How to Party in Portland: The Nightlife Guide

By Jon Shadel 

Portland’s free-spirited lifestyle and creative reputation makes for an offbeat nightlife scene known more for indie rock stars and karaoke bars than DJs and nightclubs. And with countless music venues and brewpubs, this city clearly knows how to have a good time when the sun goes down.

To experience the nightlife, you can simply follow a friendly crowd, make some new pals and let the night unfold in true Portland style. But to help you navigate the casual and low-key offerings, we highlight a few of our favorite late-night pastimes.

Belt It Out In a Quirky Karaoke Bar

Karaoke at Alibi
A wannabe pop star (a Ron Swanson lookalike?) belts it out at Alibi Tiki Lounge. Photo by Richard/Flickr.

Give your evening a kick-start at a classic karaoke bar where you can loosen up your vocal chords and let the good times roll. With bars offering everything from island-themed Elvis parties to private room sing-offs, it’s no wonder the New York Times declared Portland’s karaoke scene the most exciting in America.

The city offers a myriad of quirky establishments dedicated to an evening of singing (preferably on-key). Institutions like the old-school Alibi Tiki Lounge (4024 N. Interstate Ave.) in North Portland feature more than 30,000 songs ready for aspiring pop stars to woo audiences. Karaoke From Hell, hosted weekly at clubs like Dante’s (350 W. Burnside St.), ups the ante with a live rock ’n’ roll band. Groups of friends fearful of humiliation should head to Voicebox Karaoke (2112 N.W. Hoyt St.), an Asian-themed bar that rents pay-by-the-hour private suites for secluded song and dance.

See a Show at an Indie Music Venue

The Dandy Warhols
The Dandy Warhols perform at the Doug Fir. Photo by Stephanie Neil/Flickr

Portland’s music scene is one of the most vibrant in the country. The city’s rich history of independent-minded artists includes many notable acts, such as singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, The Dandy Warhols, The Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders. In recent years, a sizeable number of indie rock bands — think The Shins, The Decemberists, Blitzen Trapper and Modest Mouse — have called Portland home due to its underground culture, top-notch venues and open-minded residents.

Add all of this together and you have one of the best destinations in the country to rock out to a band on virtually any night of the week. To experience some of the best sounds in the city, head to the Doug Fir Lounge (830 E. Burnside St.), a cozy bar with a basement venue hosting top touring acts. To sample the local indie rock scene, Mississippi Studios (3939 N. Mississippi Ave.) features performances by up-and-coming local bands. Portland’s original electro-dance club, Holocene (1001 S.E. Morrison St.) routinely welcomes touring indie pop acts that know how to get audiences grooving to the music. For a more grown-up affair, the Aladdin Theater (3017 S.E. Milwaukie Ave.) invites concertgoers to sit down with a pint while enjoying a performance by a classic touring band.

Unwind With a Pint at a Brew 'N' View Theater

Hollywood TheatreLaurelhurst Theater2
Photos by Colby Aley/Flickr (left) and Carrie Carter/Flicker

Going out to see a movie may not seem the most exhilarating late-night activity, but Portland’s obsession with cinema makes our theaters must-see attractions. The city boasts dozens of theaters and hundreds of screens, but you’ll want to head to one of many brew ’n’ view theaters for a truly one-of-a-kind experience. These theaters, ranging from sticky to swanky, all serve up craft beers and fresh fare with each flick.

McMenamins originated the “brew theater” concept in Portland, and they operate some of the finest film establishments in historic venues across the city. A local favorite, Bagdad Theater (3702 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd.) first opened in 1923 and now shows first-run Hollywood films. The stunningly restored theater serves up thin-crust pizza and local beer — all delivered right to your seat. Another McMenamins classic, the Kennedy School Theater (5736 N.E. 33rd Ave.) occupies a converted elementary school. Furnishings include comfy couches and end tables, making it the perfect environment for kicking back with second-run and indie movies. 

A number of other cinemas — both old and new — have become neighborhood institutions. The Hollywood Theatre (4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd.), the icon of the Hollywood District, looks like it would make the perfect setting for a quirky Wes Anderson film. Built in 1926, the musky cinema plays cult classics and major films in addition to hosting a variety of special events throughout the year, such as the annual Northwest Animation Festival. The swanky Living Room Theaters (341 S.W. 10th Ave.), an art-house cinema in the happening West End neighborhood, features a gourmet food menu and a full bar in its lobby. The Laurelhurst Theater’s (2735 E. Burnside St.) classic neon sign has become a historic landmark, but locals continue to flock here for a steady stream of second-run and revival screenings in four auditoriums.

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