For almost 30 years, Laurelthirst Public House has been building a sense of community centered around folk, bluegrass and Americana music in Portland. It’s got the spotlight in this month’s Know Your Venue feature.
When we visited The Know on Alberta Street a year ago, its future was uncertain. Closure was looming due to the sale of the building in which the DIY dive bar and rock venue had resided for over a decade. There was talk of moving to a new location, but where? And would it be the same?
It hurt when The Know permanently closed its old doors, and the hunt for a new space lasted for months. After checking out several locations in Northeast, owner Ryan Stowe serendipitously found a vacancy near the busy corner of NE Sandy Boulevard and Halsey Street.
As he tells it, “I stopped at the light and looked over and said, ‘Hey that used to be The Blackbird! I used to go there all the time, and it’s empty?’ The next day our realtor got ahold of the owners, and we were in here checking it out.”
The building has a musical history. It recently housed the jazz club Mazza’s, and before that, Tony Starlight’s. It had also been a punk bar called The Blackbird, a place where Stowe had seen and played shows.
During The Know’s hiatus, its longtime crew of bartenders and musicians (which includes three fourths of the band Divers) was nervous.
“I thought that there was no way we were going to find a place that felt like home,” says bartender Jen Hackworth. “But then we came here and were like, ‘Oh, this is it. This is The Know. It’s perfect.’”
The new digs have much the same lived-in vibe as the former location. While the building is still a work in progress, it was practically move-in ready. The bar and performance space are still divided, except the new space is twice the size, with a large curved bar at the entrance and the stage raised in the corner of the room. As per usual for The Know, the show calendar is packed. As a supporter of emerging bands, the venue books a lot of new names, as well as familiar ones like Woolen Men and a one-time-only reunion of The Estranged on April 21.
More room means more room for pinball and trippy monster art (expect a lot of art events to complement the music). The biggest change was a huge goal in the transition: a bigger bar with a full kitchen. Sure, you can still have the mixed nuts, but now the venue is open earlier and serves breakfast. The full menu is still under construction, but it will include lots of vegan and vegetarian options and rotating late-night food and drink specials.
It’s only been a month now, but in a way the venue has come full circle as the new The Know. Many of the Alberta regulars live in the neighborhood, and there’s rock music in the old Blackbird again. On a recent Friday night, a guy with spiked hair and jacket was working the door, and inside was the sound of clinking glasses and loud, fuzzy guitar. The place was packed with familiar faces.
Hackworth emphasizes that all are welcome: “Some people may hear we are a punk bar and don’t think to stop in. We do have a lot of punk shows, but we have a weird mix of interests. We are also just a neighborhood bar.”»