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.
It’s the darkest time of the year at the end of a rough 2016. During times like these, it’s nice to have a cozy neighborhood bar as refuge from the cold weather, rising rent prices and depressing politics.
The High Water Mark Lounge resides in North Portland at the intersection of NE Dekum and Martin Luther King Blvd., in the Woodlawn Neighborhood. It used to be the Cafe Alchemy, one of the small daytime businesses dotting the area. Two years ago, it transformed into a night creature that the neighborhood needed, a bar with a covered fire pit, delicious vegan food and cathartic black metal.
The High Water Mark specializes in dark and heavy, meaning it hosts punk, post-punk, metal and goth shows more than anything else. But more styles and genres pop up. The venue also showcases stand-up comedy, Tuesday night Backdoor Karaoke and queer dance parties. Most shows are 21+, but they are all-ages until 8 p.m., so High Water Mark occasionally holds early events. For a smaller venue, the sound setup is more than adequate, and sound engineer/booker Chris Trumpower is always augmenting and improving it.
“We just like to keep it underground and relevant,” Trumpower says.
The menu is also constantly being updated. Food is a huge focus at HWM. Vegans drive from all over the city to sample the specialty menu. For the carnivorous, the kitchen offers locally sourced meats that are smoked on site. There isn’t a fancy cocktail menu, but there is a full bar and experienced bartenders who can whip up whatever you desire.
Many regular customers are folks who used to live around Alberta or farther south, but are being pushed out of the city by increasing rent and property values in more central Portland.
“We’re happy to provide a watering hole and venue for the rockers, queers, artists and activists who are having a harder and harder time finding a chill spot to hear some underground tunes and have a few drinks without emptying their wallet,” Trumpower says.
Plus, being directly on MLK makes it easy for folks traveling from farther away to find HWM, and it’s a straight shot on the bus from the Southeast.
The name High Water Mark was inspired by Vanport, Oregon, a city known for being blue collar, mixed race, and having a seedy underbelly of gambling, prostitution, and other fun illegal activities … but was flooded out when the levee broke in 1948. Some suspected the City of Portland saw the demise of Vanport coming, but didn’t do all it could to prevent the flood or inform the citizens in time to evacuate.
On a lighter note, MLK has always been a benchmark of elevation for the city. The venue’s sign reads “To Hell Or High Water” with the rune standing for “rebirth”as the logo.
“We plan on surviving the storm,” Trumpower says.»
– Brandy Crowe