If downtown's Lotus Cardroom & Cafe (932 SW 3rd Ave, 503- 227-6185, lotuscardroomandcafe.com) makes your Sazerac with too much pastis, part of you wonders whether it's supposed to be that way; the Lotus has been making the world's oldest cocktail since before it was legal, in the bar's bathtub-whiskey years.
The 92-year-old saloon, lunch counter, former den of bootleggers and onetime illegal gambling parlor will hold its farewell party Aug. 20, after nearly a year of stayed execution, and will be replaced by 21 floors of boutique hotel.
Somehow, even though I grew up about 8 miles from the Lotus, I never managed to darken its door; nearly every local I asked under age 40 told me the same. It's a shame. The cherry-wood bar is surprisingly well-preserved, as are the deco saloon-style mirrors and the metal-topped midcentury lunch counter with a chalkboard announcing soup specials.
Voluminous $13.95 meatloaf is wrapped in bacon and smothered in gravy, and tastes like one big, wet peppercorn. The hamburgers come, improbably, with both cheddar and blue cheese—a combination weirdly mild and pleasant. And the beer selection is a generations-spanning mix of old and new, with both Widmer hefe and Breakside Pilsner gracing the taps.
On our visit, the card room was closed. And nobody sits at the old lunch counter in the back of the bar anymore. "Well, sometimes they do," says the bartender. "But it's awkward." The old-timers have been trickling in to say their goodbyes—but only one or two at a time—to the place they knew from its glory days, when it was wild. "Was it all that wild?" we asked. "Oh yeah," the bartender says emphatically, but the details seem to have already gone lost. That cherry-wood bar top, on the other hand, is currently for sale.