Portland's bookish persona even extends to our drinking.
Two new bars, The Jack London Bar and The Lovecraft, take their names from famous writers and incorporate literary themes into their decor, events, and menus. They join a small battery of established lit bars.
The Lovecraft is like the corner bar in the friendliest neighborhood of hell. Named after Old Evil fabulist H.P. Lovecraft, the bar takes its horror theme seriously—but not too seriously. It's not creepy so much as cute-creepy. The aesthetic is that of the odd rather than the terrifying: Addams Family, not Manson Family. "Beetlejuice goth," proprietor Jon Horrid calls it—"silly, non-threatening." But, he quickly adds, "At night, it's totally different."
Though new, the bar's combination of antiques and recovered, distressed wood—including one wall from "a burned-down bookstore"—produce a feel of solidity, even permanence. Despite the children's coffins and the rat skeletons, it's nevertheless a comfortable, strangely cheerful place to grab a drink or see a show. Entertainment includes industrial, goth, and metal theme nights, the Deviants Drawing Club ("figure life drawing for your inner monster"), Tarot readings, and burlesque. "Unhappy hour" is 6 pm to 8 pm daily, and you can enjoy drinks named after your favorite unspeakable horrors—Cthulhu (absinthe and lemon), Kraken (rum and lime), and so on.
The Lovecraft, 421 SE Grand Avenue, 971.270.7760
The Jack London Bar
Located below the Rialto Pool Room, in the building that once served as the single-room occupancy Jack London Hotel, this basement bar features subtle reminders of its namesake: a copy of The Call of the Wild, a picture of the author, the occasional wolf statue. Dedicated to dancing on the weekends, the bar hosts regular literary and historical events during the week. You can sip a White Fang (gin, lime, and mint) or enjoy the Call of the Wild (Vodka and Pineapple) while watching scholars with the Oregon Encyclopedia project lecture on Portland's history, or hearing someone from the Audubon Society talk about swifts, or seeing a presentation on local haunted houses, or watching commercial fishermen recite poetry. "The upstairs is sports," bar manager Terry Lyman says. "I wanted the downstairs to be more of the other side of the history of the city."
The Jack London Bar, 529 SW 4th Avenue, 503.227.5327
Now practically a Portland institution, the infernal aspects of Dante's are obvious at first glance. The red Japanese lanterns and the lit-from-below translucent red bar stand out against the black surfaces, creating the impression of fire even where there isn't any. Of course, there is fire—candles throughout, and a small bonfire in the center of one table. An endless series of rock bands play Dante's stage, along with the bar's own Sinferno Cabaret and Karaoke from Hell.
Dante's, 360 W Burnside, 503.226.6630
The Victory Bar
Filling the spot once occupied by the left-wing bookstore Laughing Horse, the Victory Bar is decorated according to a propaganda theme. The curtains, created by owner Yoni Laos, re-purpose the imagery from old political posters, and references to George Orwell appear nearly everywhere. Orwell's face features prominently on the lampshades and curtains (along with the quote, "If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.") One of several pieces of original art on display features the Party's slogans from 1984, and the first item on the menu is Victory Gin. It is not, I'm happy to report, the "sickly, oily" stuff of the novel.
The Victory Bar, 3652 SE Division Street, 503.236.8755
Pub at the End of the Universe
Named in homage to the second book in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, the bar dates from a time when the neighborhood south of Powell really did seem like the edge of nowhere. Despite the name, there isn't a obvious space theme or any overt English humor. It's just a friendly neighborhood bar, the way they used to make them before everything had to be hip and ironic. However, the menu does include a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster (Jack Daniel’s, peach schnapps, orange juice), which, according to the Hitchhiker's Guide, is "the best drink in existence"—its effect being "like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick." I didn't try one, myself.
Pub at the End of the Universe, 4107 SE 28th Avenue, 503.235.0969
Those who are interested in actually reading while they drink might want to visit the Press Club. Quiet and well-lit, it offers a subdued atmosphere and a wall of magazines for sale. While the drinks take their names from the titles of books, and the food items are christened after authors, literacy is treated less like a theme and more as a fact.
Press Club, 2621 SE Clinton Street, 503.233.5656
Others? Did I forget your favorite literary saloon? Let us hear about it in the comments.