Worker’s Tap Has the City’s Best Activist Library on Its Top Floor

They might even give you a drink discount if you present a brief book report at the bar.

Several Portland pubs double as bookstores. Over at Worker’s Tap, a new, worker-owned beer bar located near the corner of Southeast 12th Avenue and Burnside, they’re doing things differently. Co-owner and barkeep Connor Smith says the genesis of the bar wasn’t in business, but in activism. “We have all known each other through activism and organizing in the city, and the initial idea behind Worker’s Tap was creating a community space,” Smith says. “The bar is for making money to support that space.”

It’s a place John Reed would feel at home. The bar provides free meeting space for progressive, socialist and unionist causes— as well as the occasional D&D group—and it has stripped out many of the common distractions of bars—televisions, karaoke machines, pool tables—in favor of an environment designed to encourage conversation and collaboration among its clientele.

Essential to this ideas-focused bar is a library on the top floor: several bookshelves holding a few hundred books regarding union organizing, LGBTQ+ rights, anarchism, radical environmentalism and anti-imperialist struggle. It also has a copy of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune, if that’s more your speed. The bartenders keep a ledger behind the bar, allowing you to jot down your phone number and take out a book for a few weeks if it catches your fancy. They might even give you a drink discount if you present a brief book report at the bar. When pressed, Smith recommended War and an Irish Town, a combination memoir and materialist analysis of the Troubles by Eamonn McCann, who grew up in Northern Ireland under the thumb of the British.