Ambiance can be just as important to a bar’s appeal as its menu, and sometimes you want more than just a drink — you want a full-blown immersive experience. Take a break from the real world with the help of these seven themed bars in Portland.
Whatever the weather outside, you can step into a tropical paradise at Hale Pele, where the tiki drinks range from creamy and fruity to tangy and literally on fire. A volcano rating system denotes how close each drink will get you to blowing your top, and though it’s tempting to start strong, sipping a mild piña colada while taking in the ambiance (we’re talking floor-to-ceiling Hawaiian island theme, complete with periodic “thunderstorms”) will have you swaying like a palm tree in a warm breeze. As a delightful touch, the whole place smells of baking spices and burnt rum, thanks to liberal use of cinnamon on top of their fiery drinks, which launch sparkling flames high enough to tickle the faux-thatched ceiling.
Walking into the TARDIS Room is akin to suddenly finding yourself in the basement of the world’s biggest Doctor Who fan — but with much better food. Cardboard cutouts of tenth doctor David Tennant, Dalek-themed posters and blue phone booth lamps adorn the dark bar, giving it a homey (and homemade) feel. The small blue tables are perfect for a spirited debate over the best doctor, and the battered cod from the adjoining Fish and Chips Shop is perfect brain food for their regular trivia nights. (If you want to eat like the doctor, you can even order fish fingers and custard or some jammie dodgers.)
If you’ve ever dreamed of running away with the circus, Funhouse Lounge is your bar. Nightly main-stage entertainment runs the gamut of “fringe” theater and includes burlesque shows, stand-up comedy, improv performances and live game shows. In the adjoining Bar and Clown Room, grab a beer or a shot — there are no cocktails here, so go hard or go hops — and admire the dozens upon dozens of (semi-creepy) clown portraits that line the walls.
Tighten your corset, lace up your boots and get ready to dance at the Lovecraft, Portland’s premier horror-themed bar. Live and DJ-ed goth, industrial, new wave, EBM and electro music fills the eerily lit space, which is centered around a small dance floor. Surrounded by paintings of Chtulhu, H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacled beast, child-sized coffins and voodoo shrines on all sides, the bar serves cocktails, beer, an impressive tea list and seitan sandwiches from local company Snackrilege.
Nothing beats making friends over a game of four-way Pac-Man. Like a living museum of ‘80s and ‘90s arcade games, Ground Kontrol combines your favorite thing about being a kid (gaming) with your favorite thing about being an adult (drinking). Have an argument to settle? Pop a couple quarters into the Marvel versus Capcom machine and let Wolverine do the talking.
As much a Southern, pre-Prohibition-era museum as it is a bar, the Bible Club takes vintage Americana to a whole new level; almost everything in it was made in the U.S.A. at least 80 years ago; even the nondescript yellow house in which it sits dates back to 1922. The bar has a low-key, speakeasy vibe, serving beautifully crafted cocktails on lace doilies so precious that your grandma would shout “Amen!”
With decor loosely based on George Orwell’s book 1984, the pro-propaganda ambience at Victory Bar reflects an unapologetic attitude about serving what they want, including a hefty number of rare, imported beers and gastropub menu items that definitely aren’t gluten-free or vegan-friendly. This high-end dive bar’s hot toddies have rightfully earned top-menu billing, and their twists on classic cocktails are as delicious as they are unpretentious (which is to say, very).