at least the ‘tude keeps the tourists at bay.

Lower Burnside

B-Side Tavern (address and info)   Now that the goons that make Chinatown unbearable have creeped eastward across the Burnside Bridge, B-Side is easily your safest bet for avoiding the fuccbois and vape bros that have infiltrated every other bar on this busy little strip of the inner east side. Bonus points for a solid patio and the occasional Union Jacks employee stopping in before a long night of twerking to “What’s Your Fantasy” for hours on end. Continue Reading

Flickr/Lester Luallin

Belmont

Hanigan’s Tavern (address and info)   You’ve got “dives” like Triple Nickel Pub and Belmont Inn, then you’ve got Hanigan’s, a bar so unbelievably dive-y that folks rarely even know its real name. With dirt-cheap PBR and cocktails, ratty carpet, and a wonky pool table, “The ‘Vern” -- named so due to its neon “TAVERN” sign being half kaput for eternity -- is the kind of place where you’d find yourself drinking with impunity at noon on a Monday after getting fired from your cubicle job for waking up hungover and late one too many times.

Division/Clinton

Reel M Inn (address and info)   Cheap microbrews, some of the city’s best fried chicken and jojos, optimal TV viewing for all your sportsball needs -- not only is Reel M Inn one of the last remaining vestiges of dive bar culture in what’s basically The Pearl 2.0 (condolences, proud Southeasterners), but the very idea of the place is a distillation of what makes Portland truly wonderful. Don’t screw this up, people!

St. Johns

Slim's (address and info)   Lombard has no shortage of quality dives, but Slim’s narrowly edges out the competition on account of their now-and-then $8 steak special, $2 PBR, and the rotating cast of DJs the bar employs to spin classic rockabilly, outlaw country, and just about anything else you’d imagine Sam Elliott’s character in The Big Lebowski to prefer as a soundtrack for sippin’ on a sarsaparilla and shooting a round of pool in the back room.

Flickr/radcliffe dacanay

Kerns

Sandy Hut (address and info)   While the shuffleboard and the mishmash of local music is sorely missed, the “Handy Slut” (their name, not ours!) is still the skeezy purple box we’ve known and loved all these years before ownership of Club 21 (a close runner-up just a few blocks away) gave it a facelift a few months back. Now that we know what the place actually looks like inside thanks to lights, the retro rec-room appeal of Sandy Hut -- complete with a Playboy pinball machine and studded leather booths- -- is indisputable.

Hawthorne

Space Room Lounge (address and info)   The place might be under new management, but the essentials remain. It’s still darker than an adult theater inside. There’s still a psychedelic mural of Mt. Hood on the wall. The drinks are still stiff, and we’re pretty sure that dude at the end of the bar has never left. The only new thing? Breakfast from the folks behind Genies and a great expanded patio. Just don’t get blinded by the light when you step out.

Hollywood

Blackwell’s Grub Steak Grill (address and info)   Residents of the Hollywood district are drawn to Blackwell’s by the morbid curiosity of what a “grub steak” might be, but that interest vanishes immediately when you walk in the door and see the weird ads for food specials that look like they were designed in a 90s version of MS Office without the help of Clippy. He was probably here instead, blowing his meager paycheck on cheap drinks -- made by the same bartender who’s here now -- and fried apps like jalapeño poppers and mozzarella sticks, both of which we highly recommend.

Flickr/drburtoni

Downtown

Yamhill Pub (address and info)   For a bar that’s only two blocks from a shiny urban shopping center, the amount of grime and graffiti that’s central to Yamhill Pub’s character is downright unprecedented. Factor in dirt-cheap PBR pitchers and its klatch of surly old-Portland regulars, and this spot sticks out like a sore thumb in the best way possible.

Lloyd District

Black Water Bar (address and info)   How could a vegan punk and metal venue with signage that’s merely a disheveled black tarp draped over that of the the prior tenant be anything less than the zenith of Portland dive-itude?

Alberta Arts District

The Know (address and info)   Standing, loudly, in defiance of the countless mixed-use mausoleums of commerce that now dot Alberta, this scrappy punk bar has done a fine job of holding it’s own and hosting raucous shows with a small-town DIY feel in spite of Alberta’s recent facelift. Like a glorious middle finger erected to the rising tide of bougie tourist culture, we’re nostalgic for The Know’s glory days already, and it hasn’t even been razed to make way for a solar-powered gluten-free commissary kitchen yet.

Flickr/Michael Pittman

Kenton

George’s Dancin’ Bare (address and info)   Choosing between the wood-panelled punk goodness of the Kenton Club and “Portland’s Premiere Blue Collar Strip Club” was a tough call at first, but the option of choosing the two-for was too good to pass up. Anywhere with wall-to-wall NASCAR signage and zero windows will win every single time, and it definitely helps that the beer is absurdly cheap and accompanied by a fantastic view. Because it’s obviously a strip club. Pro tip: get the steak. But only after several beers.

