The dancer at the 715 Inn's "Reggae on Broadway" had reached nirvana. A leathery, bowlegged man in his 40s wearing a tank top emblazoned with the legend "Jamaica Connection," he bent his knees in time with Jimmy Cliff's dub-backed melody and slowly turned in circles, his mullet-braid fanning out behind him.
It would have seemed bizarre if the blink-and-you'll-miss-it dive, which squats on a busy stretch of Northeast Broadway weren't so difficult to categorize already.
That Wednesday night, DJ Xacto and DJ Short Change traded off at a tiny DJ table near the door. Young white Rastas with their pale brown dreads squeezed past them on their way to the restroom. Prim ladies in their mid-30s sucked down bottles of Bud Light and attempted to signal "I'm having fun" to one another above the earth-quaking bass.
Two days later, on a daytime visit, the 715 Inn is transformed into a hushed and dark place. The DJ booth has morphed into makeshift computer station. The color TV next to a black-and-white security monitor spouts golf scores, while a line of men in various states of disintegration count out crumpled bills to exchange for cans of Busch.
"We get the retirees in at noon, the working crowd in the afternoon and then younger locals at night," explains bartender/booking agent Jonathan "J-Dub" Daniel. "We don't get many newcomers."
And reggae night? "Those are a more classy version of people than we're used to in here," he says. A white-haired gent sporting an USMC ball cap sitting at the bar gives a nod to the affirmative.
Daniel shrugs when asked if the energetic reggae party (a Portland rarity itself) is a makeover strategy for this slow-paced little beer hole. Who cares? The 715 was born long before the branding and marketing of today. Daniel uses craigslist.org to hook up with the local pop, rock and acoustic bands that cram into a small corner of the saloon for live shows every weekend. When a DJ asked to host a reggae night at the club two years ago, the 715 adjusted to dancing hippies, too.
"It's still just a neighborhood bar," chimes in the man with the white hair, who is now sipping a pint glass filled with 7-Up. His name is Norm Clark. Turns out he's been a regular at the 715 Inn for 48 years. The former insurance adjuster has outlasted seven of the 715 Inn's owners, a fire and a remodel. He's seen this Northeast neighborhood's houses razed to make way for Lloyd Center and fast-food joints.
The 70-year-old doesn't care what fads flicker across the bar's walls as long as it has cold beer. But today is too hot to drink alcohol, so he signals Daniel for another soda and says with a smile, "You know, sometimes, the old men around here dance, too."
Reggae on Broadway at the 715 Inn, 715 NE Broadway, 282-4437. 9 pm. Wednesdays. 21+.