Everyone’s got their own platonic ideal of a bar. For some, it will be the type of joint featured in TV theme songs–a place where everybody knows your name. Others look for more specific criteria: from an inventive drinks program to a quiet corner for reading, from cool midcentury décor to an expertly curated jukebox. For this year’s bar issue, we wanted to celebrate the small touches that make a bar feel like your home away from home. Some establishments cater to our non-boozy interests, like comic books or David Lynch TV shows. Others give us things to do while we drink, from board games to browsing through records. After all, you can get smashed at home–so here’s a look at some of the many Portland watering holes whose appeal goes beyond what’s in your glass.
The Nerd Out | 3308 SE Belmont
To my knowledge, superheroes who get shit-faced drunk are few and far between (Tony Stark notwithstanding). And there’s a pretty good reason: Superheroing requires having one’s wits about them, and no one wants to be rescued by mean-drunk Batman, or any-kind-of-drunk Hulk. But this is not to say superheroes can’t enjoy a drink in public with coworkers and fans—and Portland’s the Nerd Out is perhaps their (and our) perfect bar.
Festooned in comic-book panels (from wall to wall, as well as on the tabletops), the Nerd Out also boasts literal crap-tons of action figures, Cylons on the tap handles, and Han Solo frozen in carbonite. For day drinking it provides a small play area for kids (along with complimentary superhero wear), and for anytime, a large, thoughtfully curated comic book collection—including Wonder Woman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the newest Archie updates—for reading purposes. (I chose 1972’s Monsters on the Prowl, which featured Conan-precursor King Kull having a delightful time stabbing human/snake hybrids, as well as fantastic old-timey ads for remote control ghosts and the Columbia Record Club.)
But make no mistake, despite its heavy comic cred, the Nerd Out is a bar first. Their cocktail program—while a bit pun-tastic for my taste—has some solid winners, such as the Adam West ($10), which is a tasty Old Fashioned with a muddled citrus twist, and the Spider-Manhattan ($12) which featured a decadent backbite, and was just as good as any of its fancy counterparts on the West Side. They also sport food such as soups, salads, sammys, and a few heartier meals (including local salmon!), but it’s the camaraderie at the Nerd Out that can’t be beat. A nice mix of nerds and normals, it’s a friendly place where no one seems out of place, and the staff exhibits plenty of pop-culture knowledge without being annoying about it.
The Nerd Out provides a great intersection for the comic lover, cocktail nerd, or relaxing superhero, where they can laugh, drink, or just dreamily read the adventure-filled walls for hours. WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY
Game Knight Lounge | 3037 N Williams
I’ve never been in a cult, but I wonder whether Game Knight Lounge is a benign version of one. On my first visit (to write a review for this paper) I expected to be in and out within half an hour. It is, after all, just a bar that has some games in it. Three hours later I was still there, trying to master what, at face value, was the simplest game ever. (It apparently wasn’t, as no one playing could score a single point.)
I’ve been back a few times since, and each visit, the same thing: Time disappears and all that matters is finding the right gem combinations, blocking an opponent’s rail route, or finding a way for my plastic wizard to make an unchallengeable move. It sucks you in.
On the surface, Game Knight looks like any other bar. There’s a decent selection of beers and a cocktail list that starts at a comradely $6. The food is good, ranging beyond simple bar snacks into rice bowls, flatbreads, and baroque sandwiches.
But then there are the board games—hundreds of them arranged on shelves, by category. This is why people are really here. Groups of friends, sometimes families, and all levels: Casual players, neophyte strategists plotting their way through Settlers of Catan, the savants who spend an hour just setting up a game.
And then there’s the Games Master (look for the guy in the Hawaiian shirt). He presides over the proceedings with the light heart and confidence of one who has earned true Insight and Wisdom. He’s on hand to recommend a game and explain it as well, carefully elucidating the rules so that even the most unenlightened can understand. He’ll even stop by later to make sure it’s all going well, steadying the tiller to keep you on course.
