Editors Note: Bartenders preferred to just use their first name for discretion.
While North Portland is home to many bars that are enjoyed both by local “regulars” and University of Portland students, students vastly agree that The Twilight Room and Sundown Bar prove to be consistent and longtime favorites as “college bars.”
Many would assume it’s because of the extremely close proximity these bars are to the University, but both bartenders and students agree that it’s primarily the tradition and community-feel that play into why these two bars are students’ prime choices. Here, you’ll find not only reviews of The Twilight Room and Sundown Bar, but multiple other bars considered to be “college bars” in the North Portland area.
The Twilight Room: 5242 N. Lombard St.
As the effortlessly classic college bar for UP students, University Park’s name brand bar, The Twilight Room (lovingly nicknamed “The T Room”), has long been among students’ favorites. Between $2 Tuesdays (drafts and well-drink specials) and college student night (Thursdays), it’s a hard place to pass up for young and ambitious Portland Pilots. Additionally, because it’s a major stopping point for the bi-annual North Portland Pub Crawl, it has some deep-rooted nostalgia to it.
One local “regular” 25 year-old Robert Mark enjoys visiting and talking to students, especially while playing pool on one of the three pool tables, or their large outdoor patio.
“I don’t mind that this is a college bar, I have a lot of friends who attend school at UP that I met here,” Mark said. “It’s cool that this is a comfortable place to meet people in the same age group and hang out, despite me not being a student.”
Susan, the night bartender of The Twilight Room believes that both the tradition and long-standing connection with the University are what attract students to the bar, and while there are the “regulars,” she enjoys the student-driven nights.
“[It’s] definitely the location. And we’re one of the oldest bars in North Portland, so its been traditionally a good University bar,” Susan said. “They’re young, so it’s a whole different type of vibe in here when they’re in here.”
Sundown Bar: 5903 N. Lombard St.
At Sundown, the unique combination of having heavy “regulars” doesn’t deter students from strong attendance; instead, many widely view it as a “college bar” because of how accepting the regulars are of the students who venture in.
Nathan, one of the bartenders at Sundown, is constantly trying to appeal to more students. With $1 Pabst for students with ID cards, free pool, and discounts on food, efforts are done to draw in more students and make it more of a “college bar” then it already is.
“We definitely want to attract and appeal to students which is why we have so many promotions for them,” Nathan said. “I, of course, love our regulars and they will always come back, but for business, it certainly helps to get the word out and be friendly to students.”
Susan, another bartender at Sundown, believes that the friendliness, feelings of safety, and comfortable seating are what stand out to students and make them want to venture inside, despite the many “regulars.”
“It’s safe. Because nothing ever has happened here like fights, knives, guns… ever,” Susan said. “We watch out for them [the college kids], the ones that just turn 21, when it’s their first time legally drinking.”
While safety is appealing to recently legal college drinkers, it also can turn many people off because they are well known to “cut-off” drinkers who had to much or ask people to leave.
“I had a bad experience with Sundown because I spilled my glass and the bartender cut me off because he thought I was too drunk,” junior Alex Foy said. “Then I started arguing and slipped out of my seat, so everybody laughed at me. I haven’t been back since.”
Wyona understands that their cut-off rules and not allowing students to drink after midnight on their 21st birthday can be frustrating and even turn off students, even though they are simply following the laws and trying to keep students safe.
“We’re not happy about our reputation that we’re the only [bar] that cuts people off, but we do it because it’s the law, so unfortunately we do it,” Wyona said. “The last thing I ever want is to have one of our kids or people get hurt or hurt someone else.”
Regulars of Sundown also seem to not mind students who visit their “homefront” establishment, as long as they don’t get too loud or disturb others. Greg Lewis, who has been attending Sundown for over ten years, has no problems with students, as long as they don’t hog the lone pool table.
“Some students are really cool and I don’t mind hanging with them at all,” Lewis said. “Others get pretty loud and think it’s a house party and don’t notice other people who want to play pool or trying to enjoy themselves. That’s when I have a problem and will either ask them nicely to be more respectful or will let the bartender know that I think they need to leave.”
McMenamins St. John’s Pub: 8203 Ivanhoe Street
If you want a specialty cocktail or a nice local seasonal beer, the McMenamins St. John’s Pub is the perfect place. With dim lighting, two floors (bar & loft), and very exceptional patio seating, the dome building is the one to check out on the edge of the St. John’s neighborhood. It’s the perfect spot for local “regulars,” students, and families for food, drinks and even catch a movie. Catch their happy hour from 5:00pm – 6:00pm for great burgers and beer, or grab a classic old fashioned.
Plews Brews: 8409 N. Lombard St.
For the mellow-mood kind of person, this spot emits a “chill, relax and have a beer, buddy” type of feel. Year-round, this bar holds true to switching between local, hearty beers, such as the Double Mountain IRA and the Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout. At their weekly open-mic night (Sundays at 7), the bartender will give two free beers to whoever gets on stage.
Plews Brews definitely has the local “regular” feel to it as opposed to a typical college bar, because it attracts many local musicians and, in turn, their fans, which can be intimidating for college students simply looking for a bar to relax with a beer.
Randy, the owner of Plews Brews, believes that their open-mic night has to do with the lack of students because they draw big crowds.
“We started open-mic night a few years ago, and now it has become a full-house event,” Randy said. “Some students get up to play, but I think the large crowds drive away the casual college drinkers unless they specifically come here for music.”
The Fixin’ To: 8218 N. Lombard St.
The Fixin’ To is another local bar that fulfills the needs of both college students and “regulars” based on a variety of places to sit, TVs, food options, cheap beer (and good expensive beer), as well as two patios. The bartenders are very friendly to students and welcome them, yet still make sure that the “regulars” are happy. The two separate heated and covered patios are ideal for large groups of college students who want to go out together, yet still gives the “regulars” their space to enjoy their night.
Tom’s Pizza & Sports Bar: 2630 N. Lombard St.
Tom’s Pizza & Sports Bar is one of the few city-wide known bars in North Portland and attracts locals, students and all sports fans. There are numerous TVs and giant projector screens that make it the go-to sports bar for The Big Game. They offer a wide range of beers and cocktails with a convenient happy hour of 5-8 which is perfect timing for West Coast sporting events. Last, but certainly not least, is their amazing pizza. They have a massive selection of pizzas, including household favorites and also some for the adventurous like the Hamburger Pizza and the Philly Cheese Steak (both highly recommended by the editors).
Kenton Station: 8303 N. Denver Ave.
Yet again, a true bar that welcomes all to their premises, literally. Unlike previous bars, Kenton Station allows for under-21 minors to enter and order some of their amazing and wide-ranging food (their Po Boy sandwich is to die for). They are a great family restaurant and bar for football Sunday, while allowing customers to taste their beer before they buy, so you always get what you’re looking for. This a perfect bar which “regulars,” families, and students often frequent.
Nite Hawk Cafe & Lounge: 6423 N. Interstate Ave.
The Nite Hawk is one of the few bars on the list that is definitely not a college bar. It is not a particularly large venue because there is a restaurant attached, and while there are three pool tables, they always get taken over by the “pro regulars” for their nightly gambling. The food is decent, but expensive; the five chicken strips and fries are $8. College students should avoid the Nite Hawk not only to avoid the many regulars, but also the high price for beer and the food.