Bar Guide 2014: Live Music, Cold Beer

Bars that are almost, but not quite, music venues

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Featured Bars: Maui's | Free House | The Lost & Found Tannery Bar

Double Barrel | Rum Club | N.W.I.P.A | Crush Bar | The Bitter End | Bailey's Taproom

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The Blue Monk

3341 SE Belmont St., 595-0575, 5 pm-2:30 am daily.

There's something undeniably retro about grabbing a drink at the Blue Monk. Maybe it's the green vinyl booths and chairs that resemble a college rec room, or the framed pictures of Thelonious Monk and other jazz legends, or the TV perched above the door so the bartenders can watch SpongeBob SquarePants reruns on repeat, but Blue Monk's passé charm brings out the best of its environment. Lodged next to the Belmont Inn and across the street from a set of new hip dives, the bar distinguishes itself with a great happy-hour menu ($5.50 food options, including a coconut curry polenta that is much healthier than most bar food, along with $3 wells) and live entertainment in the downstairs basement seven nights a week. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.

What plays: Jazz, hip-hop, belly dancing(!), book stuff.

Bunk Bar

1028 SE Water Ave., 328-2865, 11 am-10 pm Sunday-Monday, 11 am-midnight Tuesday-Thursday, 11-1 am Friday-Saturday.

Call it mission creep. Bunk Sandwiches started out on Southeast Morrison Street as a deeply venerable spot for Cubanos and albacore tuna melts, but it's now an empire, spanning the city in six locations, haunting the outskirts of venues from Wonder Ballroom to Moda Center. But the best venue remains its own: Produce Row's humble-sized, whiskey-soaked, wood-grained Bunk Bar may cater to the appetites of condo dwellers during daylight hours, but at night it morphs into one of the best-booked music spots in town. The sound's nothing to speak of, it's too small, and you can't get to the restrooms except by goosing people you don't know. But somehow Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile, Thunder Cat or, hell, Michael Cera is on the stage, in a show that sold out almost before it was announced. Out front, Isaac Brock is smoking cigarettes and pacing. He just came for the show. Do the bands get bribed in sandwiches? The short answer is yes. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

What plays: Bands by the cool kids.

Club 21

2035 NE Glisan St., 235-5690. 11:30-2:30 am daily.

On entering this rustic mini-castle off the freeway in Kerns, your first instinct is to check the video-poker machines for Bilbo Baggins unwinding with a tall boy of Olympia after a long day of questing for rare vinyl or fuses for his Ampeg bass amp. The next order of business is a drink. If it's a weekend, there's probably a deafening blast of sludge creeping from the PA in the room adjacent to the bar, so you may want to point to what the girl next to you in the neon Carhartt beanie and denim-on-denim ensemble is drinking and move along. The tap list is paltry, but a known micro or two (Vaporizer, RPM) can be had if you can be heard over the cacophony. If you're early enough for happy hour, admire the finest collection of vintage signage of sub-premium beermakers you'll find in Portland while a stoner in the kitchen lethargically assembles your Build-A-Burger ($6) that's well worth the wait. You may as well toke up between the vans parked out back while you're at it—just make sure no one is asleep in any of them lest you're ready to share with a groggy dude who mistakenly showed up for a gig three days early. PETE COTTELL.

What plays: Rock and fuckin' roll.

The Firkin Tavern

1937 SE 11th Ave., 206-7552, 11:30-2:30 am daily.

The Firkin Tavern ain't much of a looker. There's a pool table, a pinball machine, a couple TVs, a small patio out back…and that's about it. Oh, and the flooring is deep gray carpet. If this inner-Southeast dive sounds a tad generic, though, that just means it's primed to be reshaped in the image of its patrons. Boone Howard of Portland-via-Alaska psych-pop act the We Shared Milk took over Saturday night bookings there last year, turning the tiny corner stage adjacent to the Cure poster into a platform for local bands just beginning to transition out of their basement practice spaces, like proggy cosmonauts Cambrian Explosion and noisy garage rockers Still Caves. The shows are free, offering a glimpse of the city's emerging underground music scene. And with an expansive, rotating tap list and inexpensive pizza specials, the Firkin itself is gradually coming into its own, too. MATTHEW SINGER.

What plays: Baby psych garage, straight outta the garage. 

Jimmy Mak's

221 NW 10th Ave., 295-6542, 5 pm-midnight Monday-Thursday, 5 pm-1 am Friday-Saturday.

The red velvet curtains and old-Hollywood inspired drinks of this Pearl District jazz lounge inspires romance for a time most of us don't remember. Still, the capacity crowd on a recent night includes mostly those old enough to do so, interspersed with select young'uns; the audience chatter crescendos with the music, and softens as it calms. Between songs by Mak's resident Mel Brown Quartet, the veteran drummer—wearing a yellow zoot suit—suggests we "do the Detroit lean and just listen." So sip slowly on a Lemon Meringue—a crowd favorite with vanilla-bean vodka, triple sec and cream—and sway. Or opt for a stiff drink, like the Real Old Fashioned ($8.50), with Fee Brothers bitters and Bulleit bourbon, and leaning is all you'll be able to do. KATHRYN PEIFER.

