736 SE Grand Ave., 971-279-4409, digaponyportland.com. 4 pm-2 am daily. Happy hour 4-7 pm daily: $6 daily punch, $1 off everything.
Established: July 20, 2011
Same as with the Beatles—whose Let It Be album inspired Dig A Pony's name—popularity doesn't necessarily mean lowered standards. The founders of Portland's signature meat-market bar just happened to open the perfect place, in the perfect location off the Morrison Bridge, at the precise moment roving frat-packed suburbia decided that the lower east side was sanitized enough to explore.
No matter how superficial the crowds, the space itself rewards depth of field via curio-laden wooden interiors (think swinging ski chalet) that fully exploit the location's estimable history, without the mustiness accompanying more slavish restoration projects. Think of it as the personalized project of service pros—including Jake Carey of Century Club and Jackknife—with those personal touches bleeding into everything from the elegant, hearty pub grub to fairly priced drinks of unshowy sophistication. Though Friday and Saturday nights still occasionally threaten the Rutting of the Bros, Dig A Pony lures a progressively more eclectic clientele, particularly during the early hours, and serves as a wholly appropriate venue for a dizzying array of events: celebrity spelling bees, arm-wrestling tournaments for charity, even bands that might ordinarily rock the Know or Black Water. Most bars, one way or another, betray some hints of their preferred clientele. But the beauty—and, lord knows, the horror—of Dig A Pony derives from a rather different phenomenon. Just about every sort of patron will find themselves utterly at home.
Bar story: After taking over the Southeast Grand Avenue storefront occupied by Niki's Restaurant for far too many years, the Dig A Pony founders began steadily removing every trace of the unlamented diner and discovered a pristine white-tile floor dating back to the address's earliest incarnation—as a '20s pharmacy called Potter's Drug Company. The old Board of Pharmacy licenses hang on the wall.