THE GIRL WHO HAS EVERYTHING: One Halloween when I was living in San Francisco for grad school, I spent a lot of money on an impulsive day-of plane ticket back to Portland for just one night. When my friends picked me up at the airport, we drove straight to the old Chopsticks II on East Burnside.
Chopsticks—a grimy karaoke bar that was technically a Chinese restaurant, with cheap beer and a crowd made up of regulars, just-out-of-college kids and the possibly homeless—was a fixture of my 20s, even though I spent much of my 20s living abroad, in California. Whenever I was in town, it was the place we would gather in amorphous friend groups, getting wasted on cheap beer—or, if someone else was buying, well drinks. Maybe you saw us: spilling alcohol and fries and plates of rice on the stained carpet, smoking cigarettes, picking up dudes, switching places in the conference room-style chairs and taking turns screaming along to pop songs like we would never get old.
On Sept. 19, Chopsticks II closed its doors for good. But because old friends in Portland don't disappear, they just move farther from the river, David Chow opened a new Chopsticks (3390 NE Sandy Blvd., 234-6171) just a week later. In many ways, it's an upgrade. It's cleaner, there's no Chopsticks carpet, and since it used to be a strip club, there are roomy side areas. Outside, a spotless patio looks out over Sandy. The drinks are still cheap—a stiff well whiskey ginger was $4.50—and the food is still basic mall Chinese that comes on big plates. For $6.50, you get enough sweet, crunchy mandarin chicken with mounds of white rice to soak up the booze.
When I went with my friends the other night, we sat in a comfy booth and, since we have jobs now, sprang for mixed drinks. But it was a much more toned-down affair than that night 10 years ago. One friend reached into her purse and found a stack of diapers. Another drank only soda water with lime. I got up and sang "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid, couching my singing in a joke because I wasn't drunk. We left at a reasonable hour, all driving home safely and alone.
Portland has changed since I was a kid. Now there are plenty of kitschy dives and cool, ironic hipster hangouts. But, while the new Chopsticks won't win any awards for best drinks or food, it's still the real deal, the kind of bar that made Portland a wonderland for underemployed youths with wet shoes and warm hats. Give it some time to get dirty and put new pictures on the walls, and soon enough a fresh group of broke kids in their 20s will be there, making terrible decisions and singing songs too loudly and way out of key.