Artwork by Mike Bertino

Over glasses of Wild Turkey on ice, bartenders from around Portland regaled me with the following stories. All of them are true. For business, personal, and criminal concerns, names and places have been left out.


One of the things you learn working at a bar is that real tough guys are quiet. There are the people that fly colors and act tough and call people "bitches," and there are actual gangsters. Real criminals. They're quiet and calm, but menacing. Usually they're bigger people and you just know—you do not want to fuck with them.

They don't run their mouth. They've got nothing to prove. They're not afraid of violence. They've beaten people with bats and knives so many times it all blurs together. "Go ahead, swing at me. I'll murder you," their eyes say. "I've done this more times than I can remember."

It's a busy Friday night when three of these bad motherfuckers come in. Each is over six foot and around 200 pounds. They order whiskey on the rocks, sit at the bar, and drink quietly.

A group of twentysomethings are playing pool at their backs. Loud, brash kids—maybe eight or nine of 'em. They're getting shit-housed.

One kid keeps telling the guys to move for his pool cue. He's not being polite or respectful. It turns grating... and I feel it starting.

The kid is skinny, maybe 5'8". But he has seven of his friends and they're drunk, so confidence abounds. The kid starts running his mouth, but the gangsters stay cool. Like an elephant to a fly, they murmur "fuck off." They don't.

"Look man, shut the fuck up," I walk over and say to the kid. "Just step away."

Ten minutes later the kid is back at it so I grab him. "You're out of here. Gone. Can't come back. You had your chance." I feel like I am doing him a favor.

Shortly after, the kid bursts back in, walking towards them talking shit. The bouncer intercepts him and hauls the kid back out. In unison the three bad motherfuckers stand up and head for the door.

The kid is outside with three or four friends. One of the friends is about 6'4"—tall, but skinny. The moment this guy opens his mouth, one of the three knocks him out cold. He falls, and when his head cracks the cement, it sounds like a coconut splitting. Girls begin to cry, just because of the noise it makes. The kid lies there, unconscious.

I put my knee under his head, trying to wake him. I'm shaking him a bit. "Wake up. Wake up." Nothing. I slap him, hard. Nothing. A mess of people gather. It's starting to go haywire. A minute passes, and he's still out. Meanwhile, quietly and alone, the little bastard that started it all had followed the three quiet ones around the corner.

Someone pokes their head around the corner and screams out: "Everybody get over here! Get over here right now!"

I run around the corner and my bouncer follows. No one else moves. About halfway down the block we see them. Two of the three are dangling the kid upside down, one holding each ankle. The kid's head is maybe six inches off the ground. The third is rapidly punting him in the face. Each blow is like a soccer kick, cocking back before driving forward.

We start yelling, "Let him go! Let him go!" Calmly and without a word they drop the kid like a sack of potatoes and walk in stride to their car, a lime-green '70s Monte Carlo. It's raised in the front, and sparkles in the moonlight. It roars to life and they drive away with the lights off.

I am surging with adrenaline, grateful we didn't have to try and stop them. I look at the kid. He's writhing on the ground. He looks like a train hit him in the face. His nose is broken, and his mouth's a bloody mess.

I notice a tooth on the sidewalk and go looking for more. Some I find with roots intact. Some are broken. I go over to him and he's crying.

"Hey man, I've got some of your teeth. You've got to get these in some milk, then get to a dentist within 24 hours."

"Fuck this, man," he blubbers, rocking back and forth. "This is fucked up."

"Look man, you need to listen to me right now," I say, his teeth in my hand.

"Get the fuck away from me!" he yells, slapping my hand away. The teeth go flying, scattering in the street, sidewalk, and bushes.

"You know what? Fuck you, man," I say. "I told you three times not to fuck with those guys. I picked up your fucking teeth. Have fun with your night."

Three weeks later the kid showed up—he's got all his teeth. The fakes put him $11,000 in debt. I lit into him for refusing the help.

"I know, I was fucked up and stupid," the kid said. "Still, I just wanted to thank you guys. I think you saved my life."