Gladstone

Ship Ahoy Tavern (address and info)   The secret to maximizing the $1 jello shot experience is to enjoy them at a mellow neighborhood spot that’s far, far away from the riffraff that use such a deal as a catalyst to start shit with strangers between vape pen hits out front. Throw in an excellent patio, above-average tots, and a solid selection of pinball machines, and Ship Ahoy is exactly what the doctor ordered for a no-bullshit Friday night. Or Sunday morning. There’s always room for jello.

Woodstock

Lutz Tavern (address and info)   The lived-in charm of this Woodstock haunt feels a lot like something out of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie, like the place where you’d meet up at two in the afternoon for a drink or six with an estranged half-brother who’s involved in some weird pyramid scheme. The cocktails are stiff, the beer list is impressive, and the clientele has way less nail-biting Reedies than you’d expect.

McPeet's Portland Pub

Beaumont

McPeet’s (address and info)   The regulars who flock to McPeet’s for their Sunday-Funday proceedings could hold their own at just about any other dive bar in town, but they’ve rightfully chosen McPeet’s for its unpretentious vibe and above-average tap selection, which is more than anyone could ask for in a sleepy neighborhood that looks like it could support a Talbots or a free-standing Gap.

82nd Ave

The Lion’s Eye Tavern (address and info)   The frumpy dividing line between Portlandia-Portland and blue-collar Portland is chock full of weird little shitholes of all shapes and sizes, but the Lion’s Eye stands out for being just right by our impossibly high standards. When we say “just right,” we mean the beer is cheap, and you won’t get the stink eye for walking in there with your crew and waking up the disgruntled regular who’s been staring at the same video poker screen for two hours.

Central Eastside

Gil’s Speakeasy (address and info)   Cheap pool, $.50 tacos on Mondays, and a rogue’s gallery of of old-school punks and the weirdos you often find snatching the cans out of your recycling container every Monday morning. Coincidence? We think not.

Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Roseway

Mad Hanna (address and info)   It’s really saying something that Mad Hanna is coming out ahead of a strip club shaped like a gigantic jug of rum, but that’s just a testament to the charm of Mad Hanna, which fixed up the former Rovon Inn, but just enough that it’s nice without losing its diviness. The cocktails are great, the pudding shots are better, and the pack porch -- with ping pong, horseshoes, and other greatness -- is one of the city’s best. It’s also a bar that balances friendliness and surliness perfectly. By visit number two, you’re basically family.

Foster-Powell

O’Malley’s Saloon and Grill (address and info)   Just your average dark, cavernous Irish bar run by metalheads serving great slabs of Sicilian pizza and cheap beer to spill on the pool table. Also, O’Malley’s has its own beer fest. It’s all macro brews. And it’s magnificent.

Montavilla

Thatchers (address and info)   Montavilla is ever-changing. Except Thatchers, which was always a gigantic, pitcher-slopping, food-frying, no-light-entering spot that looks like it was transported from a land rife with truck nuts. It’s a perfect contrast. And they serve breakfast daily!

Boise-Eliot

Billy Ray’s Neighborhood Dive (address and info)   Rare is the bar that’s overtly inserted the word “dive” in it’s name and earned the right to do so, but Billy Ray’s is no Guy Fieri-approved start-up hospitality venture masquerading as a hole in the wall. This is the real deal, folks. It’s cash-only, tallboys are under $3, the stereo only plays music made by dudes with mustaches and Ford Econolines, and the food they offer to skirt OLCC requirements that coincide with liquor sales consists of pretzels and Swanson’s Hungry-Man dinners. A few spots come close, but Billy Ray’s is easily the gold standard for dive bars in Portland.

Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Cully

The Spare Room (address and info)   Just your average windowless-bowling-alley-turned-bar with shots served out of brown bags, movie nights, games, and karaoke nights where you get your own backup dancer, and the KJ blows live sax solos. What, doesn’t every neighborhood have one of those?

Nob Hill/Alphabet District

Joe’s Cellar (address and info)   Remember our citywide nightmare a while back when Joe’s temporarily closed because they thought the building would kill us? And then it re-opened like nothing happened? Of course you don’t remember. You’ve been drinking in a beat-to-hell old booth all day, and it’s been spectacular.

Irvington

Daddy Mojo’s Cafe (address and info)   If Mojo’s isn’t Portland’s best-kept dive bar secret, it’s at least the most schizophrenic bar in town. Yes, it’s a sushi place on one side and a full-blown sports/chill bar on the other. The bar-side menu includes smoked-salmon sushi alongside super cheap (like, $2 cheap) burgers, fish & chips, Mozz sticks (served with salsa for reasons unknown), and, um, lasagna. There’s also a dozen-or-so-page menu of soul food. And breakfast. And stiff well drinks. Half the people appear to have just come out of church. The wall is lined with celebrity headshots, some signed, some random, meaning Serena Williams holds court next to Chester A. Arthur. It’s as if a tornado swooped through Detroit, picked up a Japanese restaurant and an old-school dive bar, and plopped it in the middle of this yuppie epicenter. And it’s goddamned perfect. Sign up here for our daily PDX email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun Portland has to offer. Thrillist senior editor Andy Kryza insisted on contributing to this article, since he was going to be doing this tonight anyway. Pete Cottell is a writer at Thrillist. He’s pretty sure he was conceived in a dive bar, and his first-born will follow suit. Follow him to family legacies: @vanifestdestiny.

