These days, it’s not just a taphouse for Olympia beer, it doesn’t just cater to bikers, but Kelly’s Olympian does exude the character and novelty of it’s rich history, being the third-oldest continually operated bar in Portland. The public house was founded in 1902 as “The Olympian Saloon,” with assistance from the beer established six years prior. The name of one of the first owners, “Kelly’s,” was added shortly thereafter.
A lot happens in a hundred and thirteen years, and Kelly’s Olympian has seen all sorts. Through the prohibition era, there is evidence that the downstairs area was used as a speakeasy. For decades after prohibition, the bar was popular for both locals and tourists, and especially for the working class who enjoyed the hottest card room in town. There is also a mysterious connection to the infamous Shangai Tunnels, which was rumored to have at least one outlet in the Kelly’s basement.
For the majority of it’s life, Kelly’s was owned and operated by three generations of the Powers family, a legacy that was passed on when Greg Powers sold the venue to Ben Stutz and Jeff Micheff. The new ownership expanded upon the biker-museum vibe, adding antique gas pumps, vintage photos, and the most identifiable part of Kelly’s Olympian, a dozen beautiful, fully-restored vintage motorcycles hanging from overhead. The motorcycle-novelty factor is off the charts, but Kelly’s does it without a drop of inauthenticity. With such rugged history alone, it is a fantastic place to grab a drink, but for those that enjoy burning the midnight oil, it gets even better.
One hundred and six years after its founding, a permanent music venue within the bar was introduced, though after a couple of years, it was realized that the name and prestige of “Kelly’s Olympian” was more recognizable than “The Knife Shop,” and the separate name for the music venue was dropped. While the performance space retains a modest (sub-100) capacity, it has hosted a massive variety of memorable shows, and is a true favorite for those seeking a more intimate experience with up-and-coming bands. The team behind Kelly’s venue, including long time booker/promoter/sound person Nalin Silva has been super active in promoting the local music scene and supporting independent projects like Big Ass Boombox Festival and NW Hip Hop Fest.
With all of the past and present that supplies the charm of Kelly’s Olympian, we can only hope that the motor keeps running for at least another hundred and thirteen years. »
– Richard Lime