Has the Portland winter drained you of all happiness? Feeling deficient of vitamin D? Don’t go to the tanning bed like the bronzed athlete you’ll never be, but follow us into the dark, damp, dingy watering holes where it’s understood that the only way to fight the endless gray winter is to steep yourself in even more darkness. And alcohol. Lots of alcohol. After all, there’s no cure for seasonal affective disorder quite like a dive bar. And these are the city’s best.
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.
Portland’s third-oldest continuously opened and operated bar/restaurant (102 years!), KO was named after one of the owners and the eponymous beer company that helped launch the place, and once boasted a speakeasy in the basement, but today it's got a dozen vintage motorcycles hanging from the ceiling, plus burgers named after... guesswhat!... motorbikes, like the Ducati w/ sautéed mushrooms, Swiss & grilled onion, or the Triumph w/ bacon & blue cheese.
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.
Club 21’s exterior is a miniature castle resembling a run-down Disneyland attraction taken over by a band of delusional mystics. Once inside, you’ll realize they aren’t so delusional after all, they just really love beer, burgers, and pinball. Join their cause, and you won’t be bothered.
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.
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.
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 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.
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Andy Kryza, Pete Cottell, and Drew Tyson contributed to this essential piece of journalism.
1. My Father's Place523 SE Grand Ave, Portland
2. Low Brow Lounge1036 NW Hoyt St, Portland
3. Kelly's Olympian426 SW Washington St, Portland
4. Yur's717 NW 16th, Portland
5. Reel M Inn2430 SE Division St, Portland
6. Yamhill Pub223 SW Yamhill St, Portland
7. Club 212035 NE Glisan St, Portland
8. High Water Mark Lounge6800 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland
9. Crow Bar3954 N Mississippi Ave, Portland
10. Hour Glass Pub & Eatery7401 NE Glisan St, Portland
11. Slingshot Lounge5532 SE Center St, Portland
12. Alleyway Cafe & Bar2415 NE Alberta St, Portland
13. Hanigan's Tavern2622 SE Belmont St, Portland
14. Slim's Cocktail Bar & Restaurant8635 N Lombard St, Portland
15. Lutz Tavern4639 SE Woodstock Blvd, Portland
16. Spare Room Restaurant & Lounge4830 NE 42nd Ave, Portland
17. Joe's Cellar1332 NW 21st Ave, Portland
18. Sandy Hut1430 NE Sandy Blvd, Portland
This classic, old-school dive bar with spacious booths is known for Portland comfort food -- think all day breakfast, hot and cold sandwiches, and a variety of quesadillas -- that'll keep you coming back night after night. And if that doesn't do the trick, good booze and good company will.
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.
Kelly's doesn't limit themselves to just a plain old dive bar. They're also a sweet performance venue, hosting live bands and other events.
A below-the-radar dive which has battled the glitz of Northwest PDX for ages. Yur's has got big pours to be enjoyed in their "Cave" area, featuring a 55" screen, surround sound, and cushioned couches.
An ultra-dive full of down-to-earth locals in a stretch known for fanciness, Reel M pops out the best fried chicken in the city. The sizeable 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." Trust us, it's worth it.
It may not be the most beautiful bar, but their dirt cheap PBR pitchers will make you want to stick around.
A Portland mainstay since its opening in 1958, this retro lounge in Kerns offers brews and burgers inside a castle-like venue. With brunch offered 7 days a week, you can come early for tasty eats, and stay late for happy hour specials going on from 3-7pm.
Friendly bartenders and a lively crowd make High Water Mark what it is-- a charming, hometown lounge that's perfect for checking out live shows and knocking back the house special pulled pork sliders.
This hip, divey bar and hang specializes in top shelf whiskey and tasty brews, and with a pinball machine and jukebox in the back room, you've got plenty of ways to keep the party going past last call.
This neighborhood pub and kitchen in Northeast Portland specializes in plain and simple eats-- word on the street is they've got the best fried chicken in town-- and good, old-fashioned beers on tap. You can't argue, either, when the cocktails are this cheap ($3!!) or this good.
Good. Honest. Local. If you live in this area you should probably just stay at this place for casual brews and bites.
Get your drink on at this divey punk-rock cafe and bar that sports a pool table, photo booth, pinball machines, and an outdoor patio where you're more than welcome to post up with your pup. Whether you grab a spot at the picnic tables outside, where they'll bring your dog a bowl of water, or stay inside and chill at the cozy, narrow bar, you can pair brew with some tasty treats from their extensive menu -- from pizza to burgers to veggie options.
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.
Their steak and PBR specials make this place one of the best dives in Portland.
This place sis like something straight out of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie.
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.
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.
Sandy Hut may have been around for just short of a century here, but that doesn't mean things haven't been shaken up a bit. The dive changed hands and got cleaned up in 2015, and while the bar's character remains (there is still an old-time feel with Al Hirschfeld caricatures and wood-paneled walls), it lost some (but not all) of the grime and got an expanded menu. Joining the burgers and cheap beer you know are crab leg specials and Polynesian-inspired cocktails.