Portland, More Than Most Places, Stores Its History in Bars

Welcome to the Bar Guide 2017.

(Megan Nanna)

Last August, a 92-year-old downtown Portland joint called the Lotus Cardroom closed to make way for a new boutique hotel.

The bar had been a saloon, a lunch counter, a gambling hall, a nightclub, a den of bootleggers and, according to legend, the front for a brothel. Madonna partied at the Lotus, and so did Hall and Oates. George Clinton threw up in the restroom. At happy hours, staffers for Mayors Tom Potter and Charlie Hales pickled their bureaucratic dreams. The city poured out its sorrows on Facebook and the evening news.

Portland, more than most places, stores its history in bars. In a transient city with very little shared past and a predilection for harmless vice—a town where everyone seems to have just arrived, or is just about to leave—bars are where Portlanders come to feel part of their city.

The happy-hour patio is Portland's town hall—the only place you see all your neighbors—while at the same time eating distressingly good $5 hoisin-sichuan burgers, or $6 nachos with housemade chips still warm from the oven.

And so in this guide to our favorite Portland bars and happy hours, we've kept the stories intact—from the time a car tried to drive onto a bar's patio to a long-lost love story that forms a Northwest Portland bar's founding myth (page 60).

To help you dig for treasures, we've listed our favorite 100 bars in the city from newest to oldest, from a surprisingly great vegan tiki bar that opened this January to a 115-year-old dive with motorcycles on the ceiling that once had a pissoir under it so patrons never had to leave their beers.

Of course, we help you dig for the best deals—whether Portland's new preponderance of dollar oysters or what might be the nation's best Russian restaurant, whose bar offers $5 mussels after 10 pm alongside $3 shots of horseradish-infused vodka made with an old Ukrainian recipe.

In a city where food and drink are so bound up as to be inextricable, many of the best Portland bars twine the two together—whether in the front of fine-dining restaurants or our stunning 2017 Bar of the Year, which brings a decades-old dream of Spain to fruition with a hearth-warmed room serving sherry cocktails and chorizo-rubbed octopus in the space once occupied by a classic Portland music venue. Others, like revived punk club the Know and Dandy Warhols frontman Courtney Taylor-Taylor's new wine bar, preserve the history of the city itself—including the classic mirrors from the Lotus.

But this guide isn't a museum brochure—it's a map to sunny-day drinking on the patio or in one of the city's best pub pizzerias,  letting you make your own bar stories to tell over $5 ham and eggs at hangover breakfast in the morning.

Drank: Bar Guide 2017

Welcome to Bar Guide 2017 | Where To Find a Copy of Bar Guide 2017

The 100 Best Bars in Portland | How We Selected Them

Bar of the Year 2017: Bar Casa Vale

2. Century | 3. The Know | 4. Lombard House | 5. The Old Portland

Portland's Party Patios, Porches and Rooftops | Scumbag Breakfasts, Ranked

$6-and-Under Happy Hour Burgers | Portland's Finest Restaurant Bars | Late-Night Happy Hours | $1 Oyster Happy Hour Deals | Best Bar Pizzas | Dope Discount Nachos | Fancy Jell-O Shots | Tapas

Where to Play Shuffleboard | Pinball | Pool Halls

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.