Bars and clubs on East Burnside and south of it couldn’t be more varied. Whether housing live music or offering $2 beers, there’s always something to explore.
I started at My Father’s Place on Grand Avenue, in between Stark and Washington Streets, because I knew I could get a $3.50 bloody mary and a veggie omelet for just $7.25 late at night.
I asked Nicole Ross, a server at My Father’s Place, what she thought of SoBu.
“Is that a place or a term?” she asked.
When I told her it was a term she said, “That’s just stupid.”
I went to MFP’s neighbor, the Lovecraft Bar, the night before to celebrate Kurt Cobain’s 47th birthday—so I skipped it this time. But it’s my favorite place to dance. Horror art lines the walls and a gigantic glow-in-the-dark sigil from the Necronomicon—the book of dead names—looms overhead on the ceiling above the dance floor.
I also didn’t bother hitting up East End, the punk rock bar and music venue on Grand Avenue and Ash Street. I just didn’t want to deal with all the hypocritically oppressive, politically correct, patch-punks.
After MFP, I walked to the Doug Fir Lounge on E. Burnside and 9th. It’s a Twin Peaks-y log cabin diner filled with perfect hairdos and shined shoes that hosts local and touring bands. The food was some of the best reasonably priced, home-cooked plates in Portland when they first opened in 2004, but now they can’t even serve a decent BLT—something that should be impossible to ruin.
Oregon native Jon Fuccillo works the door and does security at Portland’s hyped home to hipsters and roaming celebrities. He started working at the Doug Fir six years ago, so I figured he surely heard the term SoBu before.
“What’s SoBu? It’s a nickname? Never heard of that,” Fuccillo said.
In 2013, the Doug Fir ranked in at number 13 on Rolling Stone’s list of “20 Best Clubs in America.” Bands like Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., Fishbone and Mobb Deep are scheduled to perform at the Doug Fir in the coming months.
Rontoms is just down a few blocks from the Doug Fir, residing on E. Burnside and 6th. They offer free live music on Sunday nights. The crowd isn’t much different from the Doug Fir, except a few more conservatives prefer drinking at this dimly lit, open-space bar. Rontoms also houses events, like the “silent disco” that was hosted by the Portland Mercury on Feb. 21. For $12 presale or $18 at the door, they gave out “fashionable headphones” and the wearer controlled the volume, according to the Portland Mercury. When I heard that from the door guy, and saw the dorky remote headphones with my own eyes, I didn’t even bother ordering a drink. I was off to the next spot.
At first glance, The Wurst on E. Burnside between 6th and 7th avenues reminded me of a miniature version of the clubs in my home region of South Florida that I avoided. But when I talked to the patrons and the door guy, I changed my mind. Besides, they have skee-ball and pinball games.
Jason Tucker, an Oregonian, works the door at The Wurst. His residency there started a year and a half ago. I asked him what he thought of SoBu.
“What the fuck is SoBu?” Tucker asked.
That’s a server and two door guys in a row who have never heard of this failed trendy term.
I could tell he wasn’t surprised—he’s probably numb from the outpour of hipster speak filling the air between Sizzle Pie down the street and the Doug Fir up the road. But he didn’t share my disdain.
“Mostly everybody has a good time [here],” Tucker said. “It’s not a night club. It’s just from all the games, they take the edge off the nighttime vibe.”
I met three students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art outside. It was their first time exploring the bars on the south side of East Burnside—and they’d never heard the term SoBu before either.
Andrea Jacobs moved from Minneapolis, Minn. eight months ago. She said The Wurst reminds her of home because of the crowd, the “long lines and the foosball.”
Jonvi Del Sol is from Miami, Fla. and it’s her first year at PNCA. With her Buddha-esque perma-grin and wire-wrapped dreadlocks bouncing as she talked, she said The Wurst wasn’t her kind of bar.
“It’s not much of my crowd,” Del Sol said.
Juliette Thimming is from Cleveland, Ohio and she’s lived in Portland for two years. She said she usually frequents the Pearl District near PNCA, but she likes the East Burnside area.
“I feel like it’s more diverse on the east side,” Thimming said. “Not only that, it’s cheaper. There’s the arcade over there, but I think there’s more to do over here.”
I didn’t venture to B-side or Sizzle Pie, but I’ve been to both enough to say B-side is a good place to listen to music because the bartenders have good taste; it’s how I discovered Drudkh, the Ukranian metal band. Sizzle Pie has yummy, musically-named pizza and a decent vegan selection as well. The one on the east side is “more of a hangout” than its downtown extension, according to Thimming. I agree.
I went to see Cheatahs at Bunk Bar the next night. I met a friend there and we ate a couple sandwiches before the bands started. I had the $9 pulled pork and it was worth every penny. This was the first time I was at the Bunk Bar for music. The venue was dark and tiny, which made the show pretty intimate.
Check out the candid video here: