One does not accidentally end up in St. Johns. Located near the end of a peninsula, bordered on either side by the Willamette and Columbia rivers, this North Portland industrial corridor and tight-knit working-class community is often forgotten amid the towering condo developments and award-winning restaurants in more centralized areas of town. And that's just the way the locals like it. If you're here, it's because you've chosen to be here, so raise a glass.
1. The Garrison
8773 N Lombard St., 971-279-5587, royalebrewing.com/#tap.
With its reclaimed-wood walls and large, decorative-umbrella-studded patio, Royale Brewing's taproom is a reassuring first stop for new Portlanders who may feel unsafe more than 6 miles from the nearest Salt & Straw. Vegan-Indian spot the Sudra and non-vegan 84th and Meatballs are both next door and have been greenlit by the Garrison for patrons to bring in their food—and wine and cocktails, if beer isn't your thing. But at just $4 for a pint,
it should be.
1 min walk (289 ft)
8635 N Lombard St., 503-286-3854.
There are few places left in Portland like Slim's—institutional dive bars so deeply ingrained in a neighborhood that they basically are the neighborhood. Gracing the John's main drag for 106 years, this beloved staple is always packed with, well, everyone. Longshoremen, contractors, soccer bros and laptop-toting single women alike all come to enjoy dirt-cheap drafts ($1.50 PBR) and a diverse roster of live music. Soccer scarves now decorate the ceiling above the bar and taps of Schlitz and Miller have been swapped out for Pfriem and Occidental, but rest assured, the exterior is still sketchy enough to give even the most hardened career drinkers pause.
3. The Fixin' To
8218 N Lombard St., 503-477-4995, thefixinto.com.
Having recently expanded into a concert venue, the Fixin' To is fully embracing its status as something of a nü-dive for Old Portland fugitives and refugees. They come to partake of beer-and-shot specials amid vintage Scene-o-Ramas and crusty local characters ("What's the strangest thing you've ever found in your BOX?" hooted one recently to the female bartender, gesturing to a mail pouch on the back wall), share zesty, chewy Neapolitan-style pizzas on the huge front patio, and enjoy a weeklong lineup of punk and roots-rock shows. A new Sunday karaoke event ("cheap drinks! No judgment!") only gilds the lily.
4 min walk (.2 mi)
4. The Twilight Room
5242 N Lombard St., 503-283-5091, thetwilightroom.com.
Most peninsula locals have a "T-Room" story: Mine involves karaoke and an urn filled with cremains. Despite its rep as a University of Portland hang, the Twilight Room is Portsmouth's flagship dive bar, with all the associated amenities one would expect—patio, pool tables, Big Buck Hunter, pinball—plus a few bonuses like a legit burger menu and expansive, locally focused tap list. Minors are allowed east of the pool tables from 11 am till 9 pm, so don't be surprised to see sports-watching families sharing the cavernous space with hard-living septuagenarians and the usual Lombard riffraff.
6 min car ride (1.5 mi)
4828 N Lombard St., 503-206-0653, vagabondpdx.com.
This unabashedly weird Portsmouth gastropub/diner ("Classy as Fük" is the official motto) is not the kind of place you visit sober, despite closing by 10 pm each night. Still, it's worth ducking in to ponder the clip-art logo, peculiar-even-for-Lombard decor—think late-'90s estate sale held aboard Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge—and bartender in Stevie Nicks drag known for her ad-lib
cocktails like a lavendered "Dead Flowers," which she garnishes with a wilted petal plucked dramatically from a floral arrangement near the bar. And don't miss the pinball room in the back with green shag carpeting on the ceiling.