8218 N Lombard St., 503-477-4995, thefixinto.com.
Bart Blasengame is living the Portland dream—or, at least, a vomit-splattered version of it.
A veteran Pacific Northwest band recently played the new concert venue at the Fixin' To, Blasengame's St. Johns bar. Before their set, the bassist asked for a double shot of vodka. "We typically don't do doubles," says Blasengame, "but since I saw him as kind of a musical hero, I gave him a double shot."
Half an hour later, Blasengame was tending bar when the music in the adjoining venue abruptly stopped. When he went to investigate, he was informed the bassist had fled the stage midsong to vomit. "But he didn't make it to the bathroom," says Blasengame. "So he threw up all near the sound board. I created my own problem by hero worshipping. I created a vomiting monster onstage."
But that scrappy hospitality is what makes the Fixin' To a dive bar that's homey rather than dumpy. It's also why, less than two years after building a venue on an empty lot behind the bar, the Fixin' To has become a cornerstone of Portland's indie music scene.
A lifelong music geek and former critic, Blasengame says adding a concert venue wasn't a calculated business plan. In fact, it was entirely against his better judgment. "We had just gotten to this financial place of, hey, we're making money," he says. "Now we're back to eating ramen and checking the bank statement every morning."
But the decision to open the bar itself was just as quixotic. Eight years ago, Blasengame and his wife, Marli, were working grinding jobs as a freelance writer and a counselor at an abortion clinic. Inspired by a wistful, drunken conversation, they decided to quit their day jobs and open a bar a few blocks from their home in St. Johns.
The couple loosely modeled the Fixin' To on the watering holes in Blasengame's native Arkansas. The kitchen serves Frito pie, and there are cocktails made with 7-Up and served in buckets. The wood-paneled walls are lined with string lights, and the fence around the massive patio is partially built with old doors and chicken wire. But for the most part, the Southernness comes from the bar's unassuming charm. For every rough edge, there's a warm touch—a flag from an Arkansas college inconspicuously hanging on a wall, a can of Rainier impaled on a plastic trophy, or a speech bubble that reads "Fuck Trump" drawn near George Washington's mouth on a $100 bill hanging behind the bar.
"The good thing about running a bar and being kind of broke is that you don't have time to put on the affectations," says Blasengame. "If I had the money, maybe I would want it to be clean-spotted and have curated antlers on the wall that were perfectly sourced, but that's not our style."
The Fixin' To is a bar that feels lived in. There are traces of rowdy nights carved into the tables and encoded in the cobbled-together décor. The restrooms have chalkboard walls, which is partially an invitation for a hallowed dive bar tradition, partially a tool for managing drunken patrons. When the bar first opened, the restrooms were decorated with vintage concert posters, all of which were stolen within a month. "You're just like, 'I give up, you guys can have the bathroom," says Blasengame. "Put graffiti over whatever, draw dicks and balls, it's your space. You want people to be comfortable. You kind of have to give people some room to break things."
That affability can be seen in the Fixin' To's relationship with the local bands it books, too. "There is a short list of local musicians who've been so supportive of us since we opened the venue that we would absolutely kill for them," says Blasengame. That includes Maggie Morris of Sunbathe. Last March, Morris went to the venue with a list of out-of-town bands who needed a place to play after Treefort Music Festival. The Fixin' To made room on its calendar.
'"There are worse reasons to go into lifelong debt," says Blasengame. "It was just like, if we're going to go broke, let's build a rock club that we can be proud of that gives all the money to the bands and puts on great shows. So far, it's worked."