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1. Low Brow Lounge 1036 NW Hoyt St, Portland, OR 97209 (Pearl District)

Located in the Pearl District, this dive bar is true to its name. There are no frills here, just cold beer and solid bar snacks.

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2. Ash Street Saloon 225 SW Ash St, Portland, OR 97204

With live, local music seven nights a week, a long happy hour, and two spacious patios, this Portland dive has something for everyone.

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3. B-Side Tavern 632 E Burnside St, Portland, OR 97214

Ironically, what was once an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting space is now a casual, partly outdoors hangout for drinks.

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4. Hanigan's Tavern 2622 SE Belmont St, Portland, OR 97214

Also known as "The Vern," this unassuming dive is a sight for sore eyes. Yet, it has charm as it doles out cheap PBRs and constantly puts off fixing its very dilapidated sign.

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5. Slim's Cocktail Bar & Restaurant 8635 N Lombard St, Portland, OR 97203

Their steak and PBR specials make this place one of the best dives in Portland.

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6. Sandy Hut 1430 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland, OR 97232 (Ne Portland)

Don't expect to get blown away with expensive drinks and upscale bar food, the Sandy Hut is a dive bar at its best, priding themselves on their knowledgable and friendly bar tenders since they opened in 1923.

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7. Space Room Lounge 4800 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97215 (Hawthorne Dist)

With all-day breakfast options, plus a full bar, this divey restaurant-bar-combo with an inexplicable outer-space theme serves up delicious eats and libations in Hawthorne. If you're really looking to blast off, order their Purple Alien, a mutant concoction of lemons, grape vodka, grape juice and 7-Up.

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8. Blackwell's Grub 1815 NE 41st Ave, Portland, OR 97212

In addition to hosting bands and other live entertainment, this Hollywood district dive is known for its cheap drinks and great apps. The jalapeño poppers and mozzarella sticks are highly recommended.

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9. Yamhill Pub 223 SW Yamhill St, Portland, OR 97204

It may not be the most beautiful bar, but their dirt cheap PBR pitchers will make you want to stick around.

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10. Back Water Bar 835 NE Broadway St, Portland, OR 97232

Vegetarian/vegan restaurant by day, concert venue by night. Guests flock to this unique venue for healthy eating and great local music.

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11. The Know 2026 NE Alberta St, Portland, OR 97211

Punk and metal bands perform at this very casual, affordable dive that serves bottled beers and offers pinball machines.

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12. George's Dancin' Bare 8440 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 97217

Pro tip: get the steak. But only after several beers.

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14. Lutz Tavern 4639 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland, OR 97206

This place sis like something straight out of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.

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15. McPeet's 4501 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97213

This dive bar's above-average tap selection makes them one of our favorite Sunday-Funday spots.

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17. Gil's Speakeasy 609 SE Taylor St, Portland, OR 97214

Everyone should listen to Prince's advice, and Gil's grilled cheese does: Tillamook cheddar and cream (cheese), you on top.

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18. Mad Hanna 6129 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97213 (Beaumont Wilshire)

This neighborhood mainstay is truly a Portland dive, having remained unaffected by gentrification and trends. And with clientele made mostly of locals, pool, board games, movie nights and creative -- but not refined or "upped" cocktails -- Mad Hanna is a PDX must visit. Also, here you'll find one of the city's best outdoor porches...and great jello shots with Pop Rocks!

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19. O'Malley's Saloon & Grill 6535 SE Foster Rd, Portland, OR 97206 (Se Portland)

This gem of an Irish dive bar in FoPo makes thick focaccia-style slices to order at the bar, and is decked out with a foosball and pool table, video games, and pinball. The beer selection is impressive as well, and for the suds-averse, stiff cocktails and wine will have you reaching for a second slice in no time. Pro tip: have them throw it in for a few extra minutes to get that NYC crispiness, which otherwise eludes the doughy base.

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20. Thatcher's 7906 SE Stark St, Portland, OR 97215

Probably one of the only dive bars in town that serves breakfast every day.

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21. Billy Ray's Neighborhood Dive 2216 NE M L King Blvd, Portland, OR 97212

This place is the gold standard for dive bars in Portland.

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22. Spare Room Restaurant & Lounge 4830 NE 42nd Ave, Portland, OR 98218

Spare Room is a Portland dive in a converted bowling alley with two distinct bars and plenty of mystery shots to imbibe as you bask in saxophone tunes. Also available is standard American fare (for breakfast, lunch, and dinner), along with daily food specials, mixed drinks, and frequent live music.

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23. Joe's Cellar 1332 NW 21st Ave, Portland, OR 97209-1611

This is debatably Portland's favorite dive bar of all time. Nightly, regulars of all walks congregate at the long wood bar and order up comfort food, brews, and cocktails. There's also a pool table area in the back.

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24. Daddy mojo's cafe 1501 NE Fremont St, Portland, OR 97212

This place is one of Portland's best-kept dive bar secrets.

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