The Checkered Flag Tavern
7483 SE 82nd Ave., 503-771-1994. 10 am-2:30 am daily.
Established: 1950s. Reestablished as The Checkered Flag Tavern in 2019.
You don’t exactly expect to be welcomed with open arms into every windowless outer Southeast Portland dive bar, especially one surrounded by privacy metal fencing and no obvious indication of an entrance. I had to trace the perimeter of this bar named after the finish symbol in every redneck’s favorite motorsport to find the back door marked only by a “No Minors” sign. Pushing into the dark room, I half expected to get jumped, so imagine my surprise when I was hit with the pleasant aroma of flowery sanitizer and everything bagels. A cheery bartender immediately greeted me and ran down the extensive selection of sodas, ciders, seltzers, beers and cocktails, informing me they were cash only. It turns out The Checkered Flag isn’t flying the colors of “red, white and blue lives matter,” but instead displays vibrant Pride flags and transgender rights signs while welcoming all genders and people from various walks of life. Every dive bar hallmark is in place here, though they’ve been freshened up, like how I imagine Snoop Dogg’s crib after Martha Stewart pays a visit. Even the streetside patio has been insulated and spruced up with plastic plants that could come off as a tropical garden with the right Instagram filter. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
Claudia’s Sports Pub and Grill
3006 SE Hawthorne Blvd., claudiaspub.com. 4-10 pm Monday, 11 am-10 pm Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday, 11 am-11 pm Friday-Saturday.
With just one Big Four sports team and a preponderance of bohemians who still think the term “sportsball” is edgy, it’s no surprise that Portland is not an elite sports city. Tunnel-visioned sports palaces like Blitz and Century have come and gone, yet Claudia’s soldiers on with an understated approach to a bar format that’s functionally useless to most of the city. If it weren’t for the various pennants and wreaths of TVs that hang above both sides of the bar, one would assume Claudia’s is a standard neighborhood dive, and its many amenities make it a damn fine one at that. The 10 tap handles pour $6.50 pints from local heavyweights like Breakside and Von Ebert, and the kitchen churns out sports bar classics like wings, gyros and an excellent turkey burger that’s the regulars’ go-to when they need something hearty to soak up the booze from a day-drinking marathon. Claudia’s displays no official allegiance to any one team, making it a great choice for a long fall Sunday, where sports bros of all ages and genders can bump fists and talk shit without being vibed out by whatever home crowd assumes ownership of the bar for the day. PETE COTTELL.
7855 SE Foster Road, 503-788-2578. 11 am-1 am daily.
At Foster Gardens, there is no garden (not even a garden salad), and the only thing it fosters is a hangover. The bar, named after the street it’s on, shares a parking lot with another watering hole called Andy’s Inn and is across from The Spot 79, a karaoke and lotto haven boasting steaks and seafood. So why does Foster Gardens have such a lively crowd on a weekday—even during off-peak hours—when there are other options nearby? It’s true, they have a ramshackle smoking deck, lots and lots of video poker, a shuffleboard table gathering dust, and cheap beer ($5 pints!). But the best feature outside of the conversations and amiable bartender is the on-site taco truck that is the only source of alcohol-free sustenance—it’s just too bad it closes at 9 pm even though the bar stays open later. That might partially explain why I was asked to help lift a woman off the ground outside and into an Uber at 10:30 pm. So, cons: Someone may regale you with stories about their tiny dog’s rat-catching prowess and you may be summoned to hoist a person to their feet. Pros: You may be offered a free shot from the Fireball machine and a suspicious homemade yogurt cookie from a Tupperware container in thanks for assisting a buzzed patron in a time of need. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
Gil’s Speakeasy Tavern
609½ SE Taylor St., 503-234-8991. 3 pm-2 am daily.
