Originally opened by two alums of craft kitchen Ned Ludd (one of the owners, Benjamin Artaiz is very involved in day-to-day operations, but the other has taken more of a silent partner role), Donnie Vegas’ menu revolves around one item: the hot dog. Along with your standard dawg, variations on a theme include a kimchi and sambal aioli bedecked “Seoul Dog'' and my dog of choice, a melty, hearty good ol’ Chili Cheese. Field Roast vegan frankfurters are available upon request. Donnie makes clear its stance on the age-old debate: Is a hot dog a sandwich? Yes, yes it is.
And just who is Donnie Vegas? A mythic figure, more than anything. Like an extended game of telephone, bartender Taras Belej tells me one of the stories he had heard was that one of the bar’s owners met a guy going by that name at a conference. The next day, he told the stranger he loved his name so much he was going to use it for his new bar. It’s all very vague, and some of the regulars and staff both past and present have their own inventive mythology around the mystery man affectionately known as “Uncle Donnie.”
Pre-panny, the dive bar specialized in taptails (that cocktails on tap for you uncultured swine). When COVID turned the industry on its head, Donnie’s responded: Well, two can play that game. The bar changed up its cocktail menu to all wine-based drinks to craftily skirt around OLCC regulations, but has since reverted back to liquored libations.
If you’ve been feeling extra stress lately from oh, I don’t know, living in the shit show that is America, the “Marg-a-Weeda” is for you. The name is a little corny and yet a little genius, which is to say I absolutely love it. The frozen slushy contains 5 mg of hemp derived CBD per serving, tequila, and (the current rotating flavor) pomegranate. Relaxant, booze, and some antioxidants… I feel like you can’t ask for much more out of a cocktail. The pomegranate lends a nice tartness that plays well off the tequila.
There’s not much to say about the frosé (frozen rosé), which might sound like a bad thing, but I actually mean it as a positive. Frosé is one of those things that may be simplistic, but it’s pretty consistent in its deliciousness. It’s hard to mess up, and similar to pizza, I’m of the opinion that even bad frosé is still good frosé. Frosty and lightly effervescent, it’s what you want to reach for on a hot day. Donnie V’s has you covered there; all of their cocktails to-go come in handy mason jars, either a 16 ounce size, or a 32 ounce double (straws included!).
For Portlanders who have missed the Alberta Arts District’s much beloved Last Thursday Art Walk (lol remember crowds?!), Donnie Vegas has been carrying the torch with a mini version of sorts. The bar prides itself on being community focused, and they’ve been hosting (with help from jewelry maker and bar regular @raspytimbre) weekend pop-ups that feature local artists. “[We’re] very neighborhood-centric. People all around here from all different backgrounds feel welcomed and new people who move in feel like it’s a good place to meet their neighbors. We like facilitating that,” says Belej. Once we make it to the COVID “after times,” Donnie V’s will also bring in local DJs who are mostly plucked from the likes of community radio stations Freeform and XRAY.fm, but you can also catch Donnie bartenders hitting the 1s and 2s here and there.
Donnie Vegas, 1203 NE Alberta Street, (503) 477-7244, www.donnie.vegas