Eat and Drink Guide Fall 2016
AS MUCH AS our city is renowned for its indie-rock leanings and rising metal scene, Portland is unusually welcome to country music fans of all stripes, with no less than three fine establishments that look to entice cowboy boot-sporting revelers. The trick is figuring out where to hang your Stetson.
With a little help from your listening habits, this decision can be an easy one. All you need to do is crack open your Spotify playlists and let us use them as a guide to direct you to the humble honky-tonk that’s perfect for you.
If your tastes run to the shaggy-haired stomp of ’70s outlaw acts like Waylon and Willie, or the country swing/rockabilly/bluegrass that informed their sound, the Landmark Saloon (4847 SE Division) is a-callin’ yer name.
While the rest of SE Division explodes and expands around it, this watering hole is holding strong by keeping things unapologetically simple and no-nonsense. The decor inside this former family home is a mishmash of dark paint and yellowing wallpaper, hung with thick wool blankets and framed pictures of Little Jimmy Dickens and Marty Robbins. Coupled with all the wood furniture, it can either feel intimate or slightly foreboding, depending on the time of day and how busy it is.
The beer and cocktail selection runs a mite bit cheaper than you may be used to: Most tallboys of domestic beer will only set you back $2 and a thick 32-ounce can of Colt 45 is a mere $3.
During the warmer months, Landmark’s roomy patio is the big attraction. The gravel-covered spot has ample seating, and sometimes they even open up the outdoor Shed Bar to shorten the distance between you and your next drink. There’s also a well-maintained cornhole game and LeRoy’s Familiar Vittles, their own in-house food cart that doles out southern-style barbecue (go for the $10 delectably messy pork butt sandwich) to help soak up all the suds in your system. What’s more: the patio is totally dog-friendly. Bring your mutt and $20 and you’re set for the night.
If your playlist tends to more modern country fare like Dierks Bentley or Maddie and Tae, you’d do well to cruise further up Division to Duke’s Country Bar and Grill (14601 SE Division).
Owned by the same consortium that runs the Dixie Tavern in Old Town, this big spot is as close as you’re going to get to a Portland’s version of Gilley’s Club, the bar featured in Urban Cowboy (though tragically it’s now without the mechanical bull, tossed due to rising insurance premiums). Duke’s is a roomy space where friendly folks will walk you through line dances like the Southside Shake and the Moo La Moo before the in-house DJs crank out jacked-up versions of contemporary country favorites. Despite the bar’s 10-gallon size, you’ll still find dozens of folks lined up for entry on the weekends.
The menu at Duke’s reflects the brassy, oversized atmosphere. Specialty cocktails, like the Raspberry Crush—a mixture of citrus vodka, raspberry-flavored liqueur, and Monster energy drink—tend to be sweet and colorful. The food aims to be both massive in size and flavor, meaning there’s a lot of calories packed into each creamy plate of their spicy, sausage-laden chipotle mac and cheese or the tater tots layered with cheese, green onions, and tomatoes.
If you came of age in the ’80s and ’90s, when artists like Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks aimed for the pop charts and arena-rock bombast, your bar is in, of all places, a truck stop just north of Delta Park.
The Ponderosa Lounge (10350 N Vancouver Way) at the Jubitz Travel Center has been going strong since the late ’60s, and through the years has welcomed many a young country star on the rise through its doors—Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church among them, if their hallway of headshots is to be believed. The lounge serves a dual purpose: to provide respite to weary long haul truck drivers and entertain country-loving locals.
You can spot the contrast the moment you walk in: On one side of the bar, video poker machines and TV screens are the center of attention, while on the other, there’s a big dance floor with tables around and a cozy stage. (There’s also a game room with pool tables and a Half Court Hoops arcade game if none of that holds your interest.)
Naturally, Friday and Saturday nights tend to be the busiest, as it’s one of the only smaller-scale places in city limits to hear live modern country, even if it sticks to mostly covers of chart hits. But save your spirit for Sunday night, when a five-piece band knocks out throwback favorites from the Everly Brothers and Merle Haggard, while a charming gaggle of baby boomers and seniors in flowing skirts and crisp linen shirts dance the night away.
Much like Duke’s, the food at the Ponderosa is not for a weak constitution, as they pump out huge portions of home-style fare. If you’re feeling exceptionally daring, take a crack at their Jubitz Jumbo Burger, a towering concoction with two half-pound sirloin patties, caramelized onions, and sriracha mayo. If you’re feeling slightly less so, stick to the house-made pork rinds.
Even if RiRi, Drake, and Bieber are all that’s on your Spotify, you’re sure to feel welcome at any of these spots. Just don’t be surprised if you quickly join the boot-scootin’ brigade after a couple of frosty ales, a few slide guitar licks, and a sizeable plate o’ meat.