A Truly Secret Bar
Back in the day, about 18 years ago to be more exact, I was in a band. The band, Pedro Luz, played a PDX-version of brit pop (yes, I know that seems a bit odd). Nevertheless, we did pretty well and even got to represent good ol’ Portland at SxSW in 2000. After a few years of toiling we got our pick of the smaller clubs, getting Saturday nights at Berbati’s, Satyricon, Tonic Lounge, etc. However, what brings up this bit of local music past is not my band, but one club we used to play at that no longer sports live music (due to a gang-involved shooting). The club? The Belmont Inn. Sure you’ve probably been there, set on the corner of 33rd and S.E. Belmont. It’s a great place indeed with good food and a great neighborhood vibe. But thanks to a lucky gig we got picked for (opening up for the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies), we learned of a very secretive hangout spot beneath the club, beneath the streets.
Perhaps you were from this time, hitting the clubs in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Maybe The Belmont Inn was one of your haunts and you know all about this secret little cavern of a spot? Well, here’s the story: It used to be that where the bathrooms are there is a hallway. Guys on one side, gals on the other. But at the very end of the space there was a broom closet. Yes, you’d open this door and you’d see just a bunch of cleaning stuff, mops, brooms, cleaner, etc. You’d think that’s all it was. However, if you were “in the know” (and we became as such on the night we opened the Daddie’s gig), if you picked your way past all of the stuff you’d find a staircase…going down. Pretty creepy if you didn’t know what it was, or if you didn’t have a good light. But that said, we were led down there by the Daddie’s band members, into what they said was the secret green room.
We got down the stairs and found this vast area, which seemingly stretched out in different directions underneath the club and probably the streets. It was very interesting. And in the middle of it all was the walled off area that had colored lights pouring out of the cracks…the green room. We entered and WOW, what a scene. All kinds of groupies, band members, posters, drinks…candles, funky lights…a scene straight out of 1968. We were enthralled. This seemed like a “real rock n’ roll” location…and we were there by the invite of some nationally recognized rock stars. Yes, the Daddie’s were big at this time and were playing this smaller venue as a give back to the locals that helped make them famous. Awesome chance for us to open as the place had a line around the block. Anyways, after hanging a bit, we went up and did our thing. It was a great night that saw us drinking back down below.
So Why Now?
So why tell this story now? Because I just read this really cool article in the Portland Monthly that highlighted a secret bar that, while across the street, is accessed in an eerily similar way. According to the article, if you go into the bar Circa 33, there is a hallway there that leads to the bathrooms. At the end of the hallway is a library wall…which is false. Direct from the article, read on:
Go on the right night (i.e., a Thursday through Saturday, and when the space isn’t already booked for a private event), enter the right code in the right book on the right shelf at the end of the hall by the bathrooms, and enjoy Circa 33’s classic cocktails in a leather-appointed speakeasy complete with a shuffleboard table. - PDX Monthly, 12/18/18
Seeing this article just brought me all the way back. Makes me wonder what still lies at the end of the Belmont Inn’s bathroom hall (probably all locked up now)? But apparently this whole area has a long history from the prohibition era. Many hidden-away drinking spots, many places to stash contraband liquor. Well, I haven’t yet been to Circa 33 in order to crack the back room code…but indeed I will soon be going.