It's opening night at 9 pm, and Tonic Lounge (3100 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-238-0543, tonicloungeportland.com) is sold out.
It's the most crowded I've seen the place—even for a long-running Sandy Boulevard venue where, at the turn of the millennium, I saw Elliott Smith awkwardly standing next to Courtney Taylor-Taylor while Stephen Malkmus played. On March 23, Dead Meadow and Brian Jonestown Massacre's Matt Hollywood are on the bill, seemingly half the musicians in town are in attendance, and something strange has happened: The Portland music scene has become deeply nostalgic for a club it never much liked to begin with.
Blame Jon Taffer, I guess. After a failed Bar Rescue turned the place into the ill-fated Panic Room Caution: High Volume Bar, which briefly became Penis Room and then the Raven, the return of the not-so-storied Tonic Lounge name has taken on the character of a minor victory—a piece of beleaguered Old Portland rising from the sea.
Recently taken over by the High Water Mark's Eric Manfre and Chris Trumpower, Tonic Lounge has only a few cosmetic changes aside from a new sign with a funny hourglass insignia, and welcome additions like a fully covered patio and much better beer taps that include such heady modern innovations as Pfriem.
Those bar-rescued gray walls and carpet have weathered into themselves a bit, and a new sound system the bar picked up when it was the Raven is actually pretty decent. The club will briefly open for Friday and Saturday music shows only for a couple weeks—April 1 was a benefit for punk rocker Jonnycat—and then it'll drift back into daily existence. Whether the excitement will last is hard to say—apparently only half as many people showed up for Dead Moon's Fred and Toody Cole the following night.