At nine o'clock on the second day of The Great Snowstorm, desperation (Stop the insanity! Bring back Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie! Channel 12 has pre-empted these girls for news of snow!) sets in.

This calls for a visit to the nearest pub--God forbid I should walk more than a few blocks to get a drink. The bar that is closest to my Southeast Portland apartment knows many names: TaVern's, the 'Vern, Hanigan's. Nevermind that it serves only beer and wine--these are desperate times. It's a dive bar, and on this night along the stretch of Southeast Belmont Street from 20th to 30th avenues, it is one of very few establishments flashing an "Open" sign.

The Vern isn't the roughest of dives--any place that's got ABBA on the juke and hosts a Simpsons pinball game can't be too bad. But it does house one of the meanest bartenders in town.

He doesn't smile; he growls. He's not fond of conversation and completes entire transactions without uttering a single word. He's a flannel shirt-wearing old-timer with a long, graying beard and long, graying hair pulled back in a permanent bun. He works in super-slow motion and disregards the unspoken first-come-first-served code of bar ethics.

Nobody in the Vern seems to mind. In fact, the bar is home to a fair share of loyalists: Garage rockers smoke their Parliaments here; the Chunk 666 bike gang drinks mini-pitchers of PBR at the Vern; even No. 15 TriMet flunkies find there way in for a pint at this Buckman neighborhood pit stop. On this night, the joint is packed with asylum-seekers playing pool and foosball and watching Comedy Central on mute. Anything to escape the nonstop local news coverage. Me, I'm hiding in the corner playing my 10th round of Uno.

Now, I am no hater of dive bars. I love cheap lager, a game of pool and an occasional slide over to the video-poker room. It's the bartender that gets me. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him talking, laughing even, with some of the drinkers. What's wrong with me? Am I paranoid? Maybe--but next time I'll walk the extra 10 blocks to the Triple Nickel.

Hanigan's Tavern, 2622 SE Belmont St., 223-7851. 11 am-2 am daily. 21+.