At first blush a newcomer to our City of Roses might be confused about our drinking establishments. “What”, he or she might ask, “are the differences between a pub, a bar, and a tavern? Or are there any?” To which some liquor-fixated folks may reply “Nuhthin', they all serve booze.” This response is erroneous of course, like saying a wildlife preserve is a zoo or a motel is a homeless shelter. There is some overlap of fixtures, quaffables, and clientele here and there, but the three species are distinct.
A pub is where you go with friends and let them talk whilst sipping either a local microbrew or a pint of something from Belgium, and eating something “artisanal”. The décor tends to tasteful wood and brass elements, perhaps some sconces at the windows. Patrons often wear scarves. I even spied an ascot once, but its owner was sitting alone. It's not done to sit in a pub for longer than an hour or so unless there's a trivia quiz going on.
A bar is where you go when you want to tell strangers your opinions. The fare tends to be of the slightly fizzy macro-adjunct persuasion, to be served with something fried. There is usually at least one television, and it's never turned off, but the audio is most often indecipherable due to the arguments about what's being broadcast or about to what channel it should be tuned. The posture of a bar's patrons tend to be of the forward-pitched variety, as elbows find purchase on tables or the bar itself. Sometimes foreheads follow suit.
A tavern is the same as a bar except you stand a greater chance of being menaced with a pool cue.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, and sub-catagories that cloud the issue even more. I've found a few establishments around Portland that I really like. Call them what you will.
The Horse Brass is my favorite English-themed pub. Having never traveled to England I can't speak to its authenticity, but the atmosphere works for me. They do a nice fish'n'chips, and the Scotch egg is NOMZ. They also have all my favorite beers from across the pond. It gets crowded in there of a weekend, so you have to be mindful of chairlegs and elbows on the way to and from the loo.
I like Thirsty Lion too. Good burgers! They have pub trivia every Monday night starting at 7pm and live local music on Tuesdays. Plus you get to go downtown, which for me is always interesting. One cool element is that on warm nights they open all the doors so that you almost feel more outside than inside. The waitresses in the Thirsty Lion all dress like the girls in those Robert Palmer videos (sans the heavy eyeshadow). I keep forgetting to ask why.
Gustav's Bier Stube is a great place if you enjoy a nice hefeweizen with a heavenly huge soft pretzel (you'll want to go home and toss that bag of funny crackers in the bin, I kid you not) or a schnitzel that insists you forget all the jokes you've heard that mentions the name of this awesome foodstuff and just cram your face with it. Never had a mopey server there either, they all seem happy to be there.
The Alibi Restaurant and Lounge ( at 4024 N Interstate Ave) is a place I love. It's the kind of bar you feel you should sneak in and out of. Tiki out the wazoo. Sit in a booth in a corner, hunch over a drink, preferably in a trenchcoat. If you aren't there for nefarious purposes, then at least have the decency to look like you are. They have sticky fruity drinks in there (Blue Hawaiian!) that remind me of misspent youth striving desperately to like disco so that girls would like me. You have to be tolerant of the dubious drinky social phenomenon called karaoke. I'm always slightly disappointed no one chooses to sing “Copacabana”.
Man, writing is thirsty work!