Bars That Rock: Where to Grab a Drink and Enjoy Live Music in Portland

If you’re anything like us, you miss the days of showing up to the bar without actually knowing which bands would be playing that night. Sometimes your favorite band plays at the Doug Fir Lounge, so you shell out $20, but other nights you just want to show up to the bar and be entertained by a group of longhairs claiming to be a rock band. Here are our top picks for bars that rock any night of the week.

The Know (2025 NE Alberta St.; 503-473-8729)
In seconds, the Know (pictured above) can go from normal bar venue — to raucous bar with chairs soaring through the air like a lunch room food fight gone awry — to a crowd of glazed over eyes ogling Jonathan Richman. The genres vary by the night and there’s usually cover of only a few bones to get into the stage area to see the bands. The most satisfying part of paying to see your friends’ bands is that they are paid well and receive drink tokens for playing.

World Famous Kenton Club (2025 N. Kilpatrick St.; 503-285-3718)
When you’ve been open since 1947 and at 10 a.m. daily, you’ve got the perfect recipe for a cocktail that includes both classic ingredients (regulars) and new twists (younger music and Rainer guzzling music fans). We’ve seen bands at this Kenton neighborhood bar of all genres, from Dex Romweber Duo to punk to roll and roll. Everyone once in a while, regulars will stray from a game of a pool to watch bands. There’s never a cover at the Kenton Club and you can even snag an entire pitcher of Rainier for $6.

High Water Mark Lounge (6800 NE MLK Ave.; 503-286-6513)
A transformed coffee shop in the King neighborhood (NE MLK Blvd. and NE Dekum St.) now houses bands and 20-and 30-somethings with boozey drinks in hand instead of 20-somethings sipping coffee with their mothers. Eric Manfre the spirit behind Alberta Street’s Alleyway Bar and Biloxi Deli Lounge has gone on to open High Water Mark. The space is small and loud (definitely bring ear plugs as there’s a lot of glass windows in the space). Rumors of an expansion in the warehouse-stlye space next door flowed throughout the venue during a recent show. This is one bar to keep on your radar.

Rontoms (600 E Burnside St.; 503-236-4536)
Touring and local bands with a distinguished spot on the Rontoms Sunday Sessions schedule play to a packed house on the last day of the week. Shows start at 9 p.m. and are free, so check the schedule as there’s bound to be a hot-list band you couldn’t otherwise catch for free.

The East End (203 SE Grand Ave.; 503-232-0056)
In the Industrial District near My Father’s Place you’ll find East End; an even ratio of grit, grime, and hipness. Follow the stairs down to the second bar and band room. There’s usually an inexpensive cover to see some of Portland’s best bands. Back upstairs there’s a photobooth, another bar, and a menu worth checking out.

Habesha Lounge (801 NE Broadway St.; 503-284-4299)
If you’re yearning the house venue days but not enough to go balls deep, check out Habesha, the next best thing. Located above the Ethiopian restaurant on NE Broadway Street, it’s usually only open for shows. There’s only one bartender during shows and the selection can be limited but all you really need for a loud and fast show at Habesha is a giant Tecate with lime.

Bunk Bar (1028 SE Water Ave.; 503-477-9515)
Bigger name bands such as And And And or The Woolen Men get on board to play this sandwich-shop- gone-venue in the up-and-coming Industrial District on Water Avenue. The space is open and there’s plenty of seating so come early for the East Coast-style sandwiches and a frozen margarita. Also, you can reserve the bar, which is pretty bad ass.

Foggy Notion (3416 N Lombard St.; 503-240-0249)
There is no better place in Portland to drink a tea-infused cocktail while listening to a no wave band. The staff is attentive and will take the time to make sure your tea-infused cocktail is done up right even though the bar’s real deal is cheap Miller High Life. There’s usually cover at the door but only a few dollars. The skee ball can keep you occupied in between sets as well as a cozy smoking patio. The bar is adequately described as “North Portland's kick-ass music and skeeball joint” but should also include their kick-ass pierogi.

Mississippi Studios (3939 N. Mississippi St.; 503-288-3895)
If you want to see a stereotype of a Portland show unfold, watch well-heeled Millennials trickle in from Bar Bar next door for live performances from well-rehearsed bands in a venue with stellar acoustics and sound. The bar accessible from two sides ensures you’re good and saucey by the show’s end.

Photos: The Know; World Famous Kenton Club; Foggy Notion


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