Portland is a marvelous food city. If there is one thing it does best, it’s comfy dive bars.
The Lutz Tavern is iconic. Yes, there was more dive bar credibility under the original ownership, and there are those who complain that a remodel has polished away some of its 1940’s dive bar esthetic. We don’t mind a touch-up. This place smells fresher than most dives. Besides, any lost charm is worth the addition of the kitchen. The food is good, and not just dive-bar good.
For better or worse, the Lutz is best known for helping to popularize Pabst Blue Ribbon for a new generation of drinkers. The struggling brand found a home-base here, and its popularity soon spread to all of Portland, and then across the world (PBR is now one of the best selling beers in China). This happened back when the bar’s kitchen cooked only the microwavable minimum to satisfy Oregon law, which states that bars must serve “hot food.”The tavern might now be more famous for its deliciously salty food than its salty bartenders.
The burgers are bar fare with creative toppings. Grass-fed beef and brioche buns make for a good starting point, but the other ingredients are thoughtful and locally inspired. Cheddar is Tillamook, hot sauces are made in-house. The Backdraft Burger comes with pepper jack, chipotle aioli, and grilled jalapeños. Onion rings are soaked in “satan” sauce. Shoestring fries are fresh, hot, crunchy, and well-seasoned.
The pork tenderloin sandwich is a golden taste of the heartland — a pork cutlet pounded thin with hearty panko breading. It comes bedecked with bright yellow mustard and pickle chips, on the traditional inadequately-sized roll. It is tender, juicy and served fresh from the fryer.
Lutz does everything with extra care and pride. Tots, onion rings, and grilled cheese with caramelized onions are all a step above normal dive bar fare. The food and the decor are models of how to effectively update a classic bar without stripping out the soul.
Along with better food, the bar’s drinks have been upgraded as well with a selection of Bourbons and local craft beers. And there’s still Pabst. Even a can of Pabst deserves good food.