What plays: Jazz, man. Jazz.

Kelly's Olympian

426 SW Washington St., 228-3669,, 10-2 am daily.

If the "Motorcycle Only" parking in front of Kelly's Olympian doesn't bring you up to speed on this downtown institution (KO is one of the longest-standing bars in Portland and was a speakeasy during Prohibition), maybe the glowing Mobil signs above the bar or the Harleys hanging from the ceiling will. This is a bar where bikers and grease monkeys are welcome, but then again, so is everyone else, including guys in pearl-buttoned plaid shirts and girls in Warby Parker glasses. It's democratization through libation. Specifically, beer. Lots and lots of beer, ranging from Boneyard RPM to PBR. And the rubbed and revved burgers come out faster than you can say "valve job." DEBORAH KENNEDY.

What plays: Garage, punk, rock 'n' roll, rap, traveling curiosities.

The Know

2026 NE Alberta St., 473-8729, 3 pm-2:30 am daily.

An iconic punk club that's never entirely fit any incarnation of its neighborhood, the Know enjoys a sparkling international reputation as a venue (high ceilings, large stage, good PA) and a sorta beloved status among artists deserving far larger rooms (Jonathan Richman's played residencies his last two tours). The bar side, curtained off from near nightly shows, keeps Pabst cold and pinball humming with minimal flair and a disheveled aesthetic less dingy than well-creased—like leathers bought used and worn daily. As the vintage Packers memorabilia and threadbare Patriots banner suggest, there's a cold-weather determinism to the solid core of regulars toasting the end of the workday and supporting favored bands with a dutiful certainty, which is always half the battle. JAY HORTON.

What plays: Punk rock, plus the occasional Russian punk rock.

Landmark Saloon

4847 SE Division St., 894-8132, 4 pm-2 am Monday-Thursday, 2 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday, 2 pm-midnight Sunday.

Purchasing property along the very edge of the eastern frontier—a stone's throw from both Petite Provence and Ace's Quick Cash—the three friends behind Landmark seemingly needed only to add a few benches and cornhole lanes to the rangy backyard-turned-patio and wait for Southeast homesteaders to bring along kids and dogs and food cart BBQ for an ongoing hootenanny that spans the sunnier seasons. Lord only knows the labors required to convert the house into a preferred venue for the cream of our local Americana circuit, sleek hardwoods and starkly ornate furnishings blend seamlessly with the bristling baritones and small-batch bourbons poured into Mason jars for an airbrushed authenticity the ideal of this new-old country. JAY HORTON.

What plays:  Honky-tonk. Also cornhole and horseshoes.


2958 NE Glisan St., 232-1504, 4 pm-midnight Monday-Wednesday, 4 pm-1 am Thursday, 4 pm-2 am Friday, 3 pm-2 am Saturday, 3 pm-midnight Sunday.

The edge of Laurelhurst is an odd spot for this little countrified dive. But the crowds, they do come, and they do dance. A long bar is well-equipped, but bluegrass bands playing a short, carpeted stage are the real attraction. On Sunday nights, that's the Freak Mountain Ramblers, who sound exactly like a band called the Freak Mountain Ramblers should sound and who make this the undisputed most happening place in Portland at that time. If you finally weasel your way into one of the black upholstered booths, you may be reluctant to get back onto the checkerboard dance floor unless your glass goes dry. Might we suggest getting your ass up anyway? MARTIN CIZMAR.

What plays: Old- and good-time music, and music where old people have a good time.

Ponderosa Lounge

10350 N Vancouver Way, 345-0300, 9 am-midnight Monday-Tuesday, 9-1 am Wednesday-Thursday, 9-2 am Friday, 8-2 am Saturday, 8 am-midnight Sunday.

Country music is doing a lot of soul-searching lately. Countless top-40 hits pose and attempt to answer these pressing questions: Just what is country? And what isn't it? To get to country's beating, bleeding heart, look no further than Ponderosa Lounge, a Bud Light bar tucked into the Jubitz truck stop on the industrial edge of the 'Couv. This is where dudes in Duck Dynasty duds woo ladies in straw cowgirl hats and everyone does it up "Pondo style." Just what is Pondo style? It could be washing down a Long Haul chicken-fried steak dinner with your own pitcher. Or maybe it's boot-scootin' on by an Old West mural in which an Indian chief in full feathered headdress passes a peace pipe to a paleface. Can a girl get a "yeehaw"? DEBORAH KENNEDY.

What plays: Country and western and swing. Including secret after-hours Brad Paisley shows kicking out from Moda Center.


1033 NW 16th Ave., 971-229-1455, Noon-2:30 am daily. 

Look, there's Punch Bowl Socials' more slick version of a fun center, or there's the improvised, homegrown, cheap-as-hell, slightly run-down and lovable mess that is Slabtown—the venerable old hall of rock 'n' roll named after chunks of old lumber. There's Skee-Ball, Pop-A-Shot, air hockey, pool, pinball, vegan cheesecake, a bass- and guitar-string vending machine, cheap beer, good fun. Every Saturday, pinball's free and happy hour lasts forever, as we sort of hope Slabtown does, too. The stage and big ol' room makes it the go-to for a lot of Portland's theme rock shows, whether a Question Mark and the Mysterians benefit, random queer nights, Sunday poetry slams or just good old-fashioned punk rock and roll. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

What plays: Old-school Portland rock, psych, garage.


