Put a Chowbacca! On It: Gil's Speakeasy Tavern

East bank of the Willamette River looking at the SW Hawthorn Bridge at night, Portland, Oregon.
My beautiful (inside and out) pal KPH hipped me to the Speakeasy years ago when I first visited Portland. If, as they say, the 1990s are alive in Portland, this is where the 1990s punker scene lives, frozen in time.

The weather was unusually warm in Portland the night before Superstorm Sandy made landfall and I wanted to walk around and collect my thoughts. I checked the map and saw that it was just over a mile across the river from the hotel to get to my stand-by Portland punk rock dive bar. I set out on foot, getting to the drawbridge on SW Hawthorne just in time for the signals to trigger and the bridge to lift.

I was stuck with a group of skaters, bikers and pedestrians as a group of teenagers mocked a middle-aged man for listening to "Somebody That I Used To Know"* loudly as we all waited for the bridge to clear.

Cheap whiskey in a scratched up tumbler.
* Unfortunately the Gotye version, and not the Elliott Smith version, which not only would have been more appropriate for a man of a certain age to be blasting with their windows open but would have been a nod to Portland, Oregon, where Smith lived for many years, recorded his first albums and befriended Portland auteur Gus Van Sant, who directed many of Smith's videos.**

** I'm telling you, Celine Dion*** robbed him during the 1997 Oscars when "My Heart Will Go On" bested "Miss Misery." Eff Celine Dion and eff The Titanic! How do you like them apples?

*** According to Mary Lou Lord, Celine Dion was very gracious and was one of the few people who made an effort to be nice to Elliott during the Oscars that year, so, good on her. Lord: "She took him under her wing, (and on her arm) and made him feel totally welcome."

Anyway, when the bridge drew close I made my way slowly across, not trying to  freak out that I was walking across a bridge, which I find terrifying. A pair of girls on inline skates passed me, offering "race you!"

"Sorry ladies, I've got photos to take... for the blog!"

A Portland moment.

I arrived at Gil's Speakeasy Tavern to find that it was Bingo Night (every Monday, so I am told). I didn't play, and if I had I could have won rubber lizards, moth balls, ping pong paddles and a water gun during the game rounds I stayed for.

"Three beef tacos, hard and a Deschutes Porter," I ordered, "and a shot of whiskey."

"Sorry, the beef tacos are 86'd, tempeh okay?"

"Sure thing, thanks."


3 hard-shell tacos, $1. You expected gourmet?
The food varies depending on the day, but Monday is taco night. Perhaps they are bucking tradition. The Ramones droned on, followed by the Clash and eventually settled on a more agreeable mix of Television and Gang of Four.

But by then I'd had enough Ramones for one night. I would be back the next night, with the Portland contingent of my 1990s Coventry Village clique, Kay, Riley and Tac, my sister (who by the 1990s had fled Ohio) and my pal Lisa, a Norcal native.

Tuesday was Trivia Night, and we were catching the tail end of it. 20-something participants struggled to name songs of the 80s and 90s as we looked on and collectively felt old.

We drank beer and rehashed the bad old days. I can't fault the Speakeasy for being a place that makes one nostalgic: decades of tags, band and bar stickers on every surface, dingy couches and loveseats, a jukebox that plays actual CDs, cheap beer, cheap whiskey and punk rock.

Unlike previous visits I was out long before last call, half blind on whiskey and craving Sizzle Pie.

Maybe there's something to this getting older business?


Gil's Speakeasy Tavern
609 Southeast Taylor Street
Portland, OR 97214

Deschutes Brewery


  1. <3 Just now got to read this, and yes. There's something to that getting older business. I'd still have joined you for a drink there, of course...


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