In a city like Portland, where quality libations—especially craft beer—are paramount, the standard hallmarks of a dive (cheap cans of macro swill) are often hard to come by. Likewise, in a place devoted to relaxed drinking atmospheres, even some of the town’s most sophisticated spots can feel, well, a little dive-y.
Such is the paradox of Portland’s drinking scene. From talking with many of the city’s top drink-slingers, it would seem the places that get designated “dives” are the ones that have simply been around for awhile. These aren’t the flashy new joints with reclaimed wood bars and barrel-aged cocktails. They’re the places that may have a little dust on the Big Buck Hunter machine because the been-there-done-that owner has just been a tad too lazy to break out the Glade and a roll of Brawny. But that doesn’t mean they don’t still serve an incredible local IPA.
We asked 10 of Portland’s top bartenders where they drink when they want cold pints of Deschutes Fresh Squeezed and warm shots of Fernet. You’ll probably find them bellying up to these watering holes when they’re off the clock, watching Timbers games, or complaining about how Portlandia is absolutely, totally, not like anything they would ever do, thank you very much.
Bartender at various establishments, author of Cocktails on Tap: The Art of Mixing Spirits and Beer
Favorite dive bar: Horse Brass Pub (4534 SE Belmont St; 503-232-2202, horsebrass.com)
Grier says: “The beer selection may be a little too good to qualify as a dive, but the Horse Brass has been my go-to place for a beer since the day I first visited Portland. It’s not quite the same since the smoking ban—which the owner vocally opposed—but it’s still a legend. There are few combinations more satisfying than some Younger’s ESB and a Scotch egg.” (Photos: David L. Reamer, Yelp/Felix H.)
Bar director of Raven & Rose
Favorite dive bar: Suki’s Bar & Grill (2401 SW 4th Ave; 503-226-1181, sukisbargrill.com)
Shenaut says: “Suki’s is my favorite dive bar in Portland. Its location and longevity make this place a go-to for true Portland culture. I have been going there for 18 years, and nothing has changed.” (Photos: Dina Avila, Facebook/Suki’s Bar)
Tierce says: “My favorite after-work dive has always been Yur’s. Its dim lighting, diner booth-style seating, and just-sassy-enough bartenders always make me comfortable enough to stop there on the way home. Often industry people are in there to catch up on how the old neighborhood’s business was that night. If no one’s there, then it’s the perfect spot to inhale a beer and a shot, and then head home to catch some Zs. Oh, and they have popcorn!” (Photos: Art Tierce, Yelp/Song Z.)
Galligos says: “The bartenders know everybody, and it’s just a great service-industry bar and neighborhood spot where you can meet and greet people and play Big Buck Hunter.” (Photos: Kimpton Hotels, Yelp/Stephen B)
Bartender at Pazzo
Favorite dive bar: Yorgo’s Greeley Avenue Bar and Grill (5421 N Greeley Ave; 503-283-0676, greeleyavenue.com)
Reeser says: “This is my favorite spot close to home. It’s low-key, but has all the sports packages, 20″ TVs, and beer-and-shot specials every day.” (Photos: Margo Helgen, Yelp/Angie W.)
Brown says: “I go to Club 21 because it’s three blocks from my house, and it’s in the family of Warren Boothby dive bars in PDX (Double Barrel, Gold Dust, Sandy Hut). I’ve got a long con going with most of the girl bartenders there. Trying to work my way in slow. They pour the drinks swarthy. I have to use a different pace of consumption. Sometimes it goes awry, but it’s fun. It’s Olympic in this way.” (Photo: Yelp/Kristen M.)
Bartender at Clyde Common
Favorite dive bar: Gil’s Speakeasy (609 SE Taylor St; 503-234-8991, gils-speakeasy.com)
Ryan says: “It has everything you need. Old men, stale air, shuffleboard, a CD jukebox, and decent-sized shots to drink with cheap, fizzy yellow beer.” (Photo: Foursqure/Mac P.)
Carmean says: “I love McPeet’s on Fremont. It’s been around for years, but the kids of the original owners have taken over the place and elevated the draught list, cocktails, and food. It’s a great spot that hasn’t lost its old-school feel. Plus, they have one of the best signs in town.” (Photos: pdxbeergeeks.com, Yelp/Beth F.)
Alejandro De La Parra
De La Parra says: “A good dive is hard to find. Luckily, we have Low Brow Lounge just a few streets over. Despite the rampant gentrification in the area, Low Brow is essentially the only surviving working-class bar remaining. It has everything I need: cold cheap beers, tater tots, Buck Hunter, and possibly the best damn bartenders in town. The bartenders will gladly cook you up some grub, pour you a drink, and clean up after you, even if last call is closing in. That’s what it truly means to tend your bar, and that’s what makes Low Brow perfect.” (Photo: Foursquare/Patrick P.)