A bar, if we're being honest, is usually just a bar.
Some are quantifiably better than others, of course. But most of the time, it's just the place around the corner from another place, its worth determined not by the décor or the taplist but how often you went inside and what you remember about being there.
But Victory Bar—now that was a bar.
Even if you didn't live near Southeast Division Street, or have much reason to go there, if you visited once, you found your way back. It had a distinct personality, which is different from a theme, though if it had had one, it would have probably been "playfully dystopian." Accoutrements included propaganda posters riffing on Nineteen Eighty-Four, staticky television sets playing old concert footage, and wall-mounted rifles painted with candy stripes. At night, when the lighting went from dusky to dark, it could truly feel like the last pub left on earth.
Instead, it's aiming to be the opposite sort of bar: the bright, comfortable neighborhood hang, with good food, good cocktails and minimal aesthetic distractions. The lone TV is high-def and tuned to football on Sundays. The drinks are classics, or tweaks of classics, and the food menu is all sandwiches and skewers. It's kept Victory Bar's leather booths and tin ceiling fixtures, but swapped the Orwell references for a (possibly apocryphal) Bukowski quote near the restrooms, and the only conversation piece is a lovely mural stretching across the back wall.
In other words, it's the place around the corner from another place. That's not a bad thing—but if you're not around the corner yourself, chances are you'll be making memories elsewhere.
DRINK: The Automatic, 3652 SE Division St., 503-206-5371, theautomaticbarpdx.com. 3 pm-midnight Monday-Wednesday, 3 pm-1 am Thursday-Friday, noon-1 am Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday.