The Best Nightlife in Portland, Oregon

Portland, Oregon, has a thriving nightlife scene, from bars to arcades
Portland, Oregon, has a thriving nightlife scene, from bars to arcades | © Image Source / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Kevin Johnson
2 September 2020

Portland, Oregon’s nightlife is pervasive, but hard to see at first glance. Look past the pot shops, brunch spots and rows of food trucks on the city’s popular streets, and you’ll catch a world of hip kids in dance halls, dive bars full of grungy-dressed guests and much more. If you’re looking for a starting point, read on for a primer to Portland nightlife.

Northeast Portland: Mississippi Avenue

Music Venue
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Portland’s best nightlife is structured around the main streets of popular neighborhoods, making it easy to visit a bar, then a nightclub and finally a speakeasy, all without too much walking. Northeast Portland’s Mississippi Avenue is one of the city’s prime examples of this; the center of the street’s nightlife focuses on seven densely packed city blocks exploding with music venues, art galleries, bars, restaurants and more. A popular night-time strategy involves dinner – from a top-rated restaurant or equally regarded food truck – drinks from a nearby patio bar (most are heated in the winter) and a show at the cozy Mississippi Studios.

Alberta Arts District

Historical Landmark
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Just east of Mississippi Avenue, the Alberta Arts District acts as a mellow microcosm of Portland’s best qualities. NE Alberta Street’s busiest section, between Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard and 33rd Avenue, is a major corridor of nightlife serving tourists and townies alike. The area’s established history as a diverse neighborhood has changed drastically in the past few years, but the food and nightlife here have worked hard to keep a foundation of diversity. Stop at quick-eat spots such as the cozy Vietnamese food truck Matta or the long-standing Alberta Market before hitting popular destinations such as the Radio Room and the Alberta Street Pub.

Hollywood/Rose City Park

Historical Landmark
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Northeast Portland’s Hollywood and Rose City Park neighborhoods are small in stature but big on nightlife. While this region might be better known for the all-important thoroughfare of Sandy Boulevard, you can find several hidden gems on the roadside worthy of a visit. Catch a classic flick in an appropriately historical setting at the Hollywood Theatre before moving on to axe-throwing (yes, real axes and all) at the Laurelwood Public House and Brewery. If bar themes are more interesting to you than bar games, visit the nearby Lift Off Lounge, outfitted in stunning detail with a retro-futuristic aesthetic.

Northwest Portland: 21st Avenue

Pizzeria, Italian
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Tucked into Northwest Portland’s quaint Alphabet District, NW 21st Avenue punches above its weight as a quality nightlife spot. There’s truly a bar for everyone in this area, from the neighboring sports bars of the Pharmacy and Silver Dollar Pizza (best known for its host of ping-pong tables) to chic cocktails at Besaw’s to the north. No matter how you start the night, make your way to the Twenty First Ave Kitchen & Bar for a packed atmosphere with a back patio and lively karaoke nights.

Old Town/Chinatown

Historical Landmark
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The nightlife in downtown Portland’s Chinatown district proves the city can party. It’s a perfect destination for those who prefer to dance, drink and barhop close to the city center; the blocks just east of the Pearl District offer some of the city’s liveliest bars and nightclubs. Hit up the often-crowded piano bar the Barrel Room, dance on stripper poles at the Dirty Nightclub, or head to the two-story arcade bar Ground Kontrol for pinball and arcade cabinets in a science-fiction setting.

Central Eastside: Hawthorne Boulevard

Pub, Pub Grub, $$$
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Cross the Willamette River from Chinatown and head southeast to get to one of Portland’s best nightlife destinations. Rife with the kind of bars, restaurants and shops that help keep the city weird, Hawthorne Boulevard’s stretch of blocks between 30th and 50th avenues draws people in with impressive neon signs and keeps them coming back with well-liked bars and venues. Start the night with a show and a drink at the McMenamins Bagdad Theater & Pub, then head east for fun and divey bars. Stop by QuarterWorld, Portland’s second massive arcade bar, for some cheap entertainment.
These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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