This neighborhood mainstay has always been The Tonic, no matter what the sign out front said. In this month’s Know Your Venue feature, we welcome back The Tonic Lounge and explore its owners’ future plans.
The supposed inscription at the entrance of Hell reads “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate” or “Abandon All hope, ye who enter here.” Welcome to the underworld, or in this case the doors of Portland’s iconic rock den, Dante’s.
Like many of it’s Old Town neighbors, this building holds a colorful history of debauchery. It’s reputed to have changed hands between bordellos and liquor distributors before becoming punk bar The Metropolis (The Met), in the 70’s and early 80’s. Later it became a Mongolian barbeque restaurant. The fire pit from that venture remains, and this elemental detail may be one reason why the ensuing business went with the theme from Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy.
“It’s a connection to Hell!”, say’s production manager Cassandra Banton. She points out that co-owner Frank Faillace also holds stakes in Lucky Devil Lounge and has a penchant for all things horns and flames. But despite this devilish persona, he’s not so evil. “He takes great care of his employees. He takes care of local bands.” says booker Kristin Holovnia, “He always feels obligated to take care of them and he wants to maintain a place where Portland people can come to perform, even as a small venue.”
It is a smaller venue, and this makes it an intimate space to be a part of a show and meet performers and new friends. It’s dark, with red lights and round tables in front of the stage. There’s a long bar running across one side of the room close to the fire pit, and a second bar built into the bricks that used to formally divide the building. This now separates the main performance room and a quieter side, The Limbo Lounge. There is also sidewalk seating making for very interesting people watching on this side of town.
“A lot got started here”, says day manager Jason “Jonesey” Jones, “Everyone’s been through Dante’s.” Former employees include Storm Large and local punk legend Andrew Loomis from Dead Moon. This is where the Suicide Girls originated. Jones tells me that Lemmy from Motörhead was a fixture anytime he was in town, garnering his specially ordered “Lemmy Fries” from the menu. The kitchen has since turned into Lonesome’s Pizza, a walk-up window that serves gourmet slices of pizza and art until the wee hours of the morning.
Dante’s teems with creative energy and flair from old Portland. The big part of it’s community ties are the shows that kick off the beginning of every week. Sunday’s Sinferno Cabaret is a late-night church of fire-dancers, freaks, and feats. Monday night is Karaoke From Hell (karaoke with a live band), and Tuesday night you can participate in “Who’s The Ross,” Portland’s late night talk show complete with interviews, musical performances, and antics with host Aaron Ross.
Some of the weirdest and wildest fill up Dante’s calendar. Just check out June’s eclectic lineup featuring Corey Feldman, Electric Six, Tengger Cavalry, Lita Ford, Bizzie and Krayzie Bone, a beard and mustache competition, and a party for the Grand Marshall of The Starlight Parade, Portland Elvis. Hell is fun. »