I wasn't feeling well, so I made myself a cup of green tea. I was sipping on it when they came in—a couple of pot dealers from California. I knew because they told me.

"What's that?" one of them asked, pointing to my cup.

"Ah, it's green tea. I'm a little sick and I need some energy."

"I'll give you some green tea!" he yelled. The guy reached into his pocket and slammed an eighth of weed into my cup.

"Thanks," I said. "But you just threw that into my tea. It's soaking wet. It's ruined."

"Weed don't mean shit to me," he said. "I got it all. You need bricks? I got 'em out in the car." He laid five crisp 100-dollar bills on the bar. "Only top shelf for me and everyone you see with me. When it runs out ask for more."

Sick or not, I figured I could use some real money so I waited on him all night. "Can you turn the stereo up?" he'd ask. Twenty bucks. Playing video poker, "Can you get me another drink?" Twenty bucks. He kept giving me 20s the entire night.

Later on they moved into the back room and I went to check on them. They were sitting in a circle rolling joints. The tabletop was covered in a mountain of loose weed.

"What the fuck?!" I said. "There are cameras. You're gonna get me fired." He gave me 40 bucks and I took it. "That's cool," I said, "but look man, I'll take care of you if you take care of me—you gotta get this weed off the table." They took to rolling the joints under the table.

Twenty minutes later I returned and they were at it again—a big pile of weed covering the table. "You're killing me!" I said. One of them started to light. "What the fuck!? Get in the bathroom at least!"

At the end of the night I was sweating bullets. I thought I was going to lose my job, but the tips were worth the risk. Finally they left. I went back to the table and scanned the floor and scraped up another eighth. I added it to the other stuff he gave me, still drying out from the tea.


It was about 11 pm and a friend of mine came in. "Just so you know," she says, "there's somebody fucking on the side of your building."

Now, our bar is on a major street. There are all kinds of places just a stone's throw away where you could fuck in relative peace. But there they are, on the corner of Hawthorne.

The guy's got this girl against the wall. Their pants are around their ankles and he's railin' her doggy-style. It's fucking busy. Bustling. Passersby are laughing and hollering at 'em.

Somehow it's my job to bust up the party. My friend and some of her girlfriends come along for the ride.

I walk up, laughing. "Really, guys? Really? This is the place to do this?"

Now, homeboy is super drunk, but suddenly becomes completely embarrassed. He yanks up his pants, mutters a pathetic "sorry" and high-tails it down Hawthorne.

The girl isn't in such a hurry. She's standing there with her pants down. Right above her pubic hair, she's got a tattoo of a boombox. It looks like she got it when she was 13 and it was drawn by another 13-year-old.

My friend points it out to her girlfriends and everyone starts laughing hard. The girl, meanwhile, is having trouble getting her pants up. She yells back at them. "Fuck you, you fucking skanks!" The girls are still cracking up, so she takes a crack at my friend. I grab her, push her away, and tell her to get lost. As she walks away, one hand still holding up her tattered pants, she keeps cursing out the girls, "Fuck you, you dirty sluts!"


We're holding him against the wall. He's about 5'7" and just ripped. A real steroid disaster. The kind of small-man complex who starts going bald at age 12 from too much testosterone. He had started a fight.

I'm pressed against his side, holding one of his huge arms out against the wall. My bouncer's got the other. He's struggling like hell to get out, but stuck, basically crucified, splayed out against the brick wall.

"You let me go, I'm going to kill you!" he spits. We tell him when he calms down we'll let him go.

The other fighter calmly approaches the defenseless, raging jock and throws a sudden sucker-punch. The jock's head thumps against the brick and I start cracking up.

The puncher is laughing too. "What's up now, motherfucker? Hahaha!"

"Fuck you, you fucking pussy-ass nigger!"

Within earshot are the puncher's friends—10 black guys. "What did he say!?" the crowd rumbles. The jock keeps spoutin' off as they come closer.