Starday Tavern

6517 SE Foster Road, 971-888-4001, 1 pm-1 am Monday-Thursday and Sunday, 1 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday.

Depending on the moment you enter Starday Tavern, you might walk into a band playing classic country on the stage next to the front door or get bowled over by Pantera blaring on the jukebox. A narrow, bright yellow hole in the wall drilled into the side of Foster-Powell, the bar was formerly known by the even quainter named Bob and Alice's until 2012, when the owners of the Southeast Portland blues club Duff's Garage took over the space. While the live music calendar reflects its vaguely midcentury makeover—decorations include vintage calendars and movie posters, and the logo would look appropriate splashed across a 1950s Little League jersey—the tavern isn't too strict about adhering to a particular theme: On a quiet Sunday afternoon, the house speakers pumped out Peter Tosh and Motörhead at levels that would've rattled the older clientele of Bob and Alice's. But if you want to watch Bob's Burgers over a metalcore soundtrack while drinking $3.50 hefeweizen, here's the place to do it. MATTHEW SINGER. 

What plays: The country and the folk.

Tonic Lounge

3100 NE Sandy Blvd., 238-0543. 5 pm-2:30 am Monday-Saturday, 5 pm-12:30 am Sunday.

Some places the circus comes to, some places it never leaves. Painted red and black like an old Stendhal revolutionary, with books just as ancient lining random windowsills, Tonic retains an air of the Old Portland carnivalesque, if also a bit of the biker bar. In this environment, the testosterone-heavy dude with gel-spiked hair ordering the (excellent) pulled-pork sandwich does not seem like a douchebag: He seems like a stalwart of the former regime. Tonic's programming belongs often to the geeks and the theatrical, from its Wednesday night comedy showcases hosted by Whitney Streed to a succession of metal bands that might include face paint, veils or the guttural howl of the Norwegian damned. And out front, it's across from a porn store. The Tonic's picnic tables and umbrellas are its tent city of Camels. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

What plays: Lotsa metal, man. And comedy.


232 SW Ankeny St., 248-1600, 5 pm-2:30 am daily.

Often switching between legit punk shows and DJ nights meant as bachelorette attractant, Valentines occupies a strange space in downtown Portland—to say nothing of its physical location, with massive windows overlooking the picnic table-stuffed 200 block of Southwest Ankeny. The split-level bar can feel as cramped as a loft party on weekend nights, but it otherwise comes as a welcome respite from the doughnut-peddling and general douchery of its surrounds. The summery cocktails they do, they do well. The Yojimbo ($8) is the best Chuhai analog this side of Biwa, and bourbon and fresh lemonade ($8) is boozy but airy and refreshing. Depending on the night, however, you might be the only one without a can of Rainier in hand. MITCH LILLIE. 

What plays: Indie this and that. Can vary wildly night to night, but you can always see the performers through the glass and take a listen just as easily.

White Owl Social Club

1305 SE 8th Ave., 236-9672, 3 pm-2:30 am Friday-Saturday, 3 pm-1 am Sunday-Thursday.

White Owl Social Club keeps the business in front and the parties out back. Like Sizzle Pie, the heavy-metal pizza franchise it spun off from, the bar, which replaced punk dive Plan B in 2012, embraces a rock-'n'-roll spirit of the denim and devil horns variety, so the mullet-inspired layout only makes sense. The inside doubles as a diner-style restaurant, where well-inked servers pour micros from 11 taps and sling vegan and all-beef burgers—as well as a "Build Your Own S'mores" kit, which comes complete with a portable burner—as the Ramones blare from the speakers. Outside, on the spacious rear patio, is where the rawk really happens, though. Since moving in two years ago, White Owl has played host to the likes of Red Fang, comedian Brian Posehn and the Portland Metal Winter Olympics, a weeks-long battle of the bands dedicated to masters of the bludgeoning arts. Just be careful if you order one of the s'mores: Headbanging, beards and tabletop campfires can be a dangerous combination. MATTHEW SINGER.

What plays: Metal and comedy.

The World Famous Kenton Club 

2025 N Kilpatrick St., 285-3718, 10:30-2:30 am daily.

A virgin visit to this North Portland dive bar is sure to elicit a "Where the fuck am I?" The dark wood-paneled, windowless cavern was a (semi-) rough biker and rocker hangout until about five years ago—a guy here tells me he wouldn't have brought a girl here. These days, the members of the Flying 15 motor club stop by now and then, but they're a more friendly set who "don't hate the gays," says a bartender. Garage bands usually play Thursday through Saturday on a corner stage, and the food is generic fried fare, if the cook is there and in a good mood. But the beer is cheap, the staff has a worn wisdom, and the place never closes early. AARON SPENCER.

What plays: Weirdo rock bands.

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