People like their hideouts to seem immutable--as if a freak landslide sealed a chamber off from the busy world in 1962 and, by chance or fate, they cleared away the rocky rubble to claim this forgotten drinking hole as their own two weeks ago.

Maybe that's why so many fine new bars in town, from CrowBar to Doug Fir, feel a bit neutered. They've never been buried alive. Better hideouts haven't fared well, either: Dunes suffered a mystique spasm the second it plugged in a video poker machine.

But the Towne Lounge, a smoky new subterranean chamber just off West Burnside Street owned by the Matador's Angelo Puccinelli, plays secret speakeasy to the hilt.

As you trudge past PGE Park, the fear takes hold. You can't find the bar. No sign. But then you spy the Kryptonite-green lantern marking the Lounge's entrance--perched on a tiny corner of a turn-of-the-century stucco mansion called the Pennoyer Building.

You found the door. Your prize is a drink.

Be warned. Upon entering the emerald-green Lounge, it becomes immediately apparent that everyone in the room is much cooler than you. After all, they were here first.

The entire joint is roughly the size of Berbati's Pan's dance floor. After 75 people squeeze in, a thick blanket of cigarette smoke makes the room feel like a gas chamber.

But last Thursday, asphyxiation be damned, a fabulously maudlin pop band called 32 Ways perched atop the bar's dime-sized stage.

Eat early. The menu is limited to $8 TV dinners served on sectional prison plates. This is not food-as-irony, i.e. Low Brow's famous tater tots. The microwave-only policy is due to the club's bare-bones kitchen.

This bar was cool long before it opened last November. Rumors of the Pennoyer Building's checkered past bathe the locale in an enticing light. On the command of a power-thirsty politician, the building was towed from Salem to Portland by draft horses; it once housed a mortuary; the basement room was a private dance club.

The Towne Lounge is Puccinelli's attempt at creating an anti-Matador. "You can't polish a turd," he explains. "I could never afford to make [the Matador] look nice enough to make people not want to break stuff."

He's traded his notorious dive's broken bottles for ballet-studio mirrors and a gilded ceiling. And blitzed punks and puka-shell-necklaced bohunks for earnest twee-poppers and indie-phantoms.

Still, the Towne Lounge's greatest asset is its brief yet glorious anonymity, a condition that will soon be a hazy memory. After all, everybody loves a secret--when they're the ones who get to tell it.

Towne Lounge, 714 SW 20th Place, 241-8696.