There's a homey feel to a dive bar on Sunday nights - relaxed and warm, and vaguely lonely but still optimistic. It’s the night that some of the bars even offer up a “Sunday Dinner” kind of spread to enhance the family feeling. Roast turkey, prime rib, that kind of thing. American memory triggers. Orbiting the tavernlife universe with Taco Tuesdays, of course.

It’s a Sunday night around 10:30pm in mid-November and I’m leaving a friend’s house, deep in Portlandistan. 10:30pm on a Sunday being the time when responsible people go to bed after enjoying a fine and fulfilling social time, so of course I’m walking into the Lion’s Eye at 82nd & Woodstock. The bar’s sign always makes me think of a gaming store, because it looks more like a chess knight than a lion’s eye. Driving past for a couple years, it took me awhile to realize it’s a bar, I’m that stupid and stuck in my assumptions.

Sunday night bar crowds are an interesting kind of demographic. It certainly leans more toward the people whose lives are lived around the bar, the “regulars.” There’s a homey feel to a dive bar at that time – relaxed and warm, and vaguely lonely but still optimistic. It’s the night that some of the bars even offer up a “Sunday Dinner” kind of spread to enhance the family feeling. Roast turkey, prime rib, that kind of thing. American memory triggers. Orbiting the tavernlife universe with Taco Tuesdays, of course.

The Lion’s Eye is a quite grungy place, but in a comfortable way, if you know what I mean. It’s dirty but a friendly enough kind of dirt, similar to the Speakeasy and the Korner Pocket. Well, maybe not the Korner Pocket, that place is downright noxious. The Speakeasy and Mad Hanna’s, let’s say instead.

On a Sunday night, some bars will feel even cleaner than usual. Maybe it’s from some overdue janitorial attention at the start of the week; maybe it’s the weekday clientele themselves who make it feel grungy. But on Sunday it’s the core of “regular-family-Sunday-nighters.”  The vibe is different.

The Glass House Tavern at Sandy & 97th (Home of the 7am Happy Hour) is like that on a Sunday night. If you go in, you’ll find it surprisingly clean, bordering, at times, on fresh.   “Surprisingly clean” meaning that it’s cleaner than you’d generalize, based on its central-Sandy location.  You’d likely make the assumption that the joint will be icky by observing the unique synergy created when you combine a 7am happy hour bar with the first freeway off-ramp after the airport with the bus transit center with an Econo Lodge on one corner which primarily hosts a stream of hookers, and on the other corner, a former Rodeway Inn which is now a homeless shelter. You might very well make assumptions about its cleanliness based on the fact that there’ve been a dozen shootings and at least two fatalities in and around that intersection (that I immediately recall without googling).

Why, you presumptuous snob.

Everything is relative.  Given that there have been four people killed and a couple dozen wounded right behind my back fence (at press time) – you could legitimately, mathematically, say that standing in the parking lot of the Glass House is twice as safe as standing within any 50-foot radius of my backyard.  

And even sadder to say – the Glass House bathroom is, on average, cleaner than my own… like old lady tavern owner clean. I once relaxed in the Glass House on a Sunday night, watching a “Seinfeld” episode that revolved around the extinct concept of waiting to use a pay phone. It was as relaxed and still as any living room or dormitory common room where I would have watched the original episode back in the 1990’s.  

Why is it called the Glass House?  I assume because it’s the bar closest to the Owens glass plant, which has been proudly spewing toxins into the air since 1956.  

Another extraordinarily clean dive bar, despite its clientele, is the Ace Tavern at Sandy & Prescott. I’m often asked if I want a “date” in the parking lot, which I assume is not due to my urbane charm.

Truth be told, I don’t go to the Ace Tavern anymore since they got rid of the pool table. In business for many decades, the Ace Tavern’s massive mahogany bar is actually wood salvaged from a turn-of-the-century Columbia River shipwreck. And in spite of the sign with playing cards, the Ace Tavern was actually named for the real-life WWI flying ace who opened it in the 1930’s.