I'm still holding an arm and I look over at my barback. "What do you say we let him meet his new friends?" We let the dude go. He springs off the wall and these 10 guys immediately kick the shit out of him.


Our bar is right downtown. It draws mostly wanna-be high-rolling, Taco-Bell-scarfing trash from Beaverton. But because it's so central all kinds of people wander in. The men's room is down a dark hallway, around the bend. It's not hard to find. Before the bend there's the women's room and a locked utility closet.

The night was nearing its end. Walking to the bathroom I found a grown man standing with his pants around his ankles. He was shitting himself. Turds were dropping into his pants as he pounded on the utility closet door. "Ándele! Ándele! Necesito! Abre! Abre!"

Another time I entered the bathroom to find a Turkish man taking a shit in the urinal. He must have been straight off the boat—he had no idea. He didn't speak any English. He just sat there, smiling—and nodded me a little "hello."


There was a coke dealer who hung out. He was big dude. One of his buddies was a midget. They were outside smoking—we've got cameras. Another big guy gets into it with them and ends up punching the dealer, who falls back into a mostly empty flower box. Assuming the midget is no threat, the guy jumps on the dealer and starts punching him. In the flower box, the dealer is pinned down. But the midget has his back—he comes up from behind and starts kicking the guy in the nuts. Suddenly the tides had turned.


The after-hours bar was open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. We closed at 8 am, when the bars opened again. Most of the clientele were service-industry types, unwinding after their shifts. But the place drew all manner of fucking weirdoes, from drug dealers to prostitutes. Even some Juggalos came in from time to time.

Violence wasn't uncommon. Neither were guns.

These two guys were talking shit to each other when one pulled up his shirt, exposing the Glock in his waistline. "You don't want to fuck with me, man."

"Fuck you, pussy," said the other. He ducked around the corner, down the hallway to the bathroom. The gunman followed, falling right in to the trap. The guy knocked him out cold, grabbed the gun, and split before he came to.


A big fight breaks out in the middle of the bar. It's chaos. My barback and I grab one of the guys and drag him towards the door. Outside, someone is waiting for him.

Right as we throw him out, the man in waiting strikes. Almost like a football player he charges from a low stance, jumps and spears him with his shoulder. The force of the tackle knocks him head over heels and his legs whip up into the air.

One of the victim's legs cracks a 50-year-old woman in the face. She goes down, hard. The victim who delivered the inadvertent kick is on his back at the mercy of the surprise attacker. Like a Marine, the old woman guerilla-crawls into the fray. And as he's being punched in the face, the old lady simultaneously starts hammer-fisting the man's helpless balls.


It was a slow night. Probably a Tuesday. About 10 of 'em came in—a newlywed party. The husband was really geeky looking, six feet tall and gangly, probably good with computers. The wife was not attractive—a big-ass white girl.

The whole group was dressed in their party best—fake Gucci bags, leopard print straining against heaving cleavage, and Jersey beards. The new couple was young, maybe 22. She must've been the first girl he ever touched.

They were in an adjacent room with the pool tables when the complaints started coming in: there's a couple back there getting rowdy. I went to check it out and sure enough, it was the newlyweds.

He was seated and she had climbed on top. As they sloppily kissed, he hiked up her skirt, revealing a 44-inch waist and granny bloomers. I smiled and let 'em go—it's their honeymoon.

It was close to closing time when I got the second complaint: somebody was fucking in the women's bathroom. Assuming it was the honeymooners I crept in, and indeed there they were. He was slamming it full throttle. The whole stall was rattling back and forth as she "mooooo'd" in ecstasy.

I slipped back out and decided to give 'em 10 minutes. It was almost 2:30 am anyway. Lo and behold, 10 minutes later they were still at it so I barged in. "All right, time to pull out and go home!" I yelled.

Homeboy straight bails. With his shirt half-open, he rips up his pants and crashes into me in his mad dash for the bathroom door. Once in the bar he ran straight for the exit.

About a minute and a half later the wife emerged, looking a bit confused. "Have you seen my husband?"

He wasn't the only man to run.