The Know’s barroom half is a ramshackle container for cheap beer. Its restrooms appear to idolize CBGB’s storied stalls. The adjoining show space might as well be a basement. The club’s rough edges lend it a weathered eminence that most of its relatively new Alberta Street neighbors lack. But instead of settling into the heavily trafficked landscape as a dining district’s token decrepit watering hole, the Know, the club that celebrates its seventh anniversary with a weeklong showcase of Portland’s best punk bands, has emerged as one of the city’s most vital music venues.
In the same way Doug Fir Lounge functions as folk pop’s reliable pimp and Holocene holds it down for young people who smell nice and dance naughty, the Know has thrived by narrowing its focus to punk’s various noisy iterations. It is an unlikely success story—one doesn’t expect loud sounds to flourish so close to a mellow residential area—but it is far from an accidental one.
Credit booker David Rose with the Know’s current streak of cultural relevance. The Boston native, who moved to Portland in 2007 and also co-owns upstart label Bulkhead Records, got to work cultivating a better rep for the show space immediately upon assuming his duties two years ago. “I made it known that I took bands’ experiences playing at the Know very personally,” Rose says.
His interest in keeping bands happy has led to a number of on- and off-stage improvements. “In recent years, we’ve been able to tweak the venue area into a more dependable and higher functioning room,” Rose says. To that end, he pushed for a new PA system, and the Know created an official position to oversee sound and money matters during shows.
Renovations to infrastructure and credibility would mean zilch without curatorial vision, and while the deafening PA system and refreshing punctuality (shows tend to start around 8 pm and end earlier than at most clubs) are certainly sterling features, it is the breadth and quality of the harsh noise filling the Know’s western half that sets the place apart. Page through an issue of Maximumrocknroll or scroll through some spiky kid’s Facebook feed for news from punk’s front lines sometime; you’ll find that the bands worth flipping for will, more often than not, end up on the Know’s stage when it comes time to tour. The bands might not ring bells for most folks—the likes of Heartless, Full of Hell, No Statik and Yadokai aren’t exactly household names—but for those who pay attention to such things, that brief list of bands is cause for no small amount of thrilled dithering.
Rose is an expert deflector of praise, crediting the Know’s success to a staff of scene vets who lend the club “a legitimacy with bands that are wary of the typical music industry bullshit,” but he doesn’t deny how much it means to him and how hard he works to keep things running smoothly. “It consumes just about every waking minute of my life,” he says. While the club’s underground legitimacy seems increasingly at odds with the day-to-day seemliness of Alberta, the street and its illustrious punk holdout seem to have come to an agreement: Let us do our thing and we’ll let you do yours. That’s punk rock, right?
SEE IT: The Know, 2026 NE Alberta St., celebrates its seventh anniversary all week. See theknowpdx.com for lineups.