Other staff will also help you out, and that’s the charm about this place. It welcomes everyone, no matter your talents or ambition. Which of course may just be their way of enticing you in until, before you know it, you have no friends, family, or life. Just a glass of beer—and the game. MJ SKEGG
Church of Film at Century Bar | 930 SE Sandy
Playing a movie in a bar, either on a TV or projected against a wall, is more about creating atmosphere than enticing serious cinephiles to admire the mise-en-scène or nuanced performances. Rare exceptions are the Church of Film events at Century, the beautifully modern watering hole on Northeast Sandy. Every week, avant-garde and psychedelic cinema from around the world is treated with the utmost respect and reverence.
“The lights go down and everyone watches the film,” says Matthew Lucas, the man who started Church of Film five years ago.
The movie nights at Century started about 18 months ago when the owners contacted Lucas about showcasing his handpicked selection of unusual foreign fare on a monthly basis. As the word started to spread about the nights, they started to happen more frequently; at first, twice a month, and now every Monday night.
Century is an ideal spot for these screenings, too. The bar’s stadium-style bleacher seating was conceived for sports fans to pile in and watch Blazers and Timbers games on a bank of movie screens that descend from the ceiling. But instead of marveling at the sweat and stamina of your favorite athletes over a cocktail and Century’s fry flight (fries, tots, jo-jos, and onion rings, piled together in one glorious basket), you can get lost in Morgana and her Nymphs, a candy-colored piece of Eurotrash from 1971 featuring a castle full of magic lesbians, or Matango, a 1963 Japanese sci-fi flick where survivors of a shipwreck begin to transform into mushroom people.
While he screens more esoteric, thoughtful films at Church of Film’s regular screenings at the Clinton Street Theater, Lucas saves the more accessible flicks for Century.
“I try to play something that has a strong visual component,” he says. “Something that may have a genre component, like what we just showed here: Nuits Rouges, which is a play on crime serials but done by surrealists. I’ve been more adventurous with it, but the bar setting is conducive for something more poppy.” ROBERT HAM
Also in this feature: Dry Drinks Worth Diving Into by Andrea Damewood
Up North Surf Club | 1229 N Killingsworth
On what might have been my second visit to Up North Surf Club last year, it was strongly suggested to me that Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger isn’t a hero after all.
A pilsner-drinking aerospace engineer down the bar explained that Sullenburger—the mustachioed architect of the “Miracle on the Hudson” who in 2009 successfully landed his disabled aircraft in a river without losing even one human life—was only relying on his plane’s safety systems when he pulled off the feat. It would have been harder not to safely land the plane, this man said.
I don’t know if he was right, but the conversation has stuck with me—as have the conversations I’ve had in probably a dozen visits to Up North since. I know of no spot in the city where one’s bar-top compatriots are as likely to be so thoroughly engaging. And I can count on one hand the bartenders around town as friendly as Martin Schoeneborn, the bar’s founder and co-owner along with his wife, Karen Randall.
My point is: Go to Up North even if you’re not a surfer.
And definitely go if you’re a surfer, too. In a city replete with bike-shop bars and laundromat bars, Schoeneborn and Randall have opened the first surf-shop bar. More precisely, they’ve opened a really good beer bar that also happens to have an expertly curated surf shop thrown into the mix.
That’s not to say surfing takes a backseat. At Up North, you’ll hear fellow patrons casually forecast eight-foot swells off of Cannon Beach. And even if you’ve never touched a board, it’s hard not to become boozily enthralled by the surfing movies in constant rotation (along with an ever-changing cast of solid beer options).
Either in spite of that identity or because of it, though, Up North has outgrown the novelty of being merely a surf shop bar. It is a quintessential neighborhood bar. A damn fine one, too.
As a result, it’s harder to find a spot at the bar these days, and if you walk in wearing one of Up North’s signature beanies (co-owner Randall is a branding wizard), you’re likely to see another person donning one as well.
