Best of Portland 2012: Best Nights

Best Poor Man’s Las Vegas

Though best known for ugly shopping centers, house boats and one of the Portland area's three Hooters franchises, Jantzen Beach is also home to a delightful string of a dozen businesses fast becoming known by locals as "Li'l Vegas Strip."

Sorry, that's wrong. The stretch has actually been dubbed "Lottery Row." Good things come in strips: comic strip, strip tease, Li'l Vegas Strip. Bad things come in rows: skid row, death row, Lottery Row.

The strip-mall-style block has been heavily criticized by neighborhood activists and the Portland Tribune, which has reported that some area business owners split their establishments in half to double the number of lottery machines they can have on site, from six to 12 (business owners can make between 11 percent and 27.5 percent of the revenue from video-poker machines depending on sales). 

My recent Sunday-afternoon visit to Hayden Island's much-maligned cluster of micro-bars, most of which sport ultra-tinted windows and neon signs, evoked the exact same set of feelings, in the exact same order, as Las Vegas always does: First the excitement, then the sadness, and finally a deep spiritual void. Yup, Li'l Vegas Strip is a good name for this place.

At Cafe del Toro—a dimly lit and cavelike establishment where caricatures of regular customers clutter the walls—I was met with frog-throated laughter and stock-car racing on TV. A few doors down at Rachel's Kitchen, the lighting was piercing and artificial. There were only four customers in sight, all of them plugging away at lottery terminals. When I took my $15 cash-out ticket to the counter, the sunny hostess clapped and said, "Winner! Winner!"

After some initial trepidation over entering Bradley's—the corner bar's logo is a large-breasted girl riding a giant red hot sausage—I entered to see six abandoned lottery machines faintly flashing my name from their candylike screens. The bartender was all smiles in cashing me out for $10. No one stabbed me or stole my wallet.

Out front, there was a steady line of stubbly, downtrodden-looking smokers on old cellphones. "I'm down at the machines," I heard one man say into his. The phrase has a nice ring to it. I'm going to have to come back here. A lot. CASEY JARMAN.

Best NIMBY Fight

The opening of a new strip club is bound to cause protest in most neighborhoods, but the efforts by residents of once rough-and-tumble-but-now-trendy Sellwood trying to stop Casa Diablo from setting up shop in the former Wendy's along Southeast McLoughlin Boulevard were especially notable. The club has made international headlines for its all-vegan menu, and opposition only brought out counter protests: Some showed up at an anti-strip club meeting in September where they promoted their love of animals and condemned Bible thumping. Neighbors said their concerns were more agnostic: public urination, public sex on private property and salacious propositions. They hoped the potential of city code violations would keep the place closed. But Casa Diablo II is scheduled to open within two months of receiving its license on June 7. With another strip club practically next door, the steakhouse Acropolis club, NIMBYers might only be worried about disputes between vegans and carnivores, differences quickly put aside before the evening's entertainment. KATY SWORD.

Best Board Game Selection

Victory Bar (3652 SE Division St.) set a high watermark: Before the establishment purged all its board games (citing stragglers, according to one server) recently, it featured an array of vintage titles. There was a charmingly misogynistic edition of Careers circa 1963, for example—landing on spaces that read "acquire a pretty secretary" or "shore leave on Pago Pago" would score you serious "happiness points." But The Basement Pub (1028 SE 12th Ave., is quietly filling Portland's board-game void, with overflowing shelves that contain no fewer than three varieties of Risk and such deliciously baffling titles as Telepathy and What's Yours Like? Indeed, Basement Pub seems to welcome loitering, drunken gamers of the serious kind, providing a Scrabble dictionary and what appears to be the next level of Balderdash alongside its two choice pinball machines. Its commitment to strategized recreation includes the bar's own cribbage league, which meets in the winter months. SAUNDRA SORENSON.

Best Viking Hangout

If the lutefisk-and-meatball dinners don't draw you in, maybe the Viking pancake breakfasts or the Nordic fusion dancing will.

Norse Hall
(111 NE 11th Ave.,

, built in 1928, is the local home of the Sons of Norway Grieg Lodge fraternal organization. The all-volunteer nonprofit group supports the celebration of Norwegian and Scandinavian heritage with social, cultural and educational events. But Viking blood or no, all are welcome at Norse Hall. At once anachronistic and delightfully charming (like the set of a Wes Anderson movie), Norse Hall boasts a meeting hall, library, the Oslo Lounge (for challenging Vikings to drinking games) and the grandest of grand ballrooms, complete with a mural of the picturesque fjords. Any given week finds its event calendar packed with everything from bowling to dances to things we can't pronounce, because that's how Vikings roll. Who are we kidding? They had us at lutefisk and meatballs. PENELOPE BASS.

