The Yamhill Pub was an unlikely candidate for salvation.
The dingy hole-in-the-wall along the downtown MAX tracks might be mistaken for a service door if not for its signature soiled, green awning. It’s survived a lot in its 80-plus years: a development boom, changing tastes, downtown political unrest, and—miraculously—health inspections.
But Oregon’s second COVID shutdown of barrooms during the winter of 2020 seemed like last call. The Paycheck Protection Program loan money had run out. Food delivery didn’t make sense for an institution where the main menu item is Stouffer’s Frozen Lasagna.
But the Yamhill Pub’s patrons wouldn’t let it die.
When general manager Kevin Hill launched a GoFundMe campaign, patrons raised more than $8,000 to help keep the PBR flowing. That’s a lot of money for a place so grimy you need to wash your hands after opening the restroom door from the outside because the knob transfers a sticky film of unknown origin. And the Yamhill Pub lived.
There’s nothing Portlanders cherish so much as a cozy old watering hole. This city has been through its fair share of bar trends: The craft brewpub boom and the rise of the stylish, mixologist-led lounge are just two examples. But we always manage to find our way back to the dives and champion their existence, no matter how sleazy.
Perhaps that’s because nothing else can really serve as a good substitute. Dives offer stability in an ever-changing world: You know who’s working what shift and how much bullshit they’ll put up with, the same customers (most of whom live minutes away) show up to warm their preferred seats, and the menu is fixed: If there’s a Friday prime rib sandwich special, you better believe it’s been that way for decades and will remain so until the end of time.
These are also the types of bars where we establish and maintain a chosen family—one that can sometimes be dysfunctional, loud and bizarre, but also supportive, hilarious and kind.
This issue pays tribute to those dives, which often feel like something of an endangered species, given the rate of neighborhood redevelopment and the stubborn industry instability caused by the pandemic. We’re also honoring their history, which means each bar listed in the following pages is at least 50 years old.
What Yamhill Pub says about this town we’ll leave for you to decide. But its storefront is still occupied—which is a helluva lot more than you can say for its surroundings.
We encourage you to use this as a guide to find a bar that feels like home or, if you already have that special place, turn to these pages and explore a new joint—because no other locale will help you get to know a neighborhood better than its dive.
—Andi Prewitt, Arts & Culture Editor
WW would like to thank the Oregon Historical Society for assistance with establishing a number of the founding dates for these bars.