Portland is known as a foodie city. No matter what part of town you’re in, there’s bound to be some new, hip restaurant or gourmet eatery (even the ice cream and donuts are artisan). The same can be said about the Rose City’s bar scene – craft cocktails and urban wineries are all the rage, not to mention Portland is now the craft beer capital of the universe. Despite the city’s rainy reputation, even new rooftop bars sprout up every year.
While these lavish takes on cocktail bars with outdoor garden spaces are still transforming the city, it makes dive bars more important than ever. Like in any other city across the country, local people need neighborhood bars to digress from ‘New Portland’ and sip on a good, old-fashioned PBR Tall Boy without judgement.
With the city changing at exponential speeds, though, some of these establishments aren’t able to keep the lights on, and their peanut-shell-covered floors get ripped out for the next cool thing (RIP Club 21). These 10 bars are Old Portland institutions and fantastic reprieves from the snobbery that’s infiltrated the city in the past decade. Here are the 10 best dive bars in Portland.
The Slammer Tavern’s location is excellent – the centrally located bar is in the heart of Southeast Portland, right after an insane intersection where 7th Avenue turns into Sandy Boulevard. Even if you’ve never checked out this local hub, you’ve probably driven past the dive on a weekend night and taken note of the crowd it’s amassed. Patrons at The Slammer go for the cheap drinks and stay for the arcade games. During the dead of winter, the bar lights up the cold nights with its fantastic Christmas light display, which more likely than not will still be up upon your next visit in the new year.
Most people who walk down Division, a neighborhood that’s changing in the blink of an eye, probably aren’t looking for a greasy watering hole; however, Reel M Inn is a beloved gem in the Portland community. From the outside, it looks like a real dive. And it is – though one would think with a name like ‘Reel M Inn,’ the bar should serve fish (or at least be nautical themed). Rather, Reel M Inn is a stale, old dive bar that serves some of the best fried chicken and jojos in town. And that’s why local people love it.
Part diner, part dive bar, My Father’s Place has become a Southeast institution. The place is open from 6am until 2:30am, which is just downright ridiculous, but it’s great for you to extend your buzz or nurse your hangover. Who doesn’t love that? It also has a whole room dedicated to pinball, video lottery and pool tables – dive bar essentials.
Suki’s Bar & Grill is a Southwest Portland mainstay. It has something for everyone – from karaoke to live music to free pool – but what most regulars love about it is its longevity (and cheap drinks and breakfast offerings for those who want to start drinking before noon).
Tiki and dive bars go hand in hand, and The Alibi does it better than anywhere else in Portland. The old-school establishment, which opened in 1947, calls itself ‘Portland’s Original Tiki Bar.’ If that alone doesn’t make you want to check out this North Portland gem, then maybe their strong drinks, excellent Hawaiian food and karaoke seven nights a week will sway you like it swayed David Byrne.
Mississippi is one of the latest neighborhoods to get inundated with boutique shops, bougie bars and artisan eateries, and while no one can deny the quality of these new establishments, Crow Bar sits strong as a reminder of the North Portland of yesteryear. Order a stiff drink, play a round of pool while your favorite song plays on the jukebox and reminisce about a time before gentrification ran rampant.
B-Side Tavern is the post-work watering hole of choice for lots of people who work in the service industry. This may have something to do with its central location on East Burnside, or maybe it’s just because the B-Side bartenders understand the hustle and pour heavily. No matter the case, by the last call you’re bound to be playing pinball with some of the best chefs, bartenders and servers in town.
The Low Brow Lounge, which opened in 1998 and is known for serving strong drinks, markets itself as one of the last dive bars in the Pearl, and it’s probably not wrong. All the old, seedy establishments have turned into yoga studios and boutique shops, which makes this dive so special. The Low Brow’s name and slogan of ‘It’s not for everyone’ are funny, as the Pearl’s been bougie for a while.