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

From Joe’s Cellar to Yur’s, Northeast may be home to the city’s darkest dive bars, where the only light sources are the video lottery machines and TV sets.

Joe’s Cellar

1332 NW 21st Ave., 503-223-8825. 11 am-midnight daily.

Established: 1941

In 2018, WW wrote the following about Joe’s Cellar: “Dive bars are generally good places to hide from the sun, but Joe’s Cellar seems designed to make you forget sunlight exists.” Not much has changed since, and that’s the beauty of Joe’s. While the Slabtown blocks surrounding the place have dramatically transformed over the past several years, it seems you can always count on Joe’s (aside from a temporary closure in 2013) as a place where you can hunker down in the dark with a standard beer—none of that try-hard fancy stuff—or a strong, cheap mixed drink. It also serves perfectly acceptable dive grub like tots, which are oily and salty, as all good tots should be, and a club sandwich that’s a carnivore’s crunchy, meaty dream balanced by whole-wheat bread. Time is warped in Joe’s; you can sit in a booth with your co-workers for what feels like two hours after work and all of a sudden it’s 11 pm. If you leave before dusk, your eyes will burn as soon as you walk outside and realize that sunshine still exists. Regulars could not give a flying fuck that you’re there, which offers you blessed anonymity and low standards. Essentially, Joe’s is the place to go if you want to feel like you’re in a dungeon—but a fun one, with a surprisingly young and not-so-shabby-looking clientele on a recent Friday night. SOPHIE PEEL.

Lighthouse Restaurant & Bar

10808 NW St. Helens Road, 503-240-8827, 11:30 am-11 pm Monday-Friday, 9 am-11 pm Saturday-Sunday.

Established: 1950

Linnton, a former lumber town on the west bank of the Willamette River, stretching from the railroad yard near Northwest Kittridge Avenue to the Sauvie Island Bridge, has certainly seen better days. But the local dive, the Lighthouse, remains as sprightly as ever. The restaurant and bar opened 73 years ago when an enterprising entrepreneur built a roof over the alley beside the old town bank. Some things haven’t changed. For instance, the safe deposit boxes are still on display in the dining room. But others have: A former investment banker turned restaurateur renovated the place a few years back, and there’s now a satisfying selection of gluten-free beers and ciders next to bottles of Bud Light behind the bar. On a recent Friday evening, regulars filed in to nosh on the Lighthouse’s wide selection of sandwiches (including a delightful tofu bánh mi) while Liz Cooper played in the background. “It’s the closest thing to a rural Oregon bar that’s still within city limits,” WW noted in 2018, when we named it our runner up for Bar of the Year. That remains true to this day. LUCAS MANFIELD.

Mary’s Club

503 W Burnside St., 503-227-3023, 11:30 am-2:30 am daily.

Established: 1954

The strongest selling points of Portland’s oldest, continuously running strip club were never tangible. Mary’s original location was a kitschy shoebox of a place that was alluring more for what it represented—one of the few remaining portals to Old Portland—than the entertainment on offer. The ceilings were low, the music was hokey, and the performers embraced camp and curviness, oftentimes flitting across the room on roller skates while a handful of oil paintings of babes in faraway locales oversaw the proceedings. In December 2021, Mary’s moved just blocks away, at which point it was reerected as a sleazy simulacrum of its former self. Said oil paintings and the iconic marquee remain prominently displayed at the long hallway-shaped space that’s lined with two stages on one side and the bar on the other. Hail Mary Nachos and a massive grilled burrito are available until last call, and you can wash that all down with a pint of Mary’s Topless Blonde, a crushable, malty beer custom-made for the club by Cascade Brewing. The dancers are still tasked with pulling double duty as their own DJs; however, the music and atmosphere are a tad more modern than what one would expect at the old locale. The mood is still lighter than your average new-school spot, so it’s safe to assume the ghosts of Old Portland are pleased with the transition. PETE COTTELL.

Yur’s Bar & Grill

717 NW 16th Ave., 503-224-0160, 7 am-2:30 am daily.

Established: 1970

You wouldn’t know it just by glancing at this turret-topped bar emblazoned with a red logo that functions as a billboard along Interstate 405, but Yur’s is its own little Slabtown ecosystem. In the morning, it refuels Radio Cab’s fleet of graveyard shift drivers once they’ve punched out. In fact, before the arrival of ride-hailing apps, it wouldn’t be uncommon to find the entire bar lined with cabbies eating breakfast. Some afternoons, a guy from Hotlips a few blocks away brings the bartenders a post-shift pizza before hitting the video lottery machines. Tucked between lively Northwest 21st Avenue and the Pearl’s gleaming high-rises in an area that is as close as you can get to “no man’s land” in Portland these days, Yur’s keeps the neighborhood regulars happily buzzed and entertained. But the tavern is also a beloved social space—where you can enjoy the comfort of being among others even if you don’t feel like uttering anything other than your drink order. The amiable bartenders are quick to pour you a tumbler of Jameson, but will slow down to listen to stories or confessions (“I broke a human being last night,” one man shared during my visit. “I gave someone mushrooms that I should not have”). The lack of windows and pitch-black booths mean that the space is sufficiently dark, which makes ordering a strong chocolate pudding shot before 5 pm seem acceptable, not desperate. However, the glow from the TVs and slot machines provide enough light to ward off any “descending into a murky mineshaft” vibes. Consider it a bonus that the food here is made with pride and tastes like it. Even a humble scoop of potato salad—a zesty blend of red onions, red spuds, celery, pickles, eggs and a few different mustards—is a notch above your average deli case side. And lucky for you, Yur’s brought back happy hour in September following a three-year-plus pandemic pause. ANDI PREWITT.

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