But if that means the bar is able to dodge the merciless market forces sending too many places out of existence, it’s a good thing. We all deserve a place to get drunk and buy a surfboard. DIRK VANDERHART
DIY Bar | 3522 N Vancouver
The concept behind DIY Bar is pretty simple: The “DIY” part allows you to pick a craft project (they provide the tools, materials, and instructions). The “Bar” part allows you to drink beer and wine while you work—a feat I never managed to pull off in Mr. Byfield’s wood shop class. I wonder whether alcohol is an appropriate pairing for the amount of banging and cutting going on, but you do have to sign a waiver beforehand in case anything goes horribly wrong.
Each project is rated by difficulty and time to complete, and costs $39 for instructions and materials, except during happy hours on Tuesday through Fridays from 3 to 6 pm, when selected projects are $10 off. The hex nut bracelet is quick and easy, while the string art and wooden six-pack carrier are much more involved, taking up to three hours. With my recent craft experience limited to putting together flat-pack furniture, I decided to go for something relatively undemanding: a pair of leather luggage tags.
I ordered a pilsner—the tap list has a nice collection of beers, mead, and cider for $5. The wines on tap weren’t anything too gripping, though there was also sangria and mimosas (bottomless at weekend brunch for $10). You can bring food in; conveniently, DIY Bar connects to Bread and Honey Café next door.
Sitting at the workbench, with apron fitted and my materials and tools spread before me, I felt like I could knock up a dresser or table in no time. The instructions, complete with pictures, were easy to follow and I soon had mallet in hand and was hammering away. Staff kept close by to answer questions and generally provide moral support (“Oh, that’s a very creative idea”).
It took me an hour and a half to complete my project (their suggested commitment was an hour, but I spent a long time working out sophisticated designs, such as, er, stripes). Two drinks kept everything on an even keel. Too much of a buzz and I imagine the corners would have been wonky with the dyes running together. (Hang on, the dyes were running....)
My efforts were received with indulgent smiles by friends, but it was more about the process—spending a happy afternoon getting lost in an unfamiliar world—than the actual result. Next time, though, I’m sure I’ll be coming home with a perfect leather mason-jar mug. MJ SKEGG
Also in this feature: The Last Straw by Chad Walsh
The Toffee Club | 1006 SE Hawthorne
As a longtime Arsenal supporter, I’ve resigned myself to watching the team’s latest dismal English Premier League campaign on a laptop while lying in bed. So it took a recent trip to the Toffee Club to remind me just how invigorating these early morning spectacles can be. While the 3-0 thrashing my beloved North London side suffered at the feet of an unrelenting Manchester City squad in the Carabao Cup final summed up what’s been a particularly disheartening season, the Toffee Club had the added support of fellow Gooners on hand to commiserate with in the aftermath. It led to a much more productive Sunday than my traditional post-match routine of shutting my laptop and reclaiming my two hours of precious sleep.
The English pub, whose namesake is derived from the nickname of Everton Football Club, opens at 7 am on weekends, just in time for the second slate of EPL matches. The kitchen is busy cooking up full English breakfasts to pair with coffee, breakfast cocktails, and pints of Old Speckled Hen long before the city’s most notorious brunch lines have even begun to form. With a vintage foosball table in the main room, along with football-inspired artwork, historical photos, and colorful memorabilia lining the walls of the bar’s bright and floral interior, the Toffee Club tastefully nails its clubhouse vibe while offering an English pub experience that forgoes the stereotypical dark and cavernous interior.
To be fair, a bar full of vocal European football fans might not be everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, but the setup at the Toffee Club makes the experience better than you’d expect. A tucked-away room with a projector and ample seating helps to keep large groups and late arrivals from being forced to crowd tiny tables or stand. And being one of the few places in town that’s open for these games, the extra space goes a long way, particularly on important match days and cup finals.
