Within a town overtaken by blockbuster reboots of beloved relics, it's tricky to define what is and isn't a dive. Vintage neon and faded Schlitz posters no longer mean so much as consistently and suspiciously low-priced well drinks. After careful review, we've selected what we believe to be the city's truest dive bars, with an eye toward establishments trailing a storied lineage and that enduring frisson of muted danger.
The Stage Dive
A resolutely unpolished night spot hidden amid the pawn shop district at LoBu's eastern edge, it's no small miracle the Blue Diamond has survived as a band venue while far flashier area rock clubs were sold or repurposed. If menus of food (brisket and cocoa-topped cake doughnut, $8) and drink (allspice-laden sidecar, $6) run excessively adventurous, the local blues, soul and R&B soundtrack fills the dance floor nightly with the middle-aged.
The Swan Dive
A vital community hub upon its launch 75 years ago and a landmark institution at the heart of the bustling Jade District ever since, the Canton Grill's timeworn Chinese American standards (and less-than-woke signage) may seem rather emptily historic, but the adjoining, deceptively spacious Dragon Lounge has always evolved with the times. The '50s BYOB dance hall, '60s piano bar, and '70s discotheque today thrives as a karaoke parlor.
The Dumpster Dive
Thrust into the national spotlight a quarter-century ago after critical evidence implicating Tonya Harding was found in its dumpster, this driftwood-colored, barnacle-shaped drinking-man's diner changed not at all—opening before dawn to serve stevedores hashbrowns and hair of the dog—and most recently won headlines for resisting developers as they built a six-story, $100 million office complex encircling the property. The Dockside, which has always been blocks from any glimpse of the water, stays true to its vision.
The Diver Down
Most nights at the Speakeasy carry a whiff of the aggressively casual house party, which happens when a punk-tinged shotgun saloon is located directly below apartments famed for crumbling fixtures, open-door approval policies, and rental prices to make a Californian livid. While you'll see plenty of East Coast transplants seeking a harder-edged banter, most patrons come from the rooms upstairs. Long nights at the Speakeasy may have been what sent them there.
The Belly Flop
For a bar largely defined by chaotic, calcified décor—a tchotchke-strewn anti-aesthetic resembling an Americana exhibit post-mugging—change has finally come to the signal dive of Portland's inner eastside. You can still order a crap coffee and well vodka (the "Sam Henry") for under $5, but now infused liquors line the shelves. Evenings increasingly belong to younger-demographic board game nights and the Dig A Pony spillover getting breakfast at 1 am. This isn't, in other words, your father's My Father's Place, but it's hard to imagine he'd complain.
The Deep Dive
Slim's Restaurant & Lounge
8635 N Lombard St., 503-286-3854. 7 pm-2:30 am daily.
It's not hard to believe the long-standing rumors that a rough draft of Slim's survived Prohibition by smuggling liquor through a subterranean passageway under Lombard. While hardly trading in the same sepia-tinged glamour of boutique gin bars faking an illicit past, St. Johns' oldest bar is the real deal. This modern iteration of the bar may have cleaned up its reputation enough to draw sports fans and beer snobs, but traces of a far dirtier, richer past remain.
The Nose Dive
Evil twin of the hotel lounge, motel bars rarely breed good cheer. Prices have recently crept up and rougher edges sanitized as evenings fill with career-driven recent émigrés leasing apartments down Barbur, gawky throngs of PSU undergrads gibbering through karaoke, and house guests of the west foothills without better alternatives. And on the right night, the right song, they might even get to know each other.