The best summation of Gil’s is a bottle of Budweiser covered with a dirty pandemic face mask in lieu of a coaster and left at the bar while a drinker takes a piss. Essentially, that scene seems to indicate the patron was considerate enough to wear a face covering during COVID but couldn’t make the effort to put it back on to use the windowless restroom. That might sound like I am disparaging Gil’s (known by most as simply “The Speakeasy”), but far from it. I love the cozy familiar surroundings with the ambience of a punk rock venue green room, complete with old couches and a tube TV. Yes, it has all of the typical dive bar trappings (video poker, pool, pinball, cheap beer), but it also has an out-of-place LED screen displaying some good craft beers, a respectable pub menu, defunct brewery tap handles screwed into the ceiling, and wall-to-wall graffiti. Everything about this tavern feels like a secret that you would need a password to unlock, especially the entrance, with a Prohibition-style speakeasy window slot. It’s almost too bad that the pandemic forced Gil’s to add a covered streetside parklet, making it much easier to spot the business. Prior to that, the joint was mostly discovered by word-of-mouth or people searching for parking at nearby Afuri and Kachka. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
Holman’s Bar & Grill
15 SE 28th Ave., 503-231-1093, holmanspdx.com. 8 am-2:30 am daily.
Holman’s is one of those bars where everyone knows your name—not because you are a regular, but because they are all off-duty bartenders and servers from other places you frequent. The bar had only been reopened for a week during my visit, and I found a murderer’s row of alcohol distributors, brewery reps and bussers lined up on the stools like they never left, even though the place closed for more than three years, initially due to the pandemic. It’s easy to see why they were back: The recently completed remodel by new owners Warren Boothby and Marcus Archambeault (The Alibi, Sandy Hut, The Vern) reflects the vibe of the area’s surrounding good bars and upscale drinking establishments with a twist. Despite the renovation, there is still much to look at—every inch of wall space is covered in some sort of strange or vintage knickknack, from tiny framed photos of old Hollywood celebrities to country landscape paintings to pictures of late beloved pets. Recent additions to the semi-morbid display include the rusted Club 21 sign and the front face of a big-rig truck that once graced the exterior of now-closed NoPo dive bar Sloan’s. While it is all evocative of a previous generation’s good times and cherished memories, I can’t shake the feeling they just cleaned out someone’s estate sale. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
6903 SE Milwaukie Ave., 503-232-4447, kaysbarpdx.com. 2 pm-midnight Monday-Wednesday, 2 pm-1 am Thursday-Friday, noon-1 am Saturday, noon-midnight Sunday.
A landmark neighborhood nightspot graying alongside its clientele, Kay’s Bar staggered into 21st century irrelevancy catering to elderly day-drinkers and nocturnal malcontents. (Though it does have one claim to fame: The son of Deliverance author James Dickey said his dad wrote the novel by hand at Kay’s during a poet-in-residence stint at nearby Reed College.) Like Renner’s, Lutz or other long-ignored watering holes saved from the bulldozer, Kay’s eventually gained new owners, who tore down walls and ripped up menus during massive remodels that preserved original decorative flourishes to lure middle-aged patrons there for date nights and upsell them drinks. Essentially, this incarnation of the bar best resembles the telegraphy kits or blacksmithing tools at neighboring antique shops, divorced from context, sold by the bucketload to new homeowners seeking some patina of utility, however misunderstood. So long as the merest whiff of authenticity still clings to Kay’s, despite the fact that it’s hawking huckleberry mules and barbecue soy curls, nobody will complain that the dive is a shallow dip into tepid waters. The springboard’s sufficiently lovely: oxblood banquette loveseats, frosted amber electric votive candles, and an iconic curved glass brick entrance below scarlet neon signage. Whatever Kay’s has become, it’s still got a real purty mouth. JAY HORTON.
4639 SE Woodstock Blvd., 503-774-0353, lutztavern.com. Noon-2:30 am Monday-Friday, 11 am-2:30 am Saturday-Sunday.
Ninety percent of dive bars in Portland fall into two camps: irredeemable, video lottery-plagued purgatory, or a gentrified simulacrum of what used to be the former. Lutz Tavern is part of that rare and sacred 10% that’s thankfully neither. The wood paneling and knickknackery is on point, but not suspiciously so. The bartenders let on that they’ve seen some shit, but their default mode is grizzled pleasance rather than piss-and-vinegar. Like at any good neighborhood boozer, the tap list is well stocked with unfussy craft beers dispensed without hesitation when a post-hipster regular wanders in and gestures toward the handles, asking for “an IPA or whatever, I don’t give a shit.” Aside from the occasional bewildered Reed kid or roller-derby mom, both the staff and the clientele at this beloved watering hole are solidly Old Portland in the best way possible. Lutz offers a solid, BS-free weekend brunch, while the weekday menu brokers in greasy bar classics like a chicken sandwich, a patty melt and an absolute unit of a Reuben that should give delicatessens pause. PETE COTTELL.
