Doug Kenck-Crispin, resident historian for ORHistory.com, and co-producer of the podcast series Kick-Ass Oregon History, is a walking encyclopedia of all things lurid and juicy in Portland’s somewhat dubious past. Bars are a particular specialty of Kenck-Crispin’s, and we asked him to name his favorites—the ones with the most notorious past and/or the best stories, and the ones that remain a great spot to kick back with a pint or two.
“A ‘soda fountain’ that served liquor during Prohibition, The Lotus also had a secret staircase to The Lotus Hotel upstairs, which was an illegal whorehouse. Today, the club boasts one of the most beautiful bars in town—it even has some bullet holes in it! Hard to beat a bullet-riddled bar for old-timey provenance.”
Jake’s Famous Crawfish
“They make a great Manhattan and there is a still-existent [though long out of commission] ‘piss trough’ at the bar. Portland’s second-oldest continuously operated restaurant is bestrewn with gilded frame oil paintings, yellowed newspaper clippings and aged memorabilia that transports the drinker to an earlier era indeed. And did I mention the piss trough?”
“In the 1940s, Portlander Roy Eli spent some time in the Hawaiian Islands and thought to himself, ‘We need a little sunny island getaway in Oregon!’ So he built The Alibi, Portland’s first tiki bar. And while it’s so dark inside that any idea of “sunny island fun” is rather laughable, The Alibi is timeless and kitschy as all get out. Bamboo a-plenty, everything is awash in black light, and tiki god idols that harken to Easter Island pagan idolity dot the walls—but all in a fruity, rum-drink way!”
“With Portlandia-worthy wall murals, this family-owned business looks like it hasn’t been updated in decades, and it hasn’t. A long and narrow shotgun bar with the lighting dialed down to zero, Mary’s has been attributed by many to be the birth place of the modern Strip City—the nom de guerre that Portland proudly proclaims today [because of the numerous strip clubs that dot the city]. I dare you to find a cooler old-timey bar.”