Old Town is a drag—it's like falling into a pit of hungry cannibals who are also drunk and really, really loud. If you're a woman who knows how to walk in the shoes you're wearing at all times, or a dude who rarely uses the word "bro" with affection, the world here can seem frightening and strange. Here's a short list of bars where you can still feel human.
19 SW 2nd Ave., 503-477-8637, bartryst.com.
Among all spots in the old Ankeny Alley, discreet Tryst seems most immune to the marauding bridge-and-tunnel hordes, making it a sanctum full of unlikely comforts like a solid burger, really great green ginger ketchup on the french fries, decent cocktails in the $7 to $8 range, a solid tap list including Sunriver and the occasional gose or Commons Pilsner, and the warm glow of the old Berbati's sign sideways and up on the wall—a visual cue that Old Portland is far from forgotten in Old Town.
1 min walk (240 ft.)
232 SW Ankeny St, 503-248-1600, valentinespdx.com.
Meanwhile, across the alley from Tryst, a scion of the Papaioannou family that owned Berbati's is keeping Valentine's pretty much as weird as it ever was: a mere two beer taps, $8 Peppadew-infused-liquor cocktails, poetry readings with interpretive dance, loud punk and noise bands in a tiny two-story space that was certainly not designed to hold them, and sweaty kids dancing dangerously close to the guitarist. Upstairs, there's a bin offering free old-school 45s from Decca and Stax. Why? Cuz.
15 sec walk (20 ft.)
3. Kit Kat Club
231 SW Ankeny St., 503-208-3229.
Red-trimmed, burlesque-happy Kit Kat, with dancers on the two stages as
impressively acrobatic as any in the city on the pole—sincerely, one gets dizzy—is so packed and sensuously red-lit it looks like Salma Hayek will
turn into a snake goddess at any moment. But it's also surprisingly
dancer-friendly. On a recent Friday visit, the DJ stopped all other activity so a dancer could perform a choreographed number to Björk's "It's Oh So Quiet," while another dancer walked around with a bucket insisting every single person in the house offer up a tip. It was all so charmingly twee.
5 min walk (.2 miles)
4. Republic Cafe and Ming Lounge
222 NW 4th Ave., 503-226-4388.
One of the oldest bars in Portland, the red-walled Ming Lounge is also perhaps one of its most obscure—tucked alongside an equally old Chinatown eatery. But aside from the occasional shouting tweaker, Ming Lounge is amazing: deco walls, the stiffest $4 well drinks anywhere in town, and surprisingly good Chinese that includes a multi-item egg foo young menu that seems to be directly transported from the 1940s. Turns out, it's delicious when you're drunk late at night—which is when you're here.
5 min walk (.2 miles)
215 W Burnside St., nyxpdx.com.
Nyx, in the former Alexis Greek restaurant that held court on West Burnside Street for 36 years, is the closest thing to a Brooklyn walk-up nightclub you'll find in Portland. Go after 11 pm and the bare-bones upstairs space fills with a crowd as sneakerhead-hip and diverse as any in town—pretty much equal parts black, Asian, white and Latino—bumping to hip-hop or techno on the decks. A far cry from the RVCA-shirted, AMF-fucked, ohmygawd crowd at nearby Dirty and Dixie, Nyx might have you believing, in a heartening way, that you actually live in a real American city.