Mt. Scott Pub
6001 SE 72nd Ave., 503-771-7223. Noon-midnight Monday-Friday, 11 am-1 am Saturday-Sunday.
Established: 1960s. Reestablished as Mt. Scott Pub in 1990.
This nondescript bar on the corner of Southeast Woodstock Boulevard and 72nd Avenue kept drinkers comfortably buzzed back when this neighborhood was still called “Felony Flats” and you could chain-smoke inside to your heart’s content after a hard day’s work. That spirit is still alive and well within the ‘70s basement-style, wood-paneled confines of Mt. Scott Pub. It’s the kind of joint with few windows, and those that exist are mostly blocked by lottery machines, anyway. But who needs natural light when you can soak in the glow of a neon beer sign while sipping a (surprisingly good) mint mojito, craft beer, or macro lager paired with smoky mac-’n’-cheese bites or a round of corn dogs? Sure, there are cliché signs like “the bartender is always right” on the walls, but frivolous décor aside, there is a sense of camaraderie here that reminds you Portland still has some salt-of-the earth folks. You can venture over to Southeast Foster Road or up Woodstock for slightly hipper digs, but why bother when everything you need is right here? NEIL FERGUSON.
Old Gilbert Road Tavern
5501 SE 72nd Ave., 503-777-1220. 4 pm-11 pm Sunday-Thursday, 4 pm-midnight Friday-Saturday.
Established: Late 1930s or early 1940s. Reestablished as Old Gilber Road Tavern in 2016.
Once a gritty biker bar, this neighborhood haunt across from Mount Scott Park may be best known by passersby for its random, often Harry Dean Stanton-obsessed movie quote marquee. Though the attendance at Old Gilbert (affectionately known as “The OG”) varies from graveyardlike to packed, there is always something comfy about the place despite the sometimes stony-faced bartenders. Belly up to the bar and drink the night away with some surprisingly well-crafted mixologist-esque cocktails and some nice shot-and-beer combos, and if you’re looking to soak up the booze, the “Tiny-Ass Cheese Burgers,” chicken sandwich and filet o’ fish all pack big flavor. The OG also features a variety of live music, comedy and other community gatherings that take it a notch above your average dive. I recall coming here back in the day to skank to ska bands, but it’s also where I witnessed despair wash over a group of barflies watching the 2016 election results. In other words, this is one of those true local watering holes. NEIL FERGUSON.
Reel M Inn
2430 SE Division St., 503-231-3880, reelminnpdx.com. 11 am-2:30 am daily.
Established: 1950. Reestablished as Reel M Inn in 1994.
Most transplants who moved to Portland during the Obama administration have one lovable slacker friend whose livelihood is constantly in peril due to the rising tide of capitalism. Reel M Inn is essentially that friend but in bar form. Since the early 2010s, the stretch of Division that contains this cacophonous tavern-cum-chicken shack has watched one beloved totem of The Good Old Days succumb to the condo plague, yet Reel M Inn still stands in defiance of all things pretentious and bougie. There’s rarely more than one bartender on duty, so you better figure out what you want before you hit the bar. A tallboy of Rainier and a shot of Old Crow is still only $5, so that’s an easy one. There’s a good chance you and everyone else crammed into the tiny space, which is covered in chalk graffiti, tattered beer signs and cheap Christmas lights, are here because some list told you this is the spot for fried chicken. Assume it will take over an hour for your food to materialize, and do not under any circumstances harangue the bartender about your order taking too long. The $16 half-bird meal is plenty for two people, and the à la carte menu makes it easy to add a breast or some onion rings if you’re expecting more greasy paws to pick at your plate. PETE COTTELL.
10555 SE Division St., 503-254-9212, 2 pm-1 am daily.
Portland is filled with bars that act as a catch-all for nearby dwellers. Case in point is the Rumpus Room, which offers virtually any amenity you might want from a dive. Looking to get your karaoke on? Sing away. Maybe you fancy a little gambling? There are plenty of machines that will take your money. Shuffleboard, perhaps? Get to sliding. Or maybe you just want to knock back a few Jell-O shots and munch on some pot stickers or mini tacos while watching the game. You can do that, too, in this space adorned with all kinds of tchotchkes. There are also cocktails, a no-frills selection of beer, and the usual array of fried bar food like poppers and taquitos. Finally, if you feel a kinship with the kind of characters one might find in Willy Vlautin novels, you’ll be right at home at the Rumpus. NEIL FERGUSON.
