Quality and style

In the time I have spent interviewing local artists, the question of preferred venues consistently solicits the same passionate response: the Doug Fir Lounge.

In the time I have spent interviewing local artists, the question of preferred venues consistently solicits the same passionate response: the Doug Fir Lounge.

Local favorites like Derby and The Dimes rave about the sound quality and ambiance. Up-and-coming bands such as Painted Grey say they will consider themselves a Portland success once they have played the venue.

Naturally, after the hundredth exclamation on the Doug Fir’s behalf, the Vanguard decided to do a little digging to find out what makes the comfy hotspot so popular.

The Oregonian has regularly recognized it as one of the premier locales in Portland. Their restaurant’s “Frenchy toast” has made a splash with food connoisseurs, and Playboy named it one of the “Top 10 Best Rock Clubs.” In a correspondence with general manager Bryan Deckert, we gained some insight into the tactics of being on top in a competitive game.

“We try to separate ourselves by night in and night out giving both the artist and the audience the total experience,” says Deckert. “Everything down to making sure doors open on time and the right background music is playing, or when you order any food or drink you feel like you got a good value.”

The Doug Fir was the collaboration of three men—music producer Mike Quinn, architect and designer Jeff Kovel and entrepreneur John Plummer—all with a passion for quality music and food.

The lounge is a conglomeration of experiences. It provides a swanky, inviting bar, a stage designed with acoustics in mind and an Americana/Northwest restaurant with a menu spanning all meals and inclinations. They are also conveniently located next to the Jupiter Hotel, offering up an easy rest stop for late-night loungers or touring musicians.

“We are very lucky to have the [Jupiter] hotel connected to us. You could simply say that Doug Fir is one-stop shopping with the subterranean music venue and the upstairs restaurant, bar and patio. But add in the hotel’s presence on premise and that adds a whole new dimension to the packaged experience a guest could have,” says Deckert.

The Doug Fir has also been recognized for its consistently impressive booking policy and a keen ear for new talent.

“We are very fortunate to have all booking personnel, past and present, so passionate about what they do. From the inception, the idea was that the talent had to deserve the stage. We don’t source out the room [and] by doing so, we control the content,” says Deckert.

In a city like Portland, where bands are a dime a dozen, it can be challenging to sort through the roughage. Many venues have suffered in the economic drop, and others are far less selective in their booking procedures. The Doug Fir has built its name on good food and worthy musicians without losing respect for the city that nurtures its business. The rich musical character of Portland is something all dedicated venues are proud to support, and The Doug Fir hopes to preserve the respect among their competitors.

“We like to believe and tend to hope we have a very harmonious relationship with the other music venues in Portland and beyond,” Deckert said. “Portland’s music scene is one of the best in the country, if not the best. There is an incredible amount of talent massed here. I believe that most everyone involved wants to continue to curate that. For the most part, we all want an incredible amount of talent and diversity to choose from, so we tend to celebrate it together.”

Even if you don’t fancy yourself a concertgoer, the Doug Fir is a must-see for its woodsy urban decor and intricately molded architecture. The space is unassuming and relaxed, with a classy finish. According to Deckert, Kovel wanted to merge styles in the space design, “…kind of like if Paul Bunyon and Twin Peaks ever had a kid.”

On its busiest night, clientele can enjoy an intimate evening with friends. The same crowd can then return the next morning for some serious hangover curing cuisine. Whether or not they need to, the Doug Fir also offers specials for economically struggling customers.

“I don’t like to talk about any ‘happy hour’ because of certain state agencies and their rules about promoting. So let’s just say we got some great deals in the late afternoon and the perfect patio to enjoy them.”

Since its opening, the Doug Fir has won over musicians with their attention to detail and equipment quality. Many of those musicians have gone on to woo the rest of the world, while very happy Doug Fir audiences can reminisce about seeing them when they were first getting started.

“I have particularly liked watching local Blind Pilots’ rise as I got a glimpse of it right from the beginning,” says Deckert. “We had them scheduled to play a Saturday night with a fairly cheap ticket and no pre-sale. So we didn’t know what to expect, and frankly had no idea who they were. About a week prior to the show I started receiving calls from NPR and The New York Times about this show. The day of the show at about 5 p.m. someone told me to go check out the line outside. The line wrapped all the way down the hotel driveway. The night was incredible. It was one of those nights that you selfishly know you are seeing something great.”

Next time you are questioning where to get breakfast, lunch, dinner, a cocktail or some quality entertainment, support the Portland music venue most dedicated to supporting its town, the artists who play there and the audience it draws.