Dodging Portlandia-fication: Laurelthirst Public House
I started playing gigs when I was 18. The first gig I ever played was at the Star E. Rose on NE Alberta Street in Portland. You couldn’t call it a club, really. It was a friendly coffee shop with a few scattered tables and chairs, and a raised area in the front window that acted as a stage. I often had to kick coffee-drinkers off the “stage” in order to start my show. That part of town is incredibly hip now, but back then it was just another affordable neighborhood. Even in the 1990s, Portland had a good number of great venues, but the vast majority of them were – and remain – closed off to anyone under the age of 21. As a young musician, it was incredibly frustrating that I wasn’t allowed to work anywhere without the word “coffee” in its title. I would drive down NE Glisan wondering what kind of fun they were having at the Laurelthirst.
When I came of age, so to speak, I started playing all over the city and quickly fell in love with the bohemian vibe at the Laurelthirst. Named for one of the sweetest parks in Northeast Portland, Laurelhurst, the Thirst is everything a down-home dive bar should be. Tasty burgers, a lineup of local beers, comfortable vibe, and a nice stage. There are pool tables, but they’re in a completely different room. That’s one of the reasons I love playing at the Thirst – it’s not a precious sit-down listening room, but they did make the conscious effort to put something loud and distracting like a pool table in a separate part of the house from the music. This is a place where the same people have been going to dance to the Freak Mountain Ramblers for over 30 years, and it’s one of the only venues I’ve played where the audience will readily dance to my folk songs.
There has been a bar on that corner since 1939, when it was called Glen’s Blue Keg. Now booked by long-haired local guitar hero Lewi Longmire, the Thirst has been home to some of Portland’s greatest local musicians, including Lewi himself.
Even amid the swift “Portlandia-fication” of this once-mellow blue-collar port town, I sincerely doubt that the Laurelthirst will ever succumb to the disappointing changes a lot of our favorite establishments have seen. In the 12 years I’ve been patronizing this bar, it has always had the same good vibes and amazing music.