Walking into the Twilight Cafe on Southeast Powell Boulevard, the first-time visitor may find it hard to tell what's going on. The music venue looks more like a diner than a bar: giant U-shaped counter, checkered floors, jukebox in one room, cushy booths and more checkers in the next. Stick around for a while and some other things stand out: no hipster bartenders, no high-concept interior-design scheme, no fashionable, pretentious crowds.

Welcome to the friendliest punk-rock club in town.

In the past year, the Twilight has put out the welcome mat for scores of Portland's homegrown rock bands, offering them a place to play at a time when the club circuit is shrinking--although the club's mantra, "Never a Cover Ever," means there's no guarantee of a fat check at the night's end, either.

But no cover, ever? Can a club survive on PBR sales alone? In a year that's seen some of Portland's most beloved venues close and be replaced by top-40 sleaze parlors, how does the Twilight manage to stay open? There's no question that, for music fans, money saved at the door means more money spent at the bar. But how do you get people to turn out for shows and spend lots of cash on beer when the bands aren't some glitzy garage rockers du jour?

It's not what the Twilight has that draws crowds--it's what the club lacks: an attitude.

At the Twilight, the bands--most of them high-energy spazoid punk bands like the Epoxies or the Briefs--may be full of themselves, but the servers definitely aren't. Night manager Dave Gaysunas says that if the nighttime vibe at the Twilight is friendly, that's because there are lots of friends there. And these friends like loud music.

It's this devotion that's keeping the Twilight afloat, even in this dismal economic climate. Things are going so well, in fact, that plans for an expansion are in the works. Gaysunas says the bar's back wall will soon be torn down, and a larger stage will be built in the next-door space that now sits vacant. When that's done, he hopes to extend booking at the Twilight to national touring acts. But he's unwilling to let bigger band names hog the spotlight, and plans to save the weekends for local rockers.

Though the club is missing a distinctive, rock-club persona, one will probably evolve in the next few months. As it is, the Twilight resembles a younger, more polite sibling of a certain legendary rock club that closed earlier this year.

If the Twilight (and Portland's music scene, for that matter) is lucky enough, that's exactly what it could become.

Twilight Cafe, 1420 SE Powell Blvd., 236-7668. 21+.