It’s 9:30 on a Monday night at Blue Diamond, and a band called Sumo is playing War’s “Spill the Wine” for a couple dozen regulars. A pretty brunette swing dances with a guy who’s old enough to be her dad on the tiny dance floor. The music is good, and at the bar everyone’s head is craned sideways to watch the keyboard player take his solo. The band, a five-piece with two drummers, ratchets up the intensity of the latin rhythms. The dancers can’t keep up, so they laugh and fall, arm in arm, over to a nearby table.
“Monday is the new Friday,” the drummer announces. “We’re just getting started!”
Two years ago, Blue Diamond was a neighborhood bar that few from the neighborhood ever bothered to visit. Location was a problem. The dive sits unassumingly at one of Sandy Boulevard’s classic clusterfuck intersections. It is lodged between a beauty salon and a hemorrhoid clinic. Its other closest neighbors are named We Buy Gold and Silver Lining, respectively, so a bar called “Blue Diamond” is also pretty easy to confuse for a third pawn shop.
Still, the old owners found a few ways to make the Diamond sparkle: A solid menu, a weekly poker night and sports on TV.
But when Bev and Steve Rodriguez bought the place in early 2011, they were intent on making the place jump. It wasn’t a physical renovation that made the Blue Diamond into the most vibrant new club in Portland, it was more of a soul infusion. “I knew I wanted to make it an intimate venue, so people could enjoy music up close,” Steve says. It began with some live blues on the weekends, then music three or four nights a week. Like the man says, Monday is the new Friday. The initial batch of musicians that Rodriguez first booked, including blues diva Margo Tufo and the great Lloyd Allen, Sr., have told their friends about the place. Their friends have helped make Blue Diamond an indispensable part of Portland’s blues landscape.
Come Thursday, this place is packed with a crowd diverse and energetic enough to toss every apathetic Portland show-goer stereotype into the dumpster out back. Bassist Ben Jones’ weekly jam is funky, chaotic and ear-piercingly loud. At it, you’ll find the classy cougar, pogo man, dancing wheelchair dude and Snoop Dogg’s uncle (no, really, the guy in the knockout suit is Snoop Dogg’s uncle) getting down together, and beckoning you to dance.
“Everybody welcomes everybody,” Steve says of his bar. “It’s warm. That’s the vibe, and that’s the feel that we really like about the place.”
Portlanders have grown accustomed to hearing that “The Magic is in the Hole.” I would contend that true magic can be found, every night of the week, in the hole in the wall next to the hemorrhoid clinic.
GO: Blue Diamond, 2016 NE Sandy Blvd., 230-9590, bluediamondpdx.com. 10:30 am-12:30 am Monday-Saturday.