With Timbers season just getting underway, and two months of European league action to go before the 2018 World Cup begins to ramp up in Russia, the Toffee Club provides a convenient stepping stone for casual soccer fans who might be looking to take the plunge into full-on football fanatic territory. CHIPP TERWILLIGER
T.C. O’Leary’s | 2926 NE Alberta
In Ireland, pubs aren’t just bars—they’re community centers where locals gather to gossip, scheme, celebrate, or simply reflect over a quiet pint (that’s code for morning beer). My great-grandfather even offered haircuts at his village’s watering hole. Outside of Disney movies, Irish pubs are probably some of the only places on earth where groups of strangers can spontaneously burst into song and dance at any moment.
Though the Irish American population in the US is now seven times larger than the population of Ireland, America tends to suck at replicating that magical atmosphere. Far too many times, I have patronized an establishment waving the flag, only to be disappointed by green beer, playlists dominated by the Dropkick Murphys, and menus offering sad, rubbery corned beef. (No shame if that’s your thing, it’s just not an accurate reflection.) That’s why I was a little wary of T.C. O’Leary’s on Northeast Alberta, which was opened in late 2016 by Dublin-born bartender and former thespian Thomas Christopher O’Leary.
But I was pleasantly surprised! T.C. O’Leary’s is pretty and light-filled, with typical pub aesthetics: barrel tables, pew benches, black-and-white photographs, and a majestic wall of whiskey bottles. When I went, they were playing the latest from indie-rock longhair Kurt Vile (very hip of them), though every Monday night they host a group of traditional musicians the bartenders affectionately referred to as “the lads.”
I ordered a Guinness, because I respect my ancestors, along with fish and chips, because when it comes to Irish cuisine, it’s usually best to stick with the basics. Both choices were satisfying, though I longed for the full Irish breakfast—sausages, rashers and black pudding, fried egg, tomato, mushrooms, and toast—which is only available on weekends.
If you’re one of the brave souls who dares to venture outside on St. Patrick’s Day, or simply would like to enjoy Irish culture without having to cross the Atlantic, T.C. O’Leary’s is the most authentic pub in Portland I’ve visited yet. CIARA DOLAN
The Jack London Revue | 529 SW 4th
Jazz hasn’t had it easy in Portland. Jimmy Mak’s, the downtown hub for musicians like drummer Mel Brown and guitarist Dan Balmer, unceremoniously closed its doors on December 31, 2016, after its owner Jimmy Makarounis became very ill. Even an organization as sturdy as PDX Jazz has had a difficult time finding a regular space for the many concerts and events they hold every year.
The tides started shifting for the better last May with the opening of the Jack London Revue, the venue tucked into the basement of the Rialto Poolroom on Southwest 4th Avenue. The space is a complete overhaul of the Jack London Bar, which previously occupied the same location, and it’s quickly become the nucleus of the local jazz community, according to talent booker Nicholas Harris.
“From the beginning, we wanted this space to be inclusive of communities that are often overlooked here,” he says. “A place for people to take ownership of. We’re still not even one year old and have a lot to learn yet, but we’re hitting the right notes.”
One note Harris and the bar’s owners, Frank Faillace and Manish Patel, have gotten perfect is how the Jack London Revue feels. The low lighting, cozy tables, and red curtains give the cellar the vibe of a great speakeasy. And the intimate atmosphere means that when a band is onstage, the music is immersive and intoxicating.
Harris and his team have also done a great job taking the mantle from Jimmy Mak’s in both providing a home for Mel Brown’s regular weekly showcase and also giving a space for up-and-coming tour acts to be heard by local fans. Wisely, the Jack London Revue isn’t simply keeping its focus on jazz. From the jump, they’ve kept the doors open to reggae, hip-hop, electronic, and international sounds, as well as ceding Sunday night to a weekly neo-soul event.
“Anybody that programs their space with a narrow mindset is missing the point,” Harris says. “Nobody I know listens to just one type of music. We’re more about connecting these different genres and cultures. It’s more interesting for us to tell that story.” ROBERT HAM
Also in this feature: Cuckoo for Cocktails by Thomas Ross
Music Millennium | 3158 E Burnside
To be clear, Music Millennium is not a bar. It’s a record store—one that’s been operating in Portland for close to five decades, becoming in the process a vital cornerstone of the Portland music and retail scenes.
