Everyone is playing cornhole in the VIP lounge. On Fresh Dirt Thursday at the Jubitz truck stop's cavernous, wood-grained Ponderosa Lounge (0350 N Vancouver Way, 503-345-0300, jubitz.com/ponderosa-lounge-country-bar), all you have to do is beat the bar's star beanbag thrower and you'll win dollar beers all night. So a lot of people are giving it a try. Onstage, folk-country singer Elke Robitaille is playing guitar and singing a soft, sad, haunting cover of "Wagon Wheel." As she harmonizes the line "mama rock me," a goateed man twirls his own mama around on the dance floor.

(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)

Jubitz is a self-contained trucker universe in the far north of Portland—maybe the only trucking empire whose family donates to charities and Democrats. And Jubitz contains multitudes: diners, shoe-repair stores, even its own movie theater. The Ponderosa, however, is its crown jewel, a 49-year-old country music institution that, on weekends, is a rollicking swing-dancing hall, home to secret after-shows by a touring Miranda Cosgrove or Brad Paisley.

Some things are new at the old Ponderosa, however: After a seven-month renovation that finished in December, the depressingly fluorescent-lit game room is gone, the stage moved, and there's a second bar and better sound.

(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)

On Thursday, all the bartenders are women and almost all the people drinking are men. On the smoking porch out back, long-haulers tell short-haulers about moving Lexuses from the Port to Denver and Texas.

At the bar, the bartender cautions me against the meatloaf. "What's your next choice?" she says, steering me to a monstrous and beefy chicken-fried steak with fluffy, delicate gravy. After an even bigger New York cut, the trucker-capped man next to me tells her he can't get dessert tonight—"not unless you got a wheelchair and a chauffeur."

(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)

For no particular reason, a woman is giving out free 1-ounce samples of Miller Lite off a serving tray. "I've had that," I tell her. She looks at me like I'm a little dim. "Well," she says, "it's free."

At the Ponderosa, Portland as a city seems to fade. The beer flows cheap and it's the color of straw, you slow-dance on the slow nights and fast on the busy ones. If it weren't so damn big, it'd be a small-town bar. Except here, everyone brings their own small town with them through the door.

GO: Ponderosa Lounge, 10350 N Vancouver Way, 503-345-0300, jubitz.com/ponderosa-lounge-country-bar. 9 am-midnight Sunday-Wednesday, 9 am-2 am Thursday-Friday, 8 am-2 am Saturday.

(Walker Stockly)
(Walker Stockly)