Full disclosure: While I am a “member” of this establishment, I have no stake in it, financial or otherwise. Similarly, this review is entirely unsolicited by the establishment, and all opinions are inviolably my own. The nature of my membership will be expanded upon further in the review. – BHB
Where: LIKEWISE, 3564 SE Hawthorne Blvd., SE Portland.
When you’re mostly-unemployed, you find yourself pounding pavement a lot.
Sidewalks meld together, the curbs all start to look alike, and your eyes only really respond to flashes of neon, streetlights, and window displays of things you’d love to be able to afford one day. The only things that stir you up are potential places to look for work- or places to make you feel a little better about not having it.
In short, it’s a wonderful excuse to go exploring- and I was in exactly such a state clomping down Hawthorne Boulevard a year or so ago.
Hawthorne Boulevard is a local strip comprised of bars, restaurants dedicated to various cuisines and budgets, and intriguing shops varying from the mundane stationery to exotica. The street is rife with nightlife venues- a barcade (Quarterworld), a kitschy sci-fi bar from the 50s (the Space Room), and a number of restaurants, food carts and stands ready to offer delicious boozemops for when you just need SOMETHING to get you home.
This considered, the presence of LIKEWISE is not remarkable.
It’s really the ONLY thing about LIKEWISE that is not remarkable.
Tucked between a cafe and a clothing retailer, LIKEWISE caught my attention because of its sidewalk board- “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Peeking through the front window, I saw a long narrow barroom. Pinned up on the spartan white walls was sheet after sheet of engineer’s drafting paper.
At the far end of the room, behind the five-seat bar and a beer fountain lined in bowling trophy figures, Nancy- co-owner with her husband Adam- was smiling and gesturing me in.
LIKEWISE is not a bar in the usual sense. Nancy and Adam are artists, and they envisioned Likewise to be an art installation, functioning and masquerading as a neighborhood bar. The go-to for a dedicated group of locals, friends, and artists, Nan and Adam change their bar up to fit their fancy. One day, it is a subway car, and all patrons are asking to block print a sign indicating its destination. The next, it is a museum to a little-known local baseball team from the early 1900s. During Christmas, the bar was a tree lot offering only the scrawniest, ugliest trees they could find.
The day I first walked in, the project was all Nan’s work- “Tell me something I don’t know,” and then draw or explain it in detail on the draft paper. It gets hung up, and everyone who walks in gets to learn something new. After a beer and a moment’s thought, I related an insight about writing poetry that one of my old high-school teachers, Peter Murphy, had taught me-
“If you only write when the mood strikes you, or you only write about your feelings, you will stop writing when you are 30 and never pick up a pen again. You will simply run out of feelings to write about. You either need to write about something else, or start feeling things you never did before.”
It qualified, and went up on the wall- and I found a new favorite bar.
Amusement, curiosity, and Nan and Adam’s own brand of whimsy pervades every corner of the small, welcoming space. The cocktails on their menu are intriguing, my favorite being the marvelously simple “Wickle”- being a riff on the “pickleback” practice among adventurous whiskey drinkers.
For food, they have a selection of frozen pizzas which they make no secret of purchasing from the supermarket across the street- but write up on a menu with florid language appropriate to a wine list. If frozen pizza and mixed nuts aren’t your culinary vibe, there are no shortage of take-out and delivery restaurants nearby- LIKEWISE has an open food policy, and permits you to bring in (or have delivered right to the bar) any food you like.
Most amusingly- especially to newcomers as yet unfamiliar with the owner’s sense of humor- is the “Experiences” menu. The Experiences vary in price from $20 to $700. I don’t want to spoil the discovery for you when you swing by, so I’ll just say that the following: the experiences only change when someone buys one, they are all completely safe and legal- and someone has already bought the $700 one.
This commitment to community and relationships came through for them considerably in recent months. Running a bar or restaurant can be a risky business- running one as an art installation even more so. For some time, Nan and Adam had difficulties getting the bar to turn a profit. Certainly they could throw up some big screens, host Quizzo, drop in some state slot machines- but that wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be THEM. It wouldn’t be the community they had built.
Thus, they came up with a novel idea, and took it to their fans- a membership program. For $20 a month, members not only keep Likewise afloat, they get invited to monthly members-only events, and 20% off their tab when they bring a non-member in.
To make it work, they needed a minimum of 150 people to step up. They got 155. The community they built had their back- myself among them.
As I write this, I am sitting in LIKEWISE again- halfway down the long central table amid candles in beer glasses. On the wall across from me is a series of photos of people sleeping in the beds of pickup trucks. Adam has just switched on the projector, and is playing the final episodes of the TV show “Cheers.” A group of friends is by the window, chatting loudly, and other couples are split off throughout the spartan, yet cozy little bar. I’m one Wickle and half a cerveza in. Nan and Adam are both tending bar tonight. It’s busy, but not crowded- exactly how they like it.
Me too, for that matter.
Much like the fictional “Cheers,” I like LIKEWISE- a place where everybody knows my name.
When To Go: Likewise is closed Sundays and Mondays, but is open from 5pm to 11 all others. Early evening is best for a quiet drink, but stick around if you don’t mind a bit of a night crowd.
Why: When you have the existential need to disappear into the building equivalent of a hug, or you’re wondering what craziness Nancy and Adam are up to this time.
How: Drop in sometime, or check out their website at www.likewise.website to look at all their past projects. Follow them on Instagram as well to see what’s been going on recently.