A 1961 dictionary defined a "dive" as "a disreputable resort for drinking or entertainment." I'd add that a good dive should have a crew of scruffy regulars, a jukebox or karaoke, low lighting, strong, cheap drinks, and if you're lucky, fried food. Portland has plenty of establishments that fit this bill: our initial research list included 24 highly recommended dive bars.
After an intense round of revisits, we whittled the list down to these 8 favorite spots, the places we'll go back to when the rain starts again and we're looking for a whiskey-fueled ping pong game or a cheap beer and massive breakfast at 10 p.m. Want to meet us there?
One warning about Billy Ray's: the only signage out front reads "Tavern." It's cash only (ATM inside), and the carpets are definitely beer-stained, but drinks are a good deal and the vibe is friendly. During happy hour (every day from 4 to 7 p.m.), eights bucks will get you a Lagunitas IPA and a strong vodka soda. (PBR is $1.50, so come thirsty.) The crowd is younger and more tattooed than some of the dives on this list—you'll spot a significant amount of NOFX patch-covered denim. This was a smoking joint back before the ban, and now the large half-covered patio is where patrons light up. There's ping-pong outside too, and the upstairs room has pool, Sopranos-themed pinball, and Pac-Man. When you climb the stairs, you'll be greeted by entertaining murals of a clown, hippopotamus creatures, and something that looks like Carol from Where the Wild Things Are.
Billy Ray's: 2216 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Portland, OR 97212 (map) 503-287-7254
My Father's Place
My Father's Place is a locals' favorite, but you won't find a sign outside. Just go in between the furniture shop and the Slow Bar and enter into the dark room with the neon signs. There are three rooms, actually: the small dining room, bar / larger dining room, and the game room (an entire room devoted to pinball, video lottery, and pool, with a giant collection of pretty much every board game that has ever existed.) The cabinets are filled with an impressive collection of old miniature liquor bottles, all the way to the ceiling. Antique knick-knacks and crusty old toys dangle precariously above your head: If a 1950's diner, a midwestern truck stop, and an antique store were to have a baby, it would look like this dive bar.
On a recent visit, the $5 special was a blackberry-infused vodka number with soda and 7-Up: easily strong (and tasty) enough to instantly be an "accidentally had too many" kind of night. (Don't worry, they serve breakfast all day and hot onion rings which do well to soak up the booze.)
My Father's Place: 523 SE Grand Avenue, Portland, OR 97214 (map) 503-235-5494
Reel 'm Inn
We can't help but love the tacky fishing and hunting theme adorning this pub, complete with fishing lures lacquered into the bar with a stuffed fox and marlin watching you from above. It's something of a cross between summer camp in Maine and that hunting cabin your college friend always bragged about. Order a $4 well whiskey and practice your aim with the Big Buck Safari game by the pool table, or chalk a drunken poem on the wall, if you can find space. This place has tons of character and plenty to look at while you wait for your freshly made fried chicken and scorching hot jojos. Local Lompoc C-Note's on draft, and mac and cheese bites are three bucks.
Reel 'm Inn: 2430 SE Division Street, Portland, OR 97202 (map) 503-231-3880
Originally opened in 1941 as a 'Working Man's Diner,' Joe's Cellar was condemned by the city in late 2012. Thanks to a regular who couldn't bear to see his favorite bar shut down, this Portland institution has been renovated and reopened. (Plenty of folks are loyal to this spot—obituaries of those who frequented the place mention Joe's Cellar by name.) The low lighting makes it feel like it's still condemned, but there's a lot of charm to this spot. Monster breakfast plates and strong drinks here are just the thing for a hungover morning. Join the day drinkers in the low light of the large ripped booths, grab a strong gin & tonic or a $4 Bloody Mary (a dollar extra for the blue cheese variation) and the "Divide and Conquer": two buttermilk biscuits, chopped chicken fried steak, sauteed onion, mushrooms, country Gravy, three eggs, and bacon. If beer is what you're looking for, Joe's has 2 rotating seasonals on tap for $3.50 to $4.50, along with Ninkasi Total Domination, Oakshire Amber, and the standard macro lagers.
Joe's Cellar: 1332 NW 21st Avenue, Portland, OR 97209 (map) 503-223-2851
Yur's is a dark den, sheltered from reminders of the weather outside and open at daily 7 a.m. when the pros start drinkin'. Gin and tonics are $3, popcorn is free, and the tater tots are plentiful, hot, and crispy—some of the best I've had in Portland. Located down the street from a large taxi company, Yur's is a favorite haunt for cab drivers and other regulars who are hard pressed to give up their bar stools. But there are plenty of options for seating, plus pool, video lottery, and a golf video game. Complete with a 1980s cigarette machine and regency stackable chairs, a visit to Yur's feels reminiscent of trips to your granddad's Rotary club. The bathroom might remind you of a locker room (ladies' stall doors have been replaced by shower curtains.) Yur's has real food (a $9.95 Prime Rib plate on Thursdays includes mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus) but you're probably here for the rotating microbrews or a pitcher of PBR.
Yur's: 717 NW 16th Avenue, Portland, OR 97209 (map) 503-224-0160
This aptly named cash-only bar used to be a famous cop hangout. Nowadays, it's just a good place for an IPA at the picnic tables outside while you watch people (and puppies) pass by on the busy street. Even though it feels like this place was thrown together with left-over frat furniture, the wrap-around bar is perfect for getting to know your neighbor and the bartender. The small space and low ceilings might make some feel a little claustrophobic and others feel cozy. Happy hour is only 4 to 7 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, but it means $2.50 well drinks, and there's a Skeeball game to play inside if it's raining.
The Slammer: 500 SE 8th Avenue, Portland, OR 97214 (map) 503-232-6504
Just down the street from the famous Mississippi Studios lies the Crow Bar. At first glance, it seems a little nice for a dive, but look closer and you'll notice the wooden chairs have seated thousands of drinkers and the surfaces all have a slightly sticky sheen. The pool balls are mis-numbered, and the bathroom's covered in graffiti, but you'll have a good time here drinking local tap beer like Laurelwood Tree Hugger Porter and HUB IPA. Happy hour runs every day from 3 to 8 p.m., and the service industry (OLCC card or food handler's permit) gets special deals on Sundays. A stiff $5 Tom Collins or Gin and Limeade will fuel a few spirited games of Pac-Man. Old velvet paintings share space on the wall with revolving installations from local artists. Hungry? Head next door to Miss Delta's for some of the best southern food in the city.
Tigard may seem out of the way, but if you happen to live or work nearby, Gator's is where you should be hanging out. It's fantastically divey, complete with drunk-at-noon grandmothers shamelessly dancing to pop music. There is more of a sports vibe here, complete with triangle banners for different teams and several TVs throughout. Show up on a Thursday for $5 personal pan pizzas and a $2 mug of BridgePort's Long Ball Amber—the official beer of the Hillsboro minor league baseball team. A large partially covered smoking porch has plenty of seating and looks out on busy Highway 99. The warm and welcoming staff has been around awhile, and the drinks are plenty stiff.
Where's your favorite dive bar in the Portland area? Add your recommendations to the list in the comments section below!
About the Author: Amoris Walker is the Social Media commenter on 1190 KEX's the Morning Update with Paul Linnman and an Online Content Coordinator for Clear Channel Media + Entertainment in Portland, Oregon. While not working in radio or dreaming about adopting puppies, Amoris spends her time seeking out the ultimate Bloody Mary and the ideal camping spot.