Drinking in Portland's history: A round-up of PDX's most iconic and legendary bars


Portland, with an apt nickname of "Beervana", consistently ranks at the top (or really close) on lists of "best beer cities" or "most pubs per capita."

But there are bars and then there are BARS. When a watering hole has stood the test of time (say a century or more?), it speaks volumes about the character of the business itself.

In the spirit of giving credit where it's due, we suggest that you check out these time-honored Portland bars and pubs. Drink in their history while imbibing their legendary concoctions. The alcohol will fuel your time traveling experience. Keep in mind that all of these places survived Prohibition - all the more reason to marvel at their resilient longevity.


Huber's Cafe
Shot glasses on fire - Flame Burning Alcohol PartyThomasVogel via Getty Images

Huber's is, quite simply, The Bomb of Legendary Portland Bars. It's the oldest bar in Portland, founded in 1879, and has been at its current location since 1910. As a (nearly) native Portlander, whenever I'm entertaining out-of-town guests, THIS is where I taken them (as much for me as for them).

Back in the day, patrons received a free turkey sandwich with a drink. Well, THOSE days are gone. But, to this day, Huber's is known for its turkey sandwiches.

Insider tip: Don't go in by way of the street front doors that lead directly into the cafe. Instead use the door to the right and head down the long hallway where you'll enter the back area of the cafe. Feels a bit like finding a speakeasy. Indeed, Huber's apparently did operate as a speakeasy during Prohibition and this may have been its entryway.

Here the mahogany bar with its lustrous brass rails, the dark wood wainscoting and booths, and the arched stained glass skylights lend an almost spiritual aura, not unlike a cathedral. Only you're here to worship ... the Spanish Coffee.

Some websites claim that the cocktail was invented here - that's dubious. But what is not in doubt is that you must order one to have The Complete Huber's Experience. When you do, a highly-trained bartender will concoct the drink at your table. All of the liquids involved are poured from on high as your entertainer/waiter gyrates a bit, lights the Bacardi 151 rum (the 151 octane ensures a fire) and adds the triple sec, Kahlua, coffee and cream. The choreographed show - and the results - are sublime.

Kelly's Olympian

Eclectic - maybe even eccentric? - describes this classic member of the centenarian pub club which opened in 1902. Probably its defining characteristic are the dozen or so vintage motorcycles hanging from the ceiling (one of the owners is a collector). The tavern also features tons of neon signs and other Americana. Add in a bunch of wall-sized mirrors and this tavern has a unique, and pretty much indescribable, vibe. It is - in a word - trippy, and really should be included in your "Keep Portland Weird" itinerary.

White Eagle Saloon
Old vintage wooden saloon doorsfergregory

There are a number of legends surrounding the White Eagle, founded in 1905. For example, the hotel guest rooms upstairs? Those used to house prostitutes. The basement offered an opium den. Those features were for the luckier patrons. Unfortunate imbibers might be "Shanghaied" through a tunnel that connected to the waterfront, and forced to work on ships bound for the Orient. Oh, and the place is haunted as well.

All of that bad juju doesn't stop the White Eagle from doing a brisk business today, with nightly music offerings in an authentically historic setting.

Virginia Cafe

The "VC" originally opened in 1914. Even though it settled into its current location in 2008, many of the original fixtures, booths and memorabilia made the move and help the establishment retain its legendary charm.

I've always thought the Virginia should be labeled a saloon - it just has that feel to it. Word is that back in the day, "runners" would deliver food to the working girls at several nearby "sporting houses" (a euphemism for brothels). (If you hadn't noticed by now, the lore of these old watering holes is a BIG reason to visit them.)

Dan and Louis Oyster Bar
Oyster PartyGetty Images/iStockphoto

This bar - which is probably better known for its oysters than its alcohol (hence the name) - has retained its landmark allure since 1907. It has a nautical decor that works well - you're going to want to try some oysters anyway, so you might as well get in the mood. Old photos and memorabilia adorn the walls. Take time to check them out to get the full experience.

Bonus: you're right next to a Voodoo Donut spot if you need to cross that Portland experience off your list.

Jake's Famous Crawfish

This establishment dates back to 1892. In 1972 it became the first of many, many McCormick & Schmick dining spots.

Most Portlanders, however, simply refer to it as "Jake's." And, while the food is great, the bar area - with its classic deep dark wood paneling and polished bar - is the place to experience Jake's and the time to do so is happy hour (3 to 6 p.m. daily, in the bar only).

Get there early, it's popular.

Marie Sherlock has resided in Portland, Oregon for three-plus decades during which time she practiced law, married, and then raised kids while writing, editing and authoring a parenting book. She knows, loves and embraces every inch of Portland's weirdness.