So its inclusion in the Mercury’s bar issue might be something of a stretch, sure, but this month—to coincide with the store’s 49th anniversary on March 15—Music Millennium will, for the first time, have beer and wine for purchase as customers browse the store’s crowded bins of CDs and vinyl LPs. As physical media addicts know, a record store is a much better place to hang out than a Spotify playlist, and it’s not just about quickly grabbing something to play at home, either. It’s about lingering over the new arrivals bin and discovering your next favorite album, or hearing something fantastic on the store speakers, or chatting with the clerks and other customers for recommendations and offering a few of your own. If a bar is a gathering place that happens to have alcohol, Music Millennium certainly qualifies in that regard.
Selling beer and wine in the store is something Music Millennium owner Terry Currier has wanted to do for years. “We do a lot of in-store and live music events,” he says, “and—especially in the summertime—a lot of people have asked, ‘Do you have anything to drink?’” The process began six years ago, when the store needed to fix a leaky roof while facing substantial debt after two bad bookkeepers nearly put the place out of business (one of them was sentenced to five years in jail, Currier says). “So we did a Kickstarter. We made it for two things: to fix the roof and to put in a bar,” says Currier. “We made our goal, but our roof ended up costing way more money than we would imagine, which didn’t leave us money to build the bar. But I was determined to do this, because I had made a commitment.”
Slowly but surely, they inched closer to readying the bar, which was originally planned for the rear of the store’s vinyl room. But the electrical layout caused some issues, and Currier realized an existing counter in the center room already kind of looked like a bar. Some more red tape—including getting the proper permits and a legally mandated installation of a triple sink—further delayed it, but now the bar is ready to go, set up to accommodate four to six beers on tap, with boxed wine, a fridge for soft drinks, and the possibility of an espresso machine and keg wine down the road. “If we’re doing enough business, I would love to be able to feature a great variety of Oregon’s wine, because that’s another treasure of this state,” Currier says.
But for now the focus is mostly on beer. Currier’s long been a fan and friend of Oregon’s craft beer community—he even introduced an out-of-town record store owner named Carl Singmaster to the owner of the Horse Brass Pub, Don Younger, which led to the two of them going into business together with a beer shop called Belmont Station. There might even be a custom-brewed Music Millennium beer flowing through the store’s taps at some point.
For now, it’s the end of a long road to get the counter up and running, which is going to make record browsing at Music Millennium even better than it already is. Just don’t get sloppy and spill beer all over the records. “We don’t expect people to just come down to Music Millennium and drink,” Currier points out. “But to have a beer or two while you’re shopping, that’s the kind of situation we’re looking at.” NED LANNAMANN
Ponderosa Lounge & Grill | 10350 N Vancouver
Nestled among warehouses on the northern edge of the city, Jubitz—“the world’s classiest truck stop”—welcomes truckers from all over the country to its massive complex, which includes a fuel station, motel, laundromat, movie theater, hair salon, 24-hour restaurant, and the newly renovated Ponderosa Lounge & Grill. It’s Portland’s biggest country music bar, with line dancing lessons and concerts every weekend.
I’m a country fan, and not just of the old stuff—I enjoy the works of both the legendary Kitty Wells and Florida Georgia Line, whose music sounds like the Backstreet Boys wandered into a honky-tonk (Nick Carter even sings on “God, Your Mama, and Me,” an absolute banger). When I went to the Ponderosa on a recent weekday afternoon, they were bumping Brantley Gilbert’s 2013 hit “Bottoms Up,” the chorus of which goes a little something like this: “Yeah, tonight is bottoms up/Throw it on down/Rock this quiet little country town/Get up, drop a tailgate on ya truck/Find a keg and fill ya cup... up!”
