What the hell are dancing cages doing in a cowboy bar, you ask? We'll get back to that later. For now, I'd say the more appropriate question is, what the hell is a real cowboy bar doing downtown? After all, the Wrangler-and-Stetson set seems more likely to drink and dance outside the city limits--Sandy, Salem, Tualatin even. But downtown Portland? You're more likely to see urban cowboys fronting J. Crew straw hats and listening to alt-country at Berbati's.

So what's the deal? Is this a reincarnation of the now-defunct Dakota Cafe, a haunt that welcomed both gays and straights? Not so much. This Dakota's is the rebirth of the old Metropolis, a top-40 meat market that never quite reached its booty-shaking potential.

This does, however, explain the dancing cages. Those two black metal beasts that frame a smallish dance floor are leftovers from the old days. It's an odd sight, what with the line-dancing couples and all. On my visit, not one soul ventured inside the bars for a boogie.

Nothing much has changed (aside from the music, of course) since the Metropolis shut. The vibe still reeks of sweat and drink, but there's something more chivalric about the dancing. Cowboys aren't so much interested in the bump and grind as swinging their partners round and round. Make no mistake, these men might dig NASCAR, Harley Davidsons and chewing tobacco, but they're a bunch that knows how to dance.

Surprisingly, songs by the Dixie Chicks, who sing honky-tonk with a conscience, appear with no protest from the crowd. Maybe this group--unlike the ones that burned the group's CDs following the much-publicized dissing of George W.--has made their peace with the Chicks. A pleasant thought, if you think about it.

On occasion, the music turns from modern country's gloopy standards to the classics. Dolly Parton's newer material appears on strategically placed televisions streaming country-music videos on mute, while "Jolene" turns up on the DJ's rotation.

Though Dakota's might seem an odd addition to the downtown nightlife landscape, it offers a chance for the trendy country crowd to catch sight of the real deal.

At the very least, it offers city folk a chance to steal some classy dance moves.

Dakota's, 427 SW 3rd Ave., 224-4830. Cover charge varies. 21+.

at the clubs this week: BIRTHDAYS, NEIL DIAMOND, AND VOODOO EVERYTHINGwednesday

1978 birthday bash

1978 babies:

Tonight is all about you, Rod Stewart and Robert Palmer.

Tonic Lounge, 3100 NE Sandy Blvd., 238-0543. 10 pm. 21+.


foghorn square dance

The do-si-do--like the Macarena, only cooler.

Kennedy School, 5736 NE 33rd Ave., 249-3983. Lessons begin 7 pm. All ages.



DJ Evil One hosts this brand-new, no-cover Friday night dance party at Old Town's spookiest club.

Voodoo Lounge, 53 NW 1st Ave., 241-3840. 10 pm. 21+.


super diamond

Everyone's favorite Neil Diamond cover band returns for another round of "Cracklin' Rosie."

Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., 225-0047. 9 pm. $16-$18. 21+.


drawing resistance

A Haiku Inferno? See also spoken word, caricature drawing and music by PDX pop-rockers Eux Autres.

Liberty Hall, 311 N Ivy St., 249-8888. 8 pm. $5. All ages.


cool nutz presents his wide world of talent

Portland's No. 1 hip-hop impressario offers up this occasional open-mic night.

Berbati's Pan, 231 SW Ankeny St., 248-4579. 9:30 pm. $5. 21+.


happy hour

A reliable martini bar with a reliable $3 drink special on the weekdays--if you can handle the after- work crowds.

Brazen Bean, 2075 NW Glisan St., 294-0636. Happy hour 5-8 pm. 21+.