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 hard to escape the connection of The Byrds song with the same name, but the owner of Turn! Turn! Turn!, Scott Derr, says that when taking over 8 NE Killingsworth back in 2014, the title just conceptually fit with what they were trying to do.
Turn! Turn! Turn! (or affectionately abbreviated T3 or Triple Turn), was preceded by Record Room. Where Record Room was a record store with beer, Turn! Turn! Turn! was created to be a bar with records. Derr, a former high school social studies teacher, also wanted to provide books, zines and an impressive selection of rotating taps.
It’s really a music-inspired variety shop, housing a mini-record store along with food, fashion and eclectic events. The bar serves up brews like the Wild Ride Electri-fly IPA, a cocktail menu, and an array of veggie snacks and sandwiches, like the house pastrami monikered “The Silver Tongued Devil.” Grab a drink and sift through a rack of vintage apparel (which during my visit included a leather satchel and cowgirl boots), or retreat to the corners and read old, well-maintained music periodicals like WET and Music Express. Of course, there are also a few rows of vinyl to peruse, along with a turntable to have a listen. At one time, vintage audio equipment was also for sale, but it just took up too much room.
“The space used to be a lot more compartmentalized,” says Derr. “We realized our best bet for survival was having more regular bands that brought people in every night.”
Derr says a lot of bands particularly enjoy the room’s sound and “house-vibe.” They set up on the floor at the same level as the audience, and everyone hears the pure quality of the music through the band’s amps, rather than through larger speakers. There is an average of four or five shows a week, many all-ages, and running the gamut from well-known indie rock to experimental and totally improvised. Working with The Creative Music Guild, a nonprofit that supports local experimental artists, and also brings in East Coast and international acts, they present the twice monthly CMG Outset series. There are also multimedia and interactive events with Kick Ass Oregon History, as well as poetry readings and stand-up comedy.
“We book a broad variety of music that is less formal, less official,” Derr says.
A lot of rare entertainment experiences occur here, like a recent show with saxophonist Ralph Carney, who has played with The B-52’s and Tom Waits, or the evening with “first rock critic” and author Richard Meltzer. One forthcoming calendar highlight is a reissue of what Derr calls a “beautiful protest record” by Lavender Country, which released what is considered the first openly gay country album in the early ’70s. They’re returning to play Portland for the first time in four decades.
What binds it all is a sense of the non-traditional. Some of these acts might have a hard time finding a place to play, while you might never expect to see others in such a small setting. It’s all perfectly unique and Turn! Turn! Turn! showcases it in a comfortable, intimate setting.»
– Brandy Crowe