Gone is the sign that once topped the White Owl Social Club bar: “Please do not form lines.”
Without such direction, a woman in linen shorts stands dutifully behind a group whose audible conversation relates to frozen margaritas and brain freeze. The bartender serves them without batting an eye, and not just because her lashes are on point. White Owl has a new vibe.
It was difficult to pigeonhole White Owl before. The bar was the site of local artisan markets, live music jamborees, movie screenings and weekend dance parties. But the bar packed up its stage a few years back—turning it into a lotto room—and now general manager Jesse Brooks says there’ll be no more weekend DJs.
“We’re not a nightclub anymore,” he says.
A recent renovation has given the space a light tiki vibe. The lotto room now sports an unobtrusive thatched roof. Windows that make up the northside wall hold a variety of palm-leaved plants—a kind of Portland status symbol.
If the White Owl ever becomes unstuck in time, tacos should be its constant. The space has celebrated Taco Tuesdays for years, but now, due to its partnership with Oaxacan-style Mexican cart La Tehuana, those tacos are better than ever.
An unassuming star of its North Killingsworth food cart pod, La Tehuana’s carnitas elevate what was already a good patio into a solid dinner spot. Vegetarians and vegans should look to the dynamite chiles relleno. In fact, everything that has to do with peppers on the White Owl menu is worth your time. The vegetarian nachos come heavy with sautéed zucchini, red pepper and mushrooms. You never knew you needed that until La Tehuana shows all that you could have.
The cocktails are slightly out of step with the food—there’s not as much tequila as one would expect. But the margarita slushy flows out from its churning cylinder, strong and true. The Chicharita—a misty little glass of tequila and pink punch—is as visually appealing (pink drink, green lime wedge) as it is refreshingly sour.
A place with a patio like White Owl’s never really needed DJs. The whole purpose of its sprawling, picnic table-dotted deck was that you could bring a large group, which is vital in a town where a party over four often runs into trouble.
Brooks, however, thinks better of his earlier statement and mentions an upcoming Sunday when a DJ will spin house music.
“No night DJ,” he says. “Sometimes day DJs.”
DRINK: White Owl Social Club, 1305 SE 8th Ave., whiteowlsocialclub.com, 4 pm-2:30 am Monday-Friday, noon-2:30 am Saturday-Sunday.