In Pandemic Time of 2020 – 2021 pool tables and dart boards actually became illegal in Multnomah County to reduce viral transmission. It was rather ironic, because Oregon Measure 110 went into effect January 2021, which decriminalized hard drugs. So – crack and meth became legal, billiards became illegal. Many bars removed their vacant pool tables, replaced them with a few more eating tables and chairs, and have never gone back. There’s been a dramatic contraction in the number of pool tables around Portland. Which for me is personally a bummer because I used to consider Park City Pub my “local bar” with good shooters and also good food & daily specials… but without a pool table, a dive bar might as well be a coffee shop for me. Skip.

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The Lion’s Eye has pool tables with black felt. No matter how good the table or quality of the cloth, black felt still has an Axe Body Spray vibe. Deviating from the traditional green felt is always a risk. Ambiance generated by other felt colors:

Red = Classy & Suave

Dark Blue = Sports bar that only serves frozen deep fryer food

Light Blue (“Tournament Blue”) = Serious pool bar. Blue is even easier on the eyes than green. Most likely the color to be found on Diamond bar boxes.

Purple = Trying way too hard

Tan = Senior citizen center

* * *

The Lion’s eye has a handful and a half of people on this night. A couple at the bar, a couple at the gambling computers… I am told the only available food is Hot Pockets so I get just a beer and some quarters for the pool table, of which there are two, one unoccupied and one occupied. I take the unoccupied table which I guess makes it occupied now.

The other occupied one is in use by a couple lesbians who are discussing their upcoming Thanksgiving plans… during the conversation, I ascertain that the mother of one hates the other girlfriend, while on the flipside, the hated girl’s family can’t even know she’s a lesbian, period. They both look like Portland Hipster Leather Jacket Lesbians from blocks away, so her family must be committed to denial.

Every so often the bartender comes over to pound on the men’s room door and tell the occupant to hurry up and get out. It gives me the impression he’s been in there quite awhile.

The lesbians who are shooting on the pool table which is closest to the bathroom door – a few feet away, really – join in the chorus of “get out of the bathroom” and the general interest of him getting out of the bathroom becomes a wider topic of conversation around the whole Lion’s Eye.

Of course, every person’s assumption is that he’s in there shooting drugs…. probably nodded out on the crapper…. But I do want to double-check on this so I can stay objective and not be presumptuous about the situation, especially after my consumption of beers & weed which happened prior to 10pm (on a Sunday night which is when respectable people retire until Monday morning & etcetera…) which could make me misjudge the situation.

“Errr… Is he shooting up in there?” I ask.

“Either that or taking a whore bath,” replies the lesbian whose parents can’t know.

Which is actually a good point, the whore bath. It’s just as likely a scenario, given I’ve been around barroom bathrooms where that also happened.

The bartender comes over again and knocks on the door with the loudest and most intentional raps. “Hey, people want to get in there!” she shouts at the door, which is untrue, but it does kind of shift the focus from not merely the bartender wanting to get him out, but the way he’s impacting the wider Lion’s Eye Tavern community. Some good ol’ Portland guilt.

The other lesbian, who appears mixed race and whose style is a blend of pachuco and lumberjack, jokes that maybe she should call the police and use her “scared white girl voice” to coax them over, because we all know that the report of a dude shooting up in a dive bar bathroom doesn’t rank high on the PPB triage. She demonstrates an imaginary call for us and it’s spot on. It went something like – “…Hello, police? I want to report? A person making me very uncomfortable? in the bathroom? I think he’s doing drugs?….”

And then all unexpectedly the bathroom door opens and the guy steps out and he explains to the bartender, halfway coherently and halfway not, that he was trying to unclog the toilet with the plunger in the bathroom, which seems like a thin excuse.  He hustles sheepishly and directly out the front door.  Having been on the receiving end of bathroom door percussion the past 20 minutes he senses very little hospitality to be had at the Lion’s Eye tonight.

A minute and a half later when the stench hits us, everyone in the local vicinity wishes it really had been dope.

The bartender tapes an “out of order” sign on the door, and I ask permission to use the women’s room before heading home.


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