Solae's Lounge looks humble from the outside, just a yellow building on Alberta Street with a sign so subtle you could miss it from the sidewalk.
But within, the jazz and blues bar is a revelation.
The Rose City's homage to the great jazz bars of New Orleans, many of which co-owner Yosief Embaye visited during the creation of his no-frills locale, Solae's is a relaxed, multi-chambered haven with a long bar, a pool-table room, and a large patio for hot-weather drinks.
The heartbeat of the place is the small stage in the main room, on which virtuosic local musicians like drummer Chris Brown—son of Portland jazz legend Mel Brown—have an opportunity to bare their souls five nights a week.
"Music needed to be here," Embaye says. "I think that is the basis of any great community."
For Embaye, who spends most of his time running Solae's sister business—a foster care facility for adults with special needs—community matters more than anything.
Indeed, Embaye doesn't even rent out the apartments above the bar, even though he leases the building. Instead, he lets musicians from out of town crash there when they need a place to stay.
In many ways, Solae's is a return to the Alberta Street that
Embaye knew growing up—a hub of Portland's black community and culture, though now mixed with the very different Alberta Street that's taken hold.
An Eritrean native who immigrated to the Alberta neighborhood when he was age 10, the 46-year-old actually took his first legal drink at his own bar's address, back when it was a classic dive called Joe's Place—long before it turned into rocker haven the Nest, which closed after a fire in 2012.
When Embaye opened his doors for business last year, Joe was there, ordering drinks at the bar.
On any evening, a diverse array of leisure suits, basketball jerseys and skinny jeans fill the place, joining together for deliciously meaty chicken wings, cheap Anheuser-Busch-owned beer, and—most importantly—a love of live American music.
Spur-of-the-moment groups and guest performances abound, and it can be tough to know who will be playing. But Embaye wants patrons to come in because they know there will be music—not just to see specific musicians.
"I love the mixed crowd," he says. "You get to know each other from different walks of life. That's what I am looking for. Just to have different people, and see people get together."
1801 NE Alberta St., 503-206-8338, solaeslounge.com. 4 pm-2 am daily. Live music Wednesday-Sunday.