Nobody denies that one of the things Portland is known for is how great its music scene is. But for people who haven’t experienced it first-hand, their impression of it might be a mix of a Portlandia-inspired, woodsy hipster, left-wing fever dream with a dash of confusion about that other city in Maine.
The reality is, Portland has a incredibly vibrant and diverse music scene that pulls from a variety of genres and a history that predates the massive growth and gentrification the city has seen in recent years. That music scene is reflected particularly in its venues, both the institutions and the new ones looking to do justice to the city’s music.
So if you truly want to experience the breadth of what Portland has to offer, these are the seven venues you have to visit.
Since 2003, this innovative music and arts space has been blending all different genres of music with high-concept art and multimedia installations to create mind-bending experiences for concert-goers.
The two-level space is a former auto warehouse that gives every show an industrial feel and is great for dancing.
Also, if you’re in the mood for food and something fancier than beer, the innovation at Holocene also extends to their taco menu and their creative cocktail options.
1001 SE Morrison Street
Portland, OR 97214
Check out our interview with Holocene’s Gina Altamura.
2) Roseland Theater
In the Rose City, this venue smack in the middle of Chinatown has been a staple of the music scene since 1982. Now owned and operated by Double Tee Concerts, this former church space plays host to a chaotic mix of musical acts of all sizes, from small and local to national headliners, and the occasional cage fight too.
The setup is ideal for concert-goers of all ages (well, most ages, since it’s generally a bad idea to bring babies to concerts) since the 21+ bar area upstairs is separate from the main floor, but still provides great views of the action downstairs.
Oh and the venue might be haunted, if you’re into that sort of thing. If you’re not, pretend I didn’t say anything and definitely don’t look up why it’s haunted.
8 NW 6th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209
3) No Vacancy Lounge
This is a brand new venue in Portland, but don’t mistake them for party neophytes. People in the know in Portland’s underground scene recognize this name as one of the city’s best parties. Now, they’ve found a permanent home and they’re hitting the ground running.
The Art Deco inspired space evokes the speakeasies of the ’20s and even has Prohibition-style touches like membership-only liquor lockers and a private lounges. It is also quickly becoming a destination as a music space, particularly for up-and-coming electronic acts.
No Vacancy Lounge
235 SW 1st Aveune
Portland, OR 97204
Some become famous because they’re institutions that become pillars in society and some become famous because of their fleeting nature and their mystique. Verified is definitely one of the latter.
Despite not technically being a venue, not having much of a web presence outside of a sparse Facebook page, this party is subject to wild anticipation by Portland’s underground insiders and when they do show up, they get the word out.
If you manage to catch one of Verified’s parties, it’ll be a night you’ll never forget. Keep an eye out for announcements.
5) Take Warning
Take Warning, like Verified, is also technically a promoter, not a venue. You can find many of their shows at The Analog Cafe and Theater, but they’re all around the city. These guys are proudly independent promoters putting on shows in Portland (and Seattle) and bringing the best to the Pacific Northwest before the big corporate promoters can get them.
So if you’re on the hunt for some of the best curated set of artists and you want to support indie promoters, be sure to frequent Take Warning shows.
The Analog Cafe and Theater
720 SE Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214
6) Bunk Bar
This is a sandwich shop with six locations around Portland. They offer such delicious offerings as a pork belly Cubano, a fried chicken sandwich, a bacon, egg & cheese, and… wait what were we talking about?
Oh right, their Water Avenue location is a particularly special one because not only are there the sandwiches served with their trademark sass, it’s also a world-class music venue and bar. This converted warehouse offers music alongside pinball and under the watch of a giant mural, giving the space a casual feel that’s perfect for listening to the next big band, be it rock, pop, folk, or something completely different.
1028 SE Water Avenue
Portland, OR 97214
7) Mississippi Studios
Admittedly, despite the name, this place is not an actual recording studio that hosts live music. However, the real story might be even more interesting. The space is a former church right in the heart of the historic Mississippi District. The space was taken over by a group of musicians in 2003 and today continues to be owned and operated by local artists to support other artists.
It’s a well-designed space for music with custom, non-parallel walls and a state-of-the art analog booth. There’s also an adjacent bar with great burgers and drinks, a couple of all-weather patios, and a secret garden.
3939 N Mississippi Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
Go out tonight, and any night. Jukely is a concert subscription that gives members guestlist access to hundreds of music events – for one price. Whenever you want to go out, you’ll always have something to do. Learn more and sign up at jukely.com.