12th Avenue might feel like a country road
by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: JIM CLARK, Roadside Attraction’s patio feels a lot like a good friend’s backyard, and the comfortable vibe continues inside.

Roadside Attraction. If those two words conjure images of a casual oasis in the middle of a deserted stretch of a dusty two-lane highway, you're on your way to understanding the charm of this relative newcomer on Southeast 12th Avenue.

Although it's only been open since the end of July, Roadside Attraction has the feel of a well-worn standby: a down-home atmosphere created by uncommonly friendly service, the wafting scent of grilling food, signage straight off Route 66 and a jukebox that skews to blues and vintage rock.

The crowd is local and low-key, and the staff (including the owner and cook) is quick to strike up a friendly conversation.

A good part of the charm comes from the layout: You enter through a fenced-in patio that makes the experience more like wandering into a bohemian backyard barbecue than a bar.

The patio - unfortunately only 100 percent usable until 10 p.m. until some bureaucratic bugs get worked out - feels like an oasis. Weather-beaten furniture (including a swinging bench and picnic tables), foliage that clearly wasn't planted yesterday and rusted accents give the place a lived-in feel.

As it turns out, that lived-in feel is authentic. The current owner has owned the place for the past 12 years, and it was his home for a time. It's been a coffeehouse and later, according to a bartender, was used as a private event space. Plans to turn it into a bar have been under way for two years. Expansion into a larger back room is apparently in the works.

Past and future aside, the present is indeed rosy - not to mention cozy. Inside the bar, walls are painted a bright, warm red and dotted with vibrant art. French doors and big windows open onto the patio. The big kitchen is viewable to the side, and a pool table inhabits the brightly lit back corner.

Elsewhere in town, you can find fussy food and expensive beverages - things you definitely won't encounter at Roadside Attraction. The menu is simple, limited and tasty.

The food is mostly confined to the grilled end of the spectrum - tri-tip, teriyaki chicken, sausage, shrimp and veggies or deliciously buttery crab cakes served with sides of macaroni salad, tangy coleslaw, rice or tart cucumber salad - or the curiously brilliant combo of chicken and waffles.

Prices start at $5 for the sausage mixed grill plate and top out at $10 for crab cakes and shrimp.

Beverages are limited as well - but so are the prices. Domestic pints are a mere $2, 'guest taps' run $3.50 and wine won't set you back more than $3 for a sizable pour of familiar labels like Smoking Loon, Canyon Road and Chateau St. Michelle.

If you're looking for a happening scene, you're advised to look elsewhere. Roadside Attraction is the perfect neighborhood hangout, the kind of friendly and inviting local bar that harks back to simpler times - and that's a mighty strong attraction.

- Barbara Mitchell

1000 S.E. 12th Ave., 503-233-0743, 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily

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