Ship Ahoy Tavern
2889 SE Gladstone St., 503-239-0868. 10 am-2:30 am daily.
Any bar that is even loosely maritime themed is usually the kind of place where you can get real comfortable drinking the night (or morning) away, talk to some rough-and-tumble characters, get in a brawl, or do all of those things in that order. Sitting on a vibrant little Gladstone block across from C-Bar and just down the way from Holy Ghost, Ship Ahoy feels quintessentially Portland with its mix of lovable weirdos, service-industry workers enjoying their night off, neighborhood lifers and hipsters. The bartender will happily serve you a fresh hop lager or a Rainier-whiskey combo, and if, for some reason, you want to take a break from sitting on those damn-cozy barstools, you can watch the world go by from the comfort of the COVID-era smoking patio. NEIL FERGUSON.
Space Room Lounge
4800 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-235-6957, spaceroomlounge.com. 11 am-1 am Monday-Friday, 10 am-1 am Saturday-Sunday.
Established: 1952. Reestablished as Space Room in 1961.
There are two kinds of dive bars: those of no redeeming value outside of cheap intoxicants and ones that are known as “cool,” places where hipsters congregate to be seen in a quirky atmosphere that feels authentic to…someone. I would argue that every dive starts out as the former. Some stay that way and others take on a second life as customer demographics change, which is the case with the Space Room. When you step into the sunken bar that was very intentionally modeled after the midcentury’s vision of a futuristic spaceship, your eyes may need a few moments to adjust to the black lights and neon that illuminate the main room like a scene in Twin Peaks. Gorgeous wide leather booths sit beneath a black light mural of aliens, UFOs and tractor beams. I half expected to see Mulder and Scully sipping scotch there, but this ain’t one of those tongue-in-cheek special episodes of The X-Files. You’re more likely to drink next to a hipster wearing a faded “I Want to Believe” shirt while chugging White Claw and talking about how the Trump piss tape is real and they once saw a bootleg copy. EZRA JOHNSON-GREENOUGH.
6517 SE Foster Road, 971-888-4001, stardaytavern.com. 3 pm-2:30 am daily.
Established: 1930s. Reestablished 2013 as Starday.
The Starday isn’t an actual dive bar. You can’t imagine crumbling beauties from a Tom Waits song slumped in stools nursing Bushmills and comparing tattoo tears (“one for every year he’s away, she said”). The décor is too curated for that, the bartender too Cheers-friendly as he flips a shaker cup, waiting for your order. And all of that is just fine with us. We were thrilled to find a thriving, lively spot on Foster, a strip we worry about as Portland threatens to collapse in on itself like a dying sun. The old fashioned was perfectly unsweet, and we liked looking at all the signs and pictures on the wall (including one of a young Shaquille O’Neal) and the flags on the ceiling. No band played on the Tuesday night we were there, but the calendar shows that lots of them come through. Our companion for the evening said the open mic night is really good. Don’t miss the men’s restroom. The graffiti is thick, even on the porcelain in the urinal. No one tag is that impressive, but together they look like Jackson Pollock painted the whole room. ANTHONY EFFINGER.
5819 SE Milwaukie Ave., 503-235-6352, yukontavern.com. 3 pm-2:30 am Monday-Thursday, noon-2:30 am Friday-Sunday.
Adorned with paisley-print wallpaper and paintings of damsels, and lit by the kind of red glow that conjures up images of a brothel (juxtaposed with a side lounge decked out in wood paneling that wouldn’t be out of place in your dad’s man cave), the Yukon harks back to the days when gold rush-themed bars ruled. Almost 100 years after opening, it serves cheap liquor drinks alongside a modestly impressive draft list of local beer (plus Hamm’s tallboys) to a mix of drunks, gamblers, normies, yuppies and timid neighborhood newbies. The Yukon is the kind of place that beckons you on a dark night like a beacon, with the promise of good—maybe even debaucherous—times. Don’t sleep on the supremely underrated chicken tendies. NEIL FERGUSON.