Best Mini-Mart Dance Party

It's 1 am on an exceptionally rainy Friday night, and the hottest spot in Southeast Portland is the Belmont Bodega (2519 SE Belmont St., 235-6114). Seriously, it's fucking sweltering in here. That's what happens when you cram a few dozen people into a space the size of an average convenience store and throw a dance party. In the daylight hours, the building at Southeast 25th Avenue and Belmont Street actually is a convenience store. On the first Friday of each month, however, owner Dillon Rhomberg clears the shelves, throws turntables up on the counter, and transforms the tiny storefront into a throbbing, sweaty nightclub. Of course, this club is a bit different from the Old Town meat markets. Beers are sold directly from the fridge. Occasionally, Rhomberg's mother stops by with cupcakes. And when a drink gets spilled, it's an opportunity for the creation of a new dance craze. A patron grabs a mop and, like Fred Astaire with an umbrella or James Brown wielding a microphone stand, performs a duet while other revelers stand in a circle cheering him on. I have a feeling this will catch on. Call it "The Clean-Up on Aisle 5." MATTHEW SINGER.

Best Drinking Game

Team Guzzle Puzzle is stumped. They know that the bike light attached to a two-wheeler parked in front of Alberta's Bye and Bye is flashing Morse code, but they haven't yet figured out that the playing cards attached to its back wheels are semaphore. Or that the number puzzle they've been poring over for an hour is actually a word puzzle.

Scattered around the bar, around 45 others are quietly scratching their heads over the same brain teasers.

This is Puzzled Pint ( On the second Tuesday of the month, teams of puzzle fans gather in a Portland bar to work through logic puzzles (the first puzzle is the location of that month's bar itself—published online the night before). There are no winners, there are no prizes. But each month, around 50 Portlanders show up just for the fun of solving puzzles. And also the beer, according to members of Guzzle Puzzle, who live up to their name.

“This is the only event in the country where people get together in person to do these sort of puzzles,” says Matt Cleinman, one of five Puzzled Pint organizers. “Most other places have weekend-long things, or day-long  things that happen periodically, but this is pretty unique to have a monthly recurring event, going on for two years.”

Cleinman and the other organizers spend the whole night giving help and hints to the puzzlers. Each contributes one puzzle per event, which take from five to 40 hours to create. None receives a cent.

"We had one puzzle that was just 16 cookies. A third were chocolate chip, a third were chocolate chip and walnut, and a third were raisin," says Cleinman, who baked the cookies at home. "The raisin ones had letters spelled out in the raisins. The walnut and chocolate chip were Morse code. And the chocolate chips were Braille. So if you translated all these sets of cookies, they translated to 'Pabst ribbon color.' The solution was blue." RUTH BROWN.

Best Bar Mural in the Other Portland

On the east wall of Daily Double Sports Bar, on the corner of Northeast 168th Avenue and Halsey Street, someone has painted an incongruous vision of moneyed high living: Two pigs dressed in tuxedoes smoke cigars while clinking glasses, toasting their wealth. For some reason, they rise out of a football stadium, while the corporate mascot for Hamm's Beer—a bear in a referee uniform—looks on. The denizens of Daily Double cannot remember who painted this fresco, but they know who is portrayed. "Looks like Larry!" says a woman planted next to the front-door coffee can that serves as a smoking section. "He's the owner! He's Boss Hogg." The regulars—one of whom is nicknamed “Joemosexual”—have many tales  of Larry and his bartender Jan, though they are hazy on some details. One man recounts a night when somebody attempted an armed robbery, and was chased out by a patron with a bar stool. He says I shouldn't write about the mural. I should write about Jan. "She was here when I was coming here when I was 18." AARON MESH.

Best Homemade Karaoke Videos

Thanks to Glee, Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" will forevermore be an overplayed song in karaoke bars around the world. If you choose this song at Nob Hill's Voicebox Karaoke Lounge (2112 NW Hoyt St.,, however, you can expect a unique experience. Instead of the usual irrelevant Korean drama, rainy scenes of a Portland love story flash before your eyes. Once a year, Voicebox gives its patrons the chance to leave their audiovisual mark with a video competition. Contestants are asked to revamp a top 10 song with a video of their own creation, which will play every time each intoxicated co-worker or tipsy bridesmaid chooses it. You can view last year's submissions on the bar's Facebook page, including a slightly disturbing interpretation of "Bohemian Rhapsody," in which giant Jim Henson puppets lit up like neon signs shimmy across the screen. KIMBERLY HURSH.

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