The Portland Dive Bar Preservation Society
LARIAT LOUNGE doesn't take kindly to strangers.
Like some of the best dive bars in the city, this deep Southeast Portland haunt has a faction of regulars who get handed their usual mere seconds after taking a seat. Those preferred customers can also step behind the bar for a moment to grab a towel or a pen when they need one. Anyone else gets eyed with curiosity and is served their food and drinks with a strange air of suspicion.
As it's the closest bar to my home, I've been in the Lariat Lounge plenty of times and have still yet to feel terribly welcome. In the afternoons, it's the old-timers, nursing a beer with a water back, giving me the side-eye. At night, it's a younger set who offer slight sneers while dialing up Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly tunes on the jukebox and debating whether to order another Jell-O shot.
The staff is only slightly more accommodating. To the point that, after I polished off a gloriously messy bacon cheeseburger and a couple of pints of Drop Top Amber one afternoon, the bartender sent me on my way with a pointed, "Thank you for stopping by"—with extra emphasis on the last two words.
I can't say I blame them, either. Though the condo-fication of Portland hasn't reached the city's outskirts, where the Lariat Lounge has resided for years, there certainly has to be some suspicion of carpetbaggers turning this otherwise gritty area into a playground for monied twentysomethings. This is a bar that will put up a fight against any newfangled modern trends, like digitized tap lists or vegan menu options.
But they needn't worry. The Lariat Lounge isn't exactly in a prime location, wedged between a discount grocery store and a mental health services facility, right near a busy intersection that takes people into and out of Gresham. You've got to make a little effort to get there.
And if the bar were to be snapped up by some enthusiastic developer with an eye toward renovation, he'd have his work cut out for him. Beyond the dozen TV sets broadcasting a nonstop array of sports and the video poker machines, everything else feels perfectly lived-in. The all-wood walls and furniture, including the barstools with octagonal-shaped seats, are lovely and dark, carrying that familiar smell of a place that's absorbed its fair share of secondhand smoke over the years. There's a welcome simplicity to it all.
That extends to the food and drink options, too. Of their 10 taps, Widmer is your fanciest choice, and the bottles and cans are all domestic. Drink specials remain pretty standard, though I'm still curious to try their Beermosa (Blue Moon and OJ). The most highfalutin thing they offer right now—advertised, like most announcements in the bar, via plain black text laser-printed on white paper—is alcoholic root beer.
The menu sticks to hearty American fare with added emphasis on fried chicken specials and their (according to the sign hanging outside the front door) "soon-to-be famous" Lariat Burger, a intestine-challenging bomb stacked with two beef patties, ham, bacon, cheese, and a fried egg. I haven't dared try that one yet, and I haven't cracked the icy façades of the folks that tend bar there. But I'm looking forward to heading back and trying to accomplish both very soon.