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Sandy Huts second wind

Driving by, it's not hard to imagine the Sandy Hut in its early days, in an America flush with postwar moxie: crisp martinis, jukebox Sinatra and sizzling steaks at a time when red meat had no known downside.

Inside, a mural by the late New York Times caricaturist Al Hirschfeld Ñ rumored to be an original Ñ still adorns one wall. But there isn't much else to tie the place to that earlier epoch.

The atmosphere now is more along the lines of thrift-store chic, '80s music and $2 Pabst Blue Ribbons in the 16-ounce can, yet the smoky, low-ceilinged place at 1430 N.E. Sandy Blvd. is enjoying a new heyday.

'Now, it's a total freak joint at night,' says former owner Neil Anderson, who sold the establishment three years ago after a six-year run but remains a regular. 'The people that go in there don't eat. They just drink. Wait till

1 o'clock, and it'll be wall to wall.'

Juan Coronado, an unemployed bike messenger and skateboard enthusiast, lives a block and a half away. 'I've been coming here for seven years at least,' he says. 'It's never been like this. It's far busier.'

'During happy hour, we have a crowd of people that have come in for years, all of your blue-collar workers,' bartender Christen Galipeau says. But that group is gone by late evening, he says, replaced by a vibrant mob with an average age that drops into the low- to mid-20s.

Coronado, 33, approves of the new demographics. 'Old men are great. I love partying with the old dudes. But when there's girls around, you're going to choose girls. A dive bar is a dive bar, but girls are girls.'

The place occupies one of several small triangles of real estate carved by Sandy Boulevard's diagonal journey through inner Northeast, where there's a good chance the next-door neighbor is a car dealership or a storage warehouse.

'It's had so many peaks and valleys, it's unbelievable,' says Anderson, the former owner. 'It's been a hot spot before. Everybody in town went to the place in the '50s and up until the mid-'60s. In effect, it's a landmark.'

The landmark and its rock-pile exterior are painted a bright lavender now, which seems to work for the young hipsters who inhabit the modest neighborhoods west of Laurelhurst.

At 11 p.m. on a recent Thursday, every bar stool was filled and only one booth sat empty. The jukebox, loaded with everything from Leonard Cohen to Nickelback, got a nonstop workout. Televisions had been calibrated to a deft mix: an all-sports network, the movie 'Beetlejuice' and a disturbingly graphic reality show. The pool and shuffleboard tables and video poker machines were taking heavy play.

'We'll get hit around 1 o'clock,' Galipeau says. 'I think that's people that are coming from downtown. This is a little safe zone for that last hour and a half.'

'I like the fact that it's crowded,' says Josh Ogden, a delivery driver for Pizza Roma on Southeast Woodstock Boulevard. 'People are cool. I have no beef with anyone in here. Why would I have a problem as long as the bartender is serving me?'

Exactly.

And here are the numbers that matter: Microbrews and well drinks, $3; domestic drafts, $2.25; 16-ounce PBR cans, $2. Call brands start at $3.50 and top out with the bar's one cognac and two single malt scotches at $6.50. The kitchen offers a full menu until 10 p.m. Ñ 11 p.m. on Saturdays Ñ and serves appetizers until closing.

'Because there's so many regulars, you get to know everybody,' Galipeau says. 'Everybody gets along really well. It's kind of like your own living room.'