Dives of Distinction

Nobody said a dive was supposed to be inviting. Fact is, the rule of thumb at any dive bar is this: Either come to drink—or go home. We prefer not to call these smoky holes—with their shady characters, saucy servers, debauched rockers and all the cheap hooch you can stomach—scary. They’re colorful. Just don’t forget to leave a trail of bread crumbs behind you.


What you’re drinking: A shot of Old Grandad
George’s bartender Andy is 5-foot-nothing of hooch-slinging Jedi. And she has to be, because this is the Mos Eisley cantina of Portland: a shady way station for video-poker fiends, MAX renegades, trivia addicts and a sea of future 12-steppers. Black vest buttoned up for business, cigarette jutting like a sniper’s rifle from the side of her mouth, Andy keeps the peace by keeping the taps nodding. When there’s not peace, however, we recommend sliding a buck into the jukebox to drown out the muffled strains of Andy wrestling another drunk out the door. (5501 N Interstate Ave, 503-289-0307)


What you’re drinking: Pabst Blue Ribbon
On a random Friday night, Britt Daniels (lead singer of hirsute pop combo Spoon) cozies up to the side of the stage as a dancer peels off her stockings to the razor-blade gurgles of Tom Waits. At the bar, a few members of local band the Dandy Warhols swivel their stools to take in the gyrations. But they soon decide that ordering another round of PBR is more interesting. While there are naughty bits flailing about on the main stage, it’s hard to think of the Tragic Gardens as a strip club. It’s more like an X-rated black hole, where you go when you want to wipe yourself off the face of the world for a few hours. A place where unkempt indie-rock princes, pulp fiction caricatures and haggard boozehounds mingle in a seedy heaven woven from cigarette smoke—and where, at this very moment, a woman with holsters tattooed onto her hips is hanging upside down from a well-worn brass pole. (217 NW Fourth Ave, 503-224-8472)

What you’re drinking: Clam nectar
If Jaws had taken place in Portland instead of on Amity Island, this is the kind of place where doomed Captain Quint would’ve bellied up—cracking clams open with his gnarled hands, swallowing bottles of Genny and soaking up the salty atmosphere that’s stuck in some mid-1970s rock ’n’ reel vortex. The steamers are surprisingly stellar, but it’s the slate of $2 domestic brews that keeps us firmly planted on our stools. (4630 NE Sandy Blvd, 503-288-9732)

What you’re drinking: A bloody mary
In a town full of transplants, it’s nice to see a place where a Southerner can feel at home—as long as your idea of home is a trailer park. Here is a white-trash wonderland of deviled eggs and Rainier. Add to that a clientèle awash in tats and Kool smoke, and this neck of the woods just got a little redder. Yee-haw. (435 N Killingsworth St, 503-287-5658)