Travel Back in Time to the Year 1999 at This Totally Immersive Decades Bar and Y2K Pop-Up Bar
With no sign, and plenty of other nearby bars, this drink-special-happy boozer is easy to miss, though once you do make your way in, you’ll find one whole room devoted to pinball, video lottery, pool tables, etc., while the other two cater to people who want strong drinks and something fried to eat.
As the name implies, Low Brow Lounge is a reminder that, even in an area with far more yoga studios than convenience stores, people need a local dive bar, a dark spot in the sea of over-lit froofiness. This place is awkwardly laid out, so prepare to get lost, but it’s also refreshingly unapologetic, and sufficiently stocked with tallboys, typical pub fare, and well liquors. If you need anything more, you should stop reading this now and head out for a $300 dog jacket at a nearby boutique.
Sure, it has some of the best, er... free-est, bar food in town, but that’s not all! It's a go-to for the city's best Golden Tee-ers (maybe the butter on the aforementioned free popcorn helps their swing) and if you go before 5pm it's staffed -- in what must be a ploy to attract day drinkers -- by a slew of attractive bartenders, which isn't something we know from experience because we only work during the day. We swear!
An ultra-dive full of down-to-earth locals in a stretch known for fanciness, Reel M's full of contradictions. Like, it's a fisherman-themed bar that doesn't do fish. Instead, it pops out the best fried chicken in the city. The Nerf ball-sized bird chunks take 30 minutes to cook, and when the bartender serves 'em, she'll give you instructions on how to eat them... including a stern "wait 15 minutes". It's worth it. Oh, and did we mention the jojos?
The next time you’re dragged to Pioneer Place to watch someone else shop for clothes you can’t afford, ditch your friend while they’re in the fitting room and go to Yamhill Pub. Years of graffiti cover the walls, and the collective scribblings create a manic version of an abstract Pollock painting. While your friend will be deciding which $175 jeans fit them best, you will be penning your own art on the wall and ordering a third boilermaker, ringing up a tab that will hardly thin your wallet.
This multi-room bar doubles as a classic dive and a solid venue consistently booking good local talent, particularly metal bands. After your neck hurts from head banging for the first time in 16 years, escape to the heated back patio and bum a smoke off the merch guy. He won’t appreciate it, but you’ll feel like your old teenage self who discovered the glorious combination of whiskey, cigarettes, and heavily distorted guitar.
In a part of town that’s increasingly giving way to boutique shops and artisan restaurants -- don’t get us wrong, some of the best food in the city is owed to this shift -- it’s comforting to know that Crow Bar is still here when you just want a stiff drink and a dim atmosphere in which to ponder exactly nothing. Play pool, play the jukebox, order another from the surly bartender, and pretend you’re in the Mississippi of 10 years ago, because nothing in here has changed.
At Hour Glass you’ll find salty locals who just got off work and want nothing more than to shoot pool, enjoy a heavy pour, and eat a dependably tasty plate of fried chicken from Chicken Little next door. Do yourself a favor by not forgoing this battered bird: it’s one of the best old-school fried chickens in town. Tomorrow, your body will thank you for consuming something solid alongside that 100-proof Old Grand-Dad.
Long before its little corner of Buckman leveled its homeless park in favor of condos and the nearby “Goat Blocks” became a yuppie vision of Portland, The Slammer stood as something of a beacon for cheap drinks and rough company. Appropriate then, that the little shoebox has a small apartment towering out of it like a lighthouse, one cloaked by a perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke hanging like London fog courtesy of the picnic tables outside. The place was claimed by hipsters about a decade ago, precipitating some degree of change: The installation of skiable and Buck Hunter, and the eventual acceptance of credit cards 20 years after that was the norm, were harbingers. But the seedier clientele that made it glorious to begin with remain, often until last call, telling tales of the neighborhood’s past under the glow of enough Christmas lights to make the place visible from space. And lest that ski ball give you pause, rest assured that the place still hasn’t replaced the door on the bathroom. God bless it.
Slingshot looks and feels like a dive, but surprises with a small, appetizing menu, including great burgers and Frito pie, plus house-crafted cocktails. Whether you’re looking for a simple watering hole with pool and pinball or food on par with Portland’s hipper side, this is your place. And despite the shifting Foster-Powell landscape, Slingshot is sure to be a mainstay.
Alberta Arts District
The gem of the Alleyway is the expansive covered patio with rows of picnic tables, perfect for a crowd of friends who want to avoid being the annoying group who rearranges a bar’s furniture so they can all sit together. At night, you might catch a live performance and a rowdy audience, and trust us by not writing off the vegetarian-friendly menu.
Belmont’s got "dives" like Triple Nickel Pub and Belmont Inn, then you’ve got Hanigan’s, a bar so unbelievably divey 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.
Lombard has no shortage of quality dives, but Slim’s narrowly edges out the competition on account of its 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.
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 2 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 fewer nail-biting Reedies than you’d expect. Even better, this is a place whose legacy is cemented in dive bar lore: it’s credited with singlehandedly bringing PBR out of the hands of Midwestern grandpas and into the tattooed mitts of hipsters in the 2000s, turning the beer into a popular phenomenon that has all but become synonymous with “cool” dive bars. Pay your respects. It only takes $1 a can to do so.
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?
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.
While the shuffleboard and the mishmash of local music is sorely missed, the “Handy Slut” (its name, not ours!) is still the skeezy purple box we’ve known and loved all these years before ownership of now-closed Club 21 gave it a facelift a few years 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.
The centerpiece of a small stretch of Sandy’s Roseway neighborhood unofficially known as Little Saigon (in the lands between Hollywood and jug-shaped strip club Pirate’s Cove) Yen Ha’s become a legend not because of the storied Vietnamese restaurant’s Bible-thick menu, but because of the glorious dive bar attached. The narrow little hole is a solid spot for drinking incendiary well drinks (this is the kind of place where a single is a triple) while drawing the stares of blue-collar locals whose favorite “Vietnamese” food is a cheap burger and fries, but the real gem here is the karaoke on Friday and Saturday, when those same locals reveal that they may or may not have once sang backup for The Cars. Most karaoke nights spin out of control after hours of drinking and slaughtering pop tunes. At Yen Ha, it’s instant. And when the night’s over, the allure of the jug-shaped strip club becomes increasingly palpable.