I am admittedly less familiar with trucker culture—everything I know has been gleaned from the Grateful Dead song “Truckin’” and hours of Ice Road Truckers—but I can appreciate that our nation’s infrastructure would likely crumble without them. Therefore, I entered the Ponderosa with an open mind. On this particular Monday, about 15 weary travelers slouched over their beers and watched sports on big-screen TVs in the very dark bar, which looks exactly how Justin Timberlake’s new album Man of the Woods sounds. The only other woman present was the cowboy hat-wearing bartender, something I became acutely aware of when a gentleman offered to pay for my order (I declined; it was awkward).
I ordered deep-fried green beans with jalapeño ranch dip (greasy, delicious) and a Bud Light (because when in Rome), but they had plenty of other beers on tap, along with reasonably priced cocktails with names like Moscow Mule Wrangler and Tennessee Mud. The Ponderosa also serves breakfast all day long, which in my opinion is its greatest strength—do not underestimate the power of late-night pancakes.
The bar itself is gigantic, with tons of seating, pool tables, a stage, and a dance floor. I definitely might return to check out the live shows some weekend, but next time, I probably will not go alone. CIARA DOLAN
Also in this feature: Stopping by the Bar on a Snowy Evening by Thomas Ross
McMenamins Barley Mill Pub | 1629 SE Hawthorne
Few bands are as polarizing as the Grateful Dead, and there’s no better place to realize this than the Barley Mill. Wait. Maybe there’s no worse place to realize this than the Barley Mill? Depends on how you feel about the Dead, because the Barley Mill is the planet’s only Grateful Dead-themed bar!
At least, I hope it is. The planet does not need more than one.
This wood-paneled Hawthorne spot has been a bar since long before the Dead; dating back to 1934, it was a sometimes-strip joint, the Scuttlebutt, and a music venue, the Fat Little Rooster. But in 1983, two Deadhead brothers, Brian and Mike McMenamin, transformed it into the first outpost of their now-sprawling McMenamins empire. A neon-lit lightning skull beams above the bar. Reverent portraits of Saint Jerry adorn the walls, alongside framed newsletters from the Grateful Dead fan club and tacked-up posters for long-ago shows. Is there tie-dye? Of course there’s fucking tie-dye, and also that dorm-room poster of a skeleton smoking a joint on a beach, watching a sunset in which the sun is ANOTHER SKELETON.
The Dead’s presence isn’t limited to the TGI Fridays-level of décor, either: Every once in a while, a non-Dead song might sneak through the speakers, but 99.99 percent of the time? Hope you like “Truckin’.” Hope you love “Uncle John’s Band.” Hope “Sugar Magnolia” doesn’t drive you insane, and hope you have nothing better to do than savor every bullshit note of a 42,397-minute-long jam of “Friend of the Devil.”
Deadheads love this. I’ve seen them stumble into the Barley Mill, jaws dropped—bowing to each Jerry totem, eyes lit up like they haven’t since those ’shrooms in ’68. Every June, the Barley Mill takes over a stretch of Southeast 17th for a birthday bash that features (you guessed it!) jam bands, and you can picture the crowd without me describing it.
I started going to the Barley Mill years ago, when I moved into the neighborhood. I did not care about the Dead. I just wanted a well-lit bar where I could have a drink, read a book, and ignore the world. The Barley Mill is great for that—at nighttime, it’s chill and laid back, with beer that’s decent in the all-McMenamins-beers-are-interchangable sort of way, and a staff that’s friendly to neighborhood regulars, McMenamins tourists, and Hawthorne’s wandering weirdos. I’ve read a lot of books there. I’ve had probably 80,000 pints of Hammerhead. And I have heard every godforsaken, interminable slog of a song that Jerry & Co. ever diddled their way through.
And at some point, I realized I was humming along to the “sunshine daydream” part of “Sugar Magnolia”—as it once again squirmed into my auditory cortex, and I realized I didn’t hate it.
Maybe that’s how the Dead work—they wear you down. Maybe 79,999 too many Hammerheads have eroded what little musical taste I once had. Maybe I have Stockholm syndrome? But spend enough warm, relaxing nights at the Barley Mill, and you too will come to enjoy—or, at least, not vehemently loathe—“Fire on the Mountain.” Far beneath the Barley Mill’s soundtrack of infinite jams, you might hear a small, sad voice: How did this come to be? your frail soul will whimper. What have I become?
