When the clock strikes 2021, Portlanders won't be gathered in beloved pubs and diners. (Only patios are open for dining, and service ends at 11 pm.) But the year felt like an extended last call, with our most cherished venues, bistros and watering holes felled by the pandemic and a lack of government aid. Downtown got hit the hardest, as empty office buildings meant no lunch or after-work crowds. But soon the blight touched every neighborhood. When we return to social life, we will still feel a vacancy: Many of our favorite hangouts won't be waiting for us. Here are four we'll miss.
Weird Old Division Street
In most cities, a decaying porno house would be seen as a blight. On Southeast Division Street, it was a comfort.
No matter how much the neighborhood changed—and over the past decade and a half, few in Portland have changed more—the Oregon Theater somehow survived. A former vaudeville theater, it was converted to an adult cinema in the 1970s, and there it remained, unaffected by the advent of VHS, DVDs and Pornhub, as expensive apartments and fancy restaurants grew up around it. Of course, you never went inside, but knowing others did was proof that remnants of a grimier, more family-unfriendly town still existed.
The pandemic did not close the Oregon Theater—the building fell into foreclosure in February—but its quiet end served as a prologue to the economic apocalypse to come.
In November, Reel M Inn, the nautical-themed dive bar with perilous restrooms and the best damn fried chicken in the city, shut down "indefinitely." Ford Food and Drink, a longtime artist hub with its own in-house jug band, also shuttered in summer.
But it was Pok Pok that stung the most.
It was a shock that shouldn't have been surprising: Owner Andy Ricker had closed nearly all his other properties in the spring, and he'd put the Division flagship up for sale in August. Still, when the confirmation came, in an Instagram dispatch from Thailand, the news was jarring. A chicken shack that grew into a destination, it was, for 15 years, the city's most famous restaurant, and arguably its most well-known export. It introduced Portland to the cuisine of Northern Thailand, then brought Portland to the world. If it couldn't survive the year, what could?
In his farewell message, Ricker asked that you please not cry for him. "[I]t is an exciting time to be here to witness younger Thai chefs moving their cuisine into the 21st century with skill, care and a sense of history," he wrote. "To be here for it, watching and peripherally involved, is both a joy and an honor."
That circle of life is already happening at his own properties: In September, Thomas and Marsha Pisha-Duffly, owners of the acclaimed Indonesian restaurant Gado Gado, opened a spinoff, Oma's Takeaway, inside the former Whiskey Soda Lounge, the original Pok Pok's semi-official waiting room.
And the Oregon Theater? The building's new owner plans to continue screening movies there—only, this time, you can bring the whole family. MATTHEW SINGER.
If you had to pinpoint the year that Portland's restaurant scene came into its own, 2007 stands out.
In retrospect, that year's culinary rookie class is astounding. There was the multicourse experience at Naomi Pomeroy's Beast. Kenny & Zuke's debuted a perfectly slow-smoked brisket. Country Cat launched the fried chicken craze, and Clyde Common ushered in the age of the celebrity bartender.
And then there was Toro Bravo.
It seemed chef John Gorham sangria-hued dining room was jammed with diners from the day it opened. Everyone fell for Gorham's Spanish-inspired tapas immediately, and it's easy to see why: Toro Bravo was sexy.
A meal there often started with the small-plates equivalent of a kiss: bacon-wrapped dates served on a swirl of warm honey. It evolved from there. A bowl of toast-brown patatas bravas. Gorham's epic coppa steak, perfectly seared.
A few months after it opened, WW named Toro Bravo its Restaurant of the Year, and the waiting list stayed long right up until it closed—first temporarily, in March, then for good in the summer, following a shocking meltdown that saw Gorham step away from the small empire he'd built over the previous 13 years.
Portland is far from that golden age that 2007 ushered in—each member of that astonishing rookie class is either shuttered, drastically overhauled or teetering on the edge.
But there is some comfort in the fact that the spirit of Toro Bravo lives on in some formerly owned Gorham properties, from the burgers at Bless Your Heart to the dishes at Mediterranean Exploration Company, Shalom Y'all and Yalla, all surging with the flavors of the intercontinental sea. ANDI PREWITT.
Le Bistro Montage
The end was, appropriately, spelled out in tin foil.
In late June, when Le Bistro Montage broke the news that it would be shutting its signature red entrance door for good, the message on social media was fashioned out of aluminum. Leftovers at the 27-year-old restaurant tucked under the Morrison Bridge were famously wrapped in elaborate foil sculptures, shaped like scorpions and swans and sea turtles, turning half-eaten portions of macaroni and cheese and catfish fillets into works of art.
As one of Portland's limited late-night, all-ages haunts, Montage was the first place you'd go as a teenager to try to feel like an adult. If you were a kid from the suburbs, it was a destination that accorded you an edge. It was a quirky yet curious combination of dive bar and old school steakhouse. There were white marble tables, pressed linens and servers in crisp, white jackets. But the lights were dim, the pounders of Rainier were cheap, and the neon bar signs hung near eclectic art, like the whimsical take on The Last Supper.
Montage didn't entirely disappear: It survives in the form of a food truck in the Hawthorne Asylum pod. Gone are the deep-fried frog legs and oyster shooters. But the mac is back, and let's face it: That was always the reason you stumbled in after midnight. Returning to it now is like slipping into that now-tattered hoodie you've hung on to since college—there's a tinge of guilt you didn't put in more effort, but the comfort is its own reward.
Best of all? Every takeout order comes with a single aluminum rose. ANDI PREWITT.
It once seemed like nothing could close CC Slaughters.
The disappearance of Portland's queer spaces has been well documented. But for almost four decades, from the Reagan years up through the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Old Town gay bar served as a gateway to Portland's LGBTQ+ nightlife.
Years after the demise of the string of Southwest Stark Street bars dubbed "Vaseline Alley," CC's, as it was known to regulars, stayed packed each weekend, hosting drag nights and dance shows. When neighboring club Embers closed after a half-century run, in 2017, CC's became the largest gay bar in the city.
A younger generation of queer Portlanders came of age at dance parties around the city rather than at bars like CC's, but that only made its closure feel more significant.
It's hard to say what queer nightlife in Portland will look like post-pandemic. But the end of CC Slaughters is far from a death knell. Even before COVID-19, the scene lacked an epicenter, which in some ways is a good thing. It had already spread out to dance nights across the city, from kikis to kink-centric parties, throwback soul nights and electro raves.
Still, when CC's announced its closure on Facebook, Portlanders lamented the loss of a place that was once one of the handful of spaces in the city where they could be themselves.
"My brother's partner took me here over 10 years ago, dragged me up to Bolivia Carmichael and said, 'This is my partner's younger brother. He just came out,'" one patron wrote about meeting one of the club's regular drag performers. "She said, 'Girl, you'll be fine.' And I was. And I am. Thanks for the world. Literally." SHANNON GORMLEY.