Deep Dive: Our Guide to Northeast Portland’s Dive Bars

Northeast has what may be Portland’s only saloon you can buy American Spirits, a microwaved Hungry-Man dinner and a Double Mountain IPA at the same time.

Ace Tavern

8868 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-252-4761. 8 am-1 am daily.

Established: 1941

A proper dive occupies the sweet spot between sketchy and silly, and the Ace Tavern on Sandy hits just the right balance. Signs warn against handguns, foul language and attempts to pay with anything other than cash. Walk into the carpeted, well air-conditioned space and you’ll see a few video poker players hushed by the machines in the back. A small kitchen prepares an assortment of microwavable options like chicken bakes and sandwiches, while the regulars at the bar regale the bartender with stories like “how I got rid of those darn woodpeckers.” The daily combination of food and liquor specials means that if it’s Wednesday, you’re getting a dollar off of breakfast or gin (or both, if you’re living large). There are several massive televisions behind the bar, including one with a live feed of the parking lot so you can keep an eye on your car while you sip on a standard selection of drafts or a White Claw if you’re watching your figure. So, keep it PG, enjoy the generous pours of anything as long as it’s not top shelf—there is no top shelf—and settle in. ALEXANDER BASEK.

Billy Ray’s Dive

2216 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-287-7254. 3 pm-midnight Monday-Thursday, noon-2 am Friday-Sunday.

Established: 1950s

Billy Ray’s is the kind of dive where you may find, as I did one recent Sunday afternoon, that everyone else in the bar was also there on Saturday night; the regulars are very regular. The neon “TAVERN” sign outside is fancier than anything behind the red front door opening into the dark, narrow space with a warped copper bartop. It’s probably the only bar in Portland where you can buy American Spirits, a microwaved Hungry-Man dinner and a Double Mountain IPA at the same time. There’s 50-cent pool after 7 pm—free until then—and $5 microbrews during happy hour. The cash-only establishment has been a bar for decades—the building itself was built in 1900—and a sign by the door warns that only one reentry is permitted daily. The cash drawer also cautions there are “earwigs inside,” so, like the actual age of the bar itself, who knows the real truth? Print the legend instead. ALEXANDER BASEK.

Sandy Hut

1430 NE Sandy Blvd., 503-235-7972. 11:30 am-2:30 am daily.

Established: 1923

We should all aim to be this much fun when we’re 100. The Wolf’s Den, the Sandy Hut, or the Hut of Huts, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing, is an idealized version of a midcentury bar and restaurant. The restored Hirschfeld mural, cozy booths and padded bartop add vintage flair, while a slushy machine, Big Buck Hunter and pinup calendars keep things from getting too fancy. The crowd is a mix of folks who’ve managed to survive the bar’s zhuzhing up by new ownership in 2015 (they gave Holman’s the same treatment this year) and whatever counts for a hipster these days. No matter the name or the state of the interior, the bartenders will not stand for any of your lip but will be generous with the pours of liquor, essential for any top-tier dive. Here’s to another 100 years at the western terminus of Sandy Boulevard, or at least until the slushy machine gives out. ALEXANDER BASEK.

The Sextant Bar & Galley

4035 NE Marine Drive, 503-281-5944. 11 am-midnight Monday-Friday. 10 am-midnight Saturday-Sunday.

Established: 1973

There’s a right way and a wrong way to experience The Sextant Bar & Galley on the Columbia River. We did it the wrong way, ordering a margarita that almost certainly came from a supermarket mix, and a hazy IPA that was neither hazy nor an IPA. The guy next to us got it right. He settled in front of a video lottery machine by the pool table and asked his wife to get him a lemon drop. “Hell,” he said, “make it a double lemon drop.” Legend. Nor did we go on a sunny afternoon, when we could have sat on the expansive deck overlooking the river. We’ve had better pastrami, but the Reuben was solid and the coleslaw excelled. We amped up the nautical theme by playing Jimmy Buffett (rest in power) on the jukebox and ogling what looked like a real sextant on the wall. The margaritas at the Sextant won’t satisfy a single Parrot Head, but everything else surely will. ANTHONY EFFINGER.

The Wilshire Tavern

4052 NE 42nd Ave., 503-284-8083. 2 pm-closing daily.

Established: 1933

Prepare to step back in time, or at the very least into a suburban rec room circa 1978 at The Wilshire Tavern. Whatever is off-gassing from the well-loved carpet and faux-wood paneling creates an atmosphere reminiscent of cigarettes, disappointed fathers and WD-40. It’s great, even if it’s from about three Portlands ago. No liquor, no credit cards, no problems is the M.O. at this Beaumont-Wilshire neighborhood mainstay, said to have been owned by a professional wrestler back in the day. Now it’s the spot where men of a certain age (old enough to have opinions about Steve Largent) trade stories about baseball and golf. There’s food—both hard-shell and soft tacos are available on Sundays—though your opinion of it may hinge on how you feel about $3 canned oysters. Despite the absence of the hard stuff, the beer selection is decent, trending to the local. While they say they are an Oregon Ducks bar, you can expect the bartender to bust your chops no matter who you’re rooting for on Saturday. ALEXANDER BASEK.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW’s journalism through our Give!Guide Fundraising page.