“Another Hammerhead, please,” you’ll say. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Chandelier | 1451 SE Ankeny
When I heard a rumor that Portland had a new bar that was (a) Twin Peaks-themed and (b) traded in sake, I knew I needed to investigate. So I hit up Courtney Ferguson, former Mercury staffer and forever buddy in all things Twin Peaks, and we journeyed to Chandelier, the broom-closet-sized bar off Burnside and across the street from a freaky-looking church.
Nothing that happened after we arrived would have been out of place in a David Lynch movie. Our drinks were mixed and served by a handsome man wearing a multicolored button-down under a replica of Arwen’s Evenstar pendant from Lord of the Rings, while the distinctive trill of Julee Cruise, drowning in reverb, came over the speakers. In front of us, a glittering infinity mirror seemed to go on forever; the trompe l’oeil was so effective I could almost picture a demon materializing in it. Chandelier has an extensive menu of sake divided into qualitative categories that conjure Twin Peaks characters, at least for me: “clean and refined” (Dale Cooper), “earthy and gamey” (the Woodsmen). But it was happy hour, so I went for the day’s rotating sake cocktail, made with champagne and lemongrass. It was divine. (If you don’t like sake, they also serve beer and wine.)
Chandelier’s the kind of place where you can talk to the staff about your love of Twin Peaks while behind you, the red curtains of the Black Lodge drift gently back and forth (between the two worlds?) across the black-and-white checkered floor. Go into the bathroom at the back, and the tiny room’s customized light and sound design will make you feel as though you’ve traveled through a portal into a different time and place, where you’re disrupting some kind of ritual on a cursed beach. It might have been the sake cocktail I had, but I really did feel like I was in a dream the whole time I was at Chandelier. This is all by design: Chandelier knows its audience, and even hosted a Twin Peaks-themed Halloween party last fall. If you love Twin Peaks, you must go. There’s nothing like pairing a brief visit to a Lynchian fever dream with your fancy cocktail as you deconstruct Twin Peaks: The Return with fellow nerds. And if you’re not a Peaks freak, you’ll at least appreciate the vibe and the fancy cocktails—and what has to be the best bar bathroom in Portland. MEGAN BURBANK
The Elvis Room | 203 SE Grand
Don’t plan on finding an actual Elvis theme in the Elvis Room—there are no swivel-hipped clocks or framed jumpsuits among the bric-a-brac that stuffs the multi-level space. Without getting too conceptual, “Elvis” in this case seems to be less an actual person than a totemic symbol of 20th-century America, the King representing the yin-yang of our country’s bright, post-war promise and the darkness that accompanied it.
In other words, the two-floor bar—the former site of the East End rock venue, which closed after a fire—is the perfect hideout for people who don’t want to make up their minds. The bright upstairs room has been likened to Elvis’ younger, more innocent years, but this seems backward to me. Decked out with gray-blue walls, bunches of glass grapes, and amber accents, it feels more like the living room in a grandparent’s ranch-style home than a young person’s playground, and its mid-century design draws parallels to Graceland.
The downstairs, though, is darker than the black leather suit Elvis wore in ’68. Certain corners are cloaked in enough shadow that you can scarcely see your drink in front of your face. It’s a place designed for you to escape into inky, alcohol-fueled darkness, but you’ll probably want to bring someone to feel invisible with. Don’t even try to read a book down there.
The burgers are fine, and the drinks are solid, but the Elvis Room is more about conjuring an atmosphere than about what you’re actually putting into your body. In that sense, it feels like the welcome antithesis of the artisanal, ingredient-focused food-and-drink culture that’s dominating Portland right now. Whether you’re in the mood for the well-lit upstairs or want to skulk around in the dark underneath, the Elvis Room understands the complexity of your personality. Just don’t expect to hear any Presley on the jukebox. NED LANNAMANN