Summer Issue 2016
WHEN I WAS A KID, my dad used to think it was a great joke to look up whenever the gray Portland clouds parted and shout in mock horror, "Look out! There's a huge ball of fire in the sky!" Whether it's actually funny or not is between my father and his god, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't repeat that joke often this time of year as an excuse to drink underground. Here are a few favorite spots for subterranean sipping:
Shanghai Tunnel—As we've all heard from an overenthusiastic tour guide in dubious period costume and/or a tank-topped and wasted mansplainer outside an Old Town club, ACTUALLY, Portland has a rich history of underground mischief, if that's heavy enough a term for the business of shanghaiing.
But I suspect those spots don't have wet bars, so the only Shanghai Tunnel I'm interested in is the bar at SW 2nd and Ankeny. One full floor underground, the only hint of daylight is the blazing digital sun in HD on the Buck Hunter screen. Happy hour covers some of the most egregious sunshine hours: 5-7 pm daily. 211 SW Ankeny
Pepe le Moko—For those who truly see the sun as a marauding enemy force, nothing says "hiding spot" like a bar named after a classic French gangster flick set in the Casbah of Algiers. On darkness, this place scores a 9.5 out of 10. More than one full floor underground, the bar's been heavily designed in order to feel not only like an escape from the rare Portland sun, but an escape from everything that exists above ground. From the arched false ceiling to the off-the-wall, bank-breaking drinks like a Fernetted-up (but still bright green) Grasshopper and the Jägerita (exactly what it sounds like), Pepe le Moko seems to exist in a posh post-solar dystopia. Your eyes will hurt when you walk outside, even if it's 1 am. 407 SW 10th
Upright Brewing—But it can't all be fun and games. Work needs to be done, too, and at the Upright tasting room, even the brewers get to escape the wrath of our system's central star. (I'm really hurting for synonyms for "sun" right now.) There are, technically, windows here, but only for maybe an hour a day do they let in enough light to really offend.
Meanwhile, the beer flows freely, including rare seasonal offerings and Upright's stable of sturdy table beers. It's cash (or something called a "check") only, and they're not open late, but it's a great place to soak up some dark-and-dankness before a Blazers game or on a weekend afternoon. 240 N Broadway, #2
For those wanting to have their cake and eat it too by avoiding the sun, but not the fun to be had in it, there are of course livelier options than these: Life of Riley brings that hanging-with-friends-yelling-at-the-Yankees feel, but in a Pearl District basement (see also: Blitz). But for underground drunken gaming, the skee-ball and Pac-Man corner of EastBurn's basement taproom is a classic. Flash back to your elementary school days of glowering through classroom windows at outside revelers during their "Recess" happy hour, daily from 3-6 pm.
And yet, no bar feels so clearly subterranean as the cellar bar at McMenamins Ringlers Annex under the Crystal Hotel. Bypass Al's Den, where live music of the outdoor festival variety brings an unwelcome whiff of fresh air, Hawaiian shirts, and goofy sport sunglasses, and head to the cellar bar, a concrete wedge nestled in the elbow of W Burnside and Stark. Say what you will about the McMenamins empire, but they know how to let a space set its own mood, and the cellar bar feels wholly dictated by its location. Pro tip: To maximize claustrophobia, sit under the stairs at the western end, unreached by even the obscure trickle of daylight diffused through milky windows in the sidewalk above.
The only problem with these bars, in fact, is that you have to leave them, and be subject to that dad joke of a celestial object on your route from one to another. If I had remembered to run for mayor this year, my platform would have been to build a subterranean empire of alcoholic mole people. There's a world underneath your feet, Portlanders, just waiting for you to drink it!