Food & Drink

The Best Theme Bars in Portland

Published On 09/16/2015 Published On 09/16/2015

This weekend, Portland will be filled with way more people in costumes than usual thanks to the return of Rose City Comic Con (Sept. 19th-20th at the Convention Center), at which people dressed as Princess Leia can meet Carrie Fisher and geeks of every ilk come together in celebration. But what do you do after the convention closes? Or if, you know, you're a geek the other 363 days of the year?

The answer is theme bars. These are the city's best, not just because they have nerd cred, but also because they're genuinely great bars... and they just so happen to have a TARDIS or some tentacles lying around.

Andy Kryza/Thrillist

The Lovecraft Bar

Central Eastside
The theme: Horror & sci-fi 

Most days, The Lovecraft functions as Portland's best horror-themed bar, with coffins, lasers, fog, skulls, and elder gods dominating the space. On Sunday, Sept. 20th, though, the Dark Lord Cthulhu has commanded that Portland’s best goth bar become an anime dance party, so make sure to stop by and pay your respects after the convention ends on Sunday. Not feeling all the bright colors? The Lovecraft will be operating as dark as ever on Saturday, with British beats and Bruce Campbell-inspired cocktails.

Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Funhouse Lounge

The theme: Carnivals & theater 

The Funhouse is a wonderland of improv theater, beer, shots (no cocktails), clowns, and a general sense of whimsy. On any given night, you can get anything from stand-up to improvised episodes of Deadwood (Saturday, Sept. 19th) to burlesque. It's kind of like that scene in Fear & Loathing, only with fewer trapeze-friendly wolverines and more grown-up theater kids. Oh, and it's situated just across Ladd’s Addition from legendary comic shop Excalibur, just in case you wanted to incorporate more capes into your fandom for the evening.

Flickr/Jay Roc

Ground Kontrol

Old Town
Theme: Classic video games

Like your favorite superhero, Ground Kontrol is a classic for a reason (unless your favorite superhero is Aquaman). Located within walking distance of one of Portland’s greatest comic book shops, Floating World, this barcade is always a hit for nerds of all ages. With more than 90 classic games -- including six-person X-Men and four-way TMNT -- there's something for everyone, plus DJs every weekend. Pro tip: Star Trek fans should hit up the Next Generation machine that Wil Wheaton signed.

Patrick Coleman/Thrillist


North Killingsworth
Theme: Doctor Who

The tenants of The TARDIS Room are also fans of the tenants of David Tennant, as this is a Doctor Who-themed, British-style drinkery that usually has live music on the weekends. But this year, the stars aligned, with Rose City Comic Con coinciding with the Series 9 season debut on Saturday, which means costumes, trivia, fish fingers, custard, pinball, and pool along with two screenings: one at 6pm and one at 9.

Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Hale Pele

Lloyd District
The theme: Polynesia 

Alright, Tiki isn’t exactly on the nerd theme. But, the bartenders sure do take their drinks seriously, even though a lot of people think a flaming sugary drink doesn’t deserve the perfectionist levels of attention usually reserved for your private fan-fiction stories. Basically, Tiki fans are the comic nerds of the booze world, and this is one of the country's best thatched slices of paradise. This cozy island paradise  -- right across the street from Friday's big kick-off party at Things From Another World -- can get packed pretty quick so get there early so you can enjoy your fiery bowl of booze, indoor thunderstorms, and kalua pork as soon as possible.

Andy Kryza/Thrillist

Casa Diablo

NW Industrial & SE McLoughlin
The theme: Vegan naked vampires

Of course Portland has a vegan strip club where you can only pay in $2 bills. Everybody always makes fun of it. But what's often overlooked is the fact that it's also vampire-themed. Specifically, it's themed after the south-of-the-border bar in From Dusk Till Dawn. That means that both locations of CD (the original in BFE and the sequel in deep SE) are rowdy as hell, and kinda wonderfully raunchy. The vamps sparkle because they're covered in glitter, not because they love Stephenie Meyer. Oh, and they definitely bite. You've been warned.

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* Thrillist senior editor Andy Kryza contributed to this story.

A reformed Texan, living abroad in Portland, OR. She loves comedy, cocktails, and comics and will fight you about any of those on Twitter @shame_y.

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1. The Lovecraft 421 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214

This horror-themed bar hosts concerts, burlesque shows and tarot readings surrounded by ghoulish decor. This space isn't for the faint of heart with coffins, skulls, fog, lasers and strong drinks.

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2. Funhouse Lounge 2432 SE 11th, Portland, OR 97202 (Se Portland)

What do you get when you mix 40yrs of improv experience with a carnival and an '80s-chic basement? A dim place where all the jokes are totally hilarious 'cause everyone’s on coke, and also kinda nauseous from the Tilt-a-Whirl! Also, the Funhouse Lounge, a subterranean theater/drinkery mashing up a carnival midway, disco hues, and '80s-fresh design, and delivering unscripted entertainment, simple bites, and a bar that only serves beer and shots.

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3. Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade 511 NW Couch St, Portland, OR 97209 (Downtown)

Classic arcade 'n drink emporium Ground Kontrol has been remodeled/upgraded to version "3.0", which brings new comfy flooring, an LED-heavy Tron grid-esque interior.

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4. The TARDIS Room 1218 N Killingsworth, Portland, OR 97217 (Ne Portland)

Built by an ex-pat Brit, TARDIS was conceived when he realized the door to the loo in his Fish and Chip shop looked like a police call box, and that the huge amount of possibly physics-defying storage in the back of the resto would be better used as a place where Whovians could sip beers and talk about proper scarf-wrapping technique.

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5. Casa Diablo 2839 NW St Helens Rd, Portland, OR 97210 (Nw Portland)

Casa Diablo isn't your typical restaurant from the outside, or, for that matter, the inside. It's modeled after the vampire bar in From Dusk Til Dawn and features a solid vegan menu with must-tries like soy stroganoff. Not what you were expecting? There's another surprise: this spot is actually a strip club that has a bank full of those ever-popular $2 bills for tipping and dancers performing the wildest leather-free strip show you’ll ever see. That's right: this is a vegan strip club. Bless you, Portland.

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6. Hale Pele 2733 NE Broadway, Portland, OR 97232 (Lloyd District)

You might be a landlubber, but there's no reason you can't pretend to be a pirate and taste more than 50 different rums from all over the map, earning monikers that were previously reserved for guys with birds on their shoulders. Hale Pele in the Lloyd District rejects your average tiki cocktails and instead adopts more inventive cocktails. Don't forget to order the Zombies, which are so strong they are limited to two per person.