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 Firkin Tavern is tucked into Southeast Portland. Before opening in 2011, the space was a sports bar and before that a colorful institution called The Jolly Inn, that saw a mention in the documentary Kurt & Courtney. It’s now a family owned operation, with manager David Ginotti running the bar. “I have no problem saying this at all, we’re a dive bar,” he says, “The goal for me here is to always have a place that is very comfortable, where people always feel welcome.” It’s a non-pretentious place to hang out. Dark lighting, a simple bar, Medieval Madness pinball. There’s also a huge seating area and a heated patio with lovingly graffitied picnic tables. Humble as it is, the Firkin has some charm.
During a visit, I watch Ginotti greet his patrons by name as they come inside. He knows what they want to drink before they sit down. They’re talking holiday recipes. As he pours me a shot of rumchata and sprinkles cinnamon on top, he tells me that this time of year he loves to make fancy holiday drinks–hot spanish coffees, eggnog with whisky, sparkling drinks with fresh pressed juice. The name The Firkin was meant to be a cheeky play on words thought up by David’s parents.
A firkin is a very small cask-style keg. It’s served at room temperature and only keeps for a couple of days.They are a little harder to procure, but he has one on hand (usually a popular IPA) if he expects it to be busy. Ginotti is serious about fresh beer–he keeps 14 local brews in weekly rotation. The Firkin also has a kitchen serving up fry baskets and really, really good pizza (I ordered sweet and spicy Thai pulled pork slices). Prices don’t break the bank, especially during happy hour.
The Firkin is also serious about fresh music. Bands set up in a caddy-corner stage and often pack the house. In a way, The Firkin is coming home for the holidays for our magazine. The Firkin’s first show was also ELEVEN’s first showcase with The We Shared Milk and Animal Eyes back on 11-11-11. These days Ali Muhareb, who says his former band Talkative “cut its teeth” at The Firkin, does the booking. December shows include Manx, Moon Debris, Star Club, Cockeye from Eugene, a new punk band called Lost Nerves and “apocalypse pop” from Elisa Flynn. There’s never a cover charge, but this month The Firkin will host its first benefit show for the Portland Coalition for Progressive Acts and Causes, featuring Planet Damn and Dimwit, and the bands will get to choose which non-profit organization will receive the money raised. It’s the gift of free music and giving back to the community.
It’s hard not to take advantage of the pun. Merry Firkin Christmas.