Portland boasts a thriving live music scene, and the city’s unusual urban mixture of nightlife and residential districts means that unassuming neighborhood bars and galleries are often the best places to catch impassioned performances from talented local and touring musicians. Many of these hidden gems are known locally for their offerings within a particular genre, but visitors might miss them entirely if they didn’t know where to look. Up your indie cred with these under-the-radar music venues.
If you love: Bluegrass and Americana
Go to: Laurelthirst Public House
This low-key, homey bar is a neighborhood favorite for a nightly selection of the kind of folksy Americana and bluegrass that pairs perfectly with a cold pint and a cozy, comfortable atmosphere. The Laurelthirst Pub typifies the small-town vibe with big city possibility that longtime Portlanders cherish; patrons can sip locally brewed IPAs and marvel at an undiscovered finger-picking savant one night, and catch a Decemberists side project the next.
If you love: Punk
Go to: The Know
Across the street from Salt & Straw on Northeast Alberta lies a vestige of an older Portland, a town known for raw and explosive punk acts, not just sourced artisanal desserts. The straightforward atmosphere, no-nonsense bartenders and heavy-hitting lineup of shows at The Know—regularly featuring acts like local pop-punk favorites Lee Corey Oswald and rock & rollers Summer Cannibals—makes for a welcome breath of fresh air in the Alberta Arts district.
If you love: Jazz
Go to: Jimmy Mak’s
The city’s premier jazz club, Jimmy Mak’s is a destination for the best jazz musicians in the world. Weekly residencies by legendary drummer Mel Brown and nationally renowned contemporary jazz guitarist Dan Balmer fill out a schedule that’s replete with appearances from some of the brightest names in the national scene. Expect top-class talent improvising dazzling solos mere feet from the audience.
If you love: Psych rock and garage rock
Go to: The Liquor Store
You can’t throw a distortion pedal in Portland without hitting a garage or psych rock band. Nostalgia for the ‘60s and ‘70s has been a dominant trend in the city’s indie rock community for the better part of the last decade. Though the Liquor Store — a relatively new addition to Southeast Belmont — offers a wide variety of live music, it’s quickly become an anchor for the long hair and longer guitar pedal chains of Portland’s more experimental rock acts like Psychomagic or AAN.
If you love: Soul, funk and R&B
Go to: Goodfoot
One of Portland’s best dance parties is tucked away under a pool hall on a fairly quiet stretch of Southeast Stark Street. When DJs aren’t spinning disco and soul hits on old 45s, The Goodfoot Pub and Lounge offers up a giddily cacophonous calendar of the city’s best groove-centric bands, from the modern funk of trumpeter Farnell Newton to the retro R&B of Ural Thomas & the Pain.
If you love: All-ages punk and metal
Go to: Black Water Bar
Northeast Broadway’s Black Water is one of the few venues in the thriving but largely underground all-ages scene that also offers alcohol for patrons 21 and older. Rave-worthy vegan cheeseburgers and a proudly untamed metal bar aesthetic make the perfect backdrop for the unapologetically loud, raucous guitar music from groups like punk up-and-comers Blowout that graces the stage most nights.
If you love: Up-and-coming local acts
Go to: Rontoms Sunday Sessions
Six nights a week, well-coiffed hipsters flock to Rontoms like moths to a porch light. But on Sunday evenings, the candlelit tables are pulled back to make room for a showcase of Portland’s best emerging acts, which span the retro pop of New Move, the lo-fi folk of Little Wings, the heavy psych of Cambrian Explosion and everything in between. It’s the Central Eastside’s weekly coming-out party for the local music names you’re about to see everywhere.