For the lowdown on all the happenings in and around Astoria, get your hands on a copy of Hipfish, Astoria’s spirited monthly tabloid distributed free all over town.
As befits a vintage fishing port, Astoria has lots of old bars and watering holes. As tribute to Astoria’s scrappy spirit, explore some of the city’s classic bars. The Portway (422 W. Marine Dr., 503/325-2651) is the oldest bar in the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies. Though the present building dates from 1923, it’s loaded with character and characters.
On the eastern edge of Astoria, the slightly disreputable-looking Desdemona Club (2997 Marine Dr., 503/325-8540) is in fact a friendly Cheers-type pub that welcomes strangers with pool tables and good food.
Phyllis & Bob’s Labor Temple Café & Bar (939 Duane St., 503/325-0801) is the oldest communal union hall in the Northwest and is not to be missed. The clientele is a mix of longtime union activists, twenty-something artists from Cocktail Nation, and rowdy young sailors, making for some interesting dynamics.
All three of Astoria’s brewpubs are friendly places to start a conversation or settle in with a pint and decent pub grub to quietly muse on the world. Rogue Ales Public House (100 39th St., 503/325-5964) is on a former cannery pier thrust out into the Columbia, while the Wet Dog Cafe (144 11th St.) overlooks the river and features live music on weekends.
Fort George Brewery and Public House (1483 Duane St., 503/325-7468) makes not just beer but several types of sausage in-house and has a friendly local vibe.
Other top choices for live music include Red Hare (260 10th St., 503/325-2486, www.redhare.com), an art gallery with acoustic music on many weekend nights and Sunday afternoon jam sessions, and the Voodoo Room (1114 Marine Dr., 503/325-2233, www.columbianvoodoo.com).
The handsome Liberty Theatre (1203 Commercial St., 503/325-5922, www.liberty-theater.org), whose colonnaded facades along Commercial and 12th Streets converge at the corner box office, is a vibrant symbol of Astoria’s ongoing rejuvenation. The ornate Mediterranean-style building in the heart of downtown began its life in 1925 as a venue for silent films, vaudeville acts, and lectures.
The theater continued as a first-run movie house, but after decades of neglect this grande dame was badly showing her age, and it looked as though the Liberty would eventually meet the sad wrecking-ball fate of so many fine old movie palaces. Happily, though, a nonprofit organization undertook efforts to restore the theater to its original elegance and equip it to be a state-of-the-art performing arts center, and the Liberty currently hosts concerts, recitals, theater, and other events.
Astor Street Opry Company
Astoria’s long-running Shanghaied in Astoria (122 W. Bond St., 503/325-6104, evenings Thurs.–Sat. mid-July–mid-Sept., $15–22), based on the town’s dubious distinction as a notorious shanghai port during the late 1800s, is a good old-fashioned melodrama. Chase scenes, bar fights, and a liberal sprinkling of Scandinavian jokes will have you laughing in between applauding the hero and booing the villain. Performed with gusto by the Astor Street Opry Company, the show has been running for two decades.
Adjacent to the Columbian Cafe, the Columbian Theatre (1102 Marine Dr., 503/325-3516, 7 p.m., $4, $2 children 12 and under) screens the big movies you may have missed a month before in their first run. Enjoy beer, wine, pizza, and other munchies while you watch.
Astoria Gateway Cinema (1875 Marine Dr., 503/338-6575) is a modern movie multiplex, showing the usual stuff, where you can pass an afternoon trying to forget the interminable winter rains.
Several bookstores in town invite serious browsing, buying, and intellectual stimulation. Lucy’s Books (348 12th St., 503/325-4210) is a small but big-hearted locally owned bookshop with an emphasis on Northwest regional subjects. Owner Laura Snyder hosts readings by local and visiting writers, and she publishes an entertaining quarterly newsletter and book reviews.
On the next block, Godfather’s Books and Espresso (1108 Commercial St., 503/325-8143) sells a mix of new and used books and has a case of excellent antique maps and prints depicting the Columbia River and north coast. Amazing Stories (1405 Commercial St., 503/325-5518) specializes in comic books, including manga, and games.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel