Burnside fans: Bring on disco crosswalks, hold the couplet
Weekend!Nightlife: On the Rocks
I ran into Tres Shannon a few weeks ago at a show at the Crystal Ballroom (1332 W. Burnside St.), and we started talking about the city's 'couplet' proposal to make West Burnside Street one-way and expand Northwest Couch Street into an arterial going the other direction.
Shannon doesn't like the idea. He went to a public meeting to object. Around 9 p.m., he says, the organizers of the meeting were looking at their watches and apologizing for the late hour.
'If that's late to you,' he says, 'you don't know Burnside.'
And if anyone knows Burnside, it's got to be Shannon. The 41-year-old was co-owner of the legendary X-Ray Cafe, which rocked the west side of the Burnside Bridge in the 1990s.
He's the frontman for the live-band karaoke of Karaoke From Hell, singing backup for the masses every Monday night at Dante's (1 S.W. Third Ave.). And he's co-owner of Voodoo Doughnut (22 S.W. Third Ave.), a place that just can't seem to avoid the media spotlight (I know, I'm part of the problem).
So I asked him to show me Burnside, his version, the late-night edition.
We meet at 9:30 p.m. on Friday night at Tube (18 N.W. Third Ave.). A long-haired DJ is playing the Talking Heads. We're joined by Jay Boss Rubin, who is most famous as organizer of the Portland Challenge, an annual race that also includes swimming the Willamette River.
'Burnside is a beautiful street,' the 24-year-old Rubin says. 'We're going to have a good time.'
Shannon echoes him: 'We're going to have a good time on Burnside tonight. I've had a good time on Burnside as long as I can remember … And it's true if you don't like Burnside, you don't like Portland.'
Shannon loves Burnside, just the way it is. That's the long and short of his objection to the proposed couplet project.
He also mentions the toll of protracted construction, and his feeling that other urban renewal projects haven't been all they were cracked up to be. 'Everyone who wants to do this supposedly loves Portland, but if they love Portland so much, why are they so busy changing it?' he asks.
Outside Tube, the police have a guy face down on the pavement, his hands cuffed behind his back. In doorways along the street, men and women are cocooned in sleeping bags.
As we pass the Chinatown gate, Shannon asks me, 'Do you know how to tell the boy dog from the girl dog?' The male dog, the one on the east side, clutches a ball in his claw. The female, to the west, has a pup in her grip. I never noticed that before.
There's some scruffy-looking people loitering outside Dugo's (413 W. Burnside St.). Shannon gives one of them a hug. I think Dugo's is the only bar on this street I've never been to before - it turns out not to be as scary as I'd heard. It's just a regular old low-rent tavern.
A man comes up to our table, saying he's 75 cents short of a beer. Rubin gives him a buck and invites him to sit with us. 'Don't change Burnside,' Rubin says. 'Don't (expletive) with Burnside,' Shannon says.
Not that the two are opposed to change in any form. They have myriad wacky ideas - my favorite is to install a disco crosswalk that would light up when a pedestrian starts to cross the street.
We wander through Chinatown, observing the remains of the ill-fated dragon sculpture, and talking about the blooming cherry trees that were chopped down to make the festival streets.
There's a gang of punk rockers hanging around outside Satyricon (125 N.W. Sixth Ave.) just like in the old days. Inside, it's wall to wall with studded leather jackets, mohawks and miniskirts.
Shannon's car is parked down the way. His dog, a lab named Oprah Winfrey, is there waiting for us.
We cruise over the bridge for a quick survey of East Burnside, then back through town, taking a sudden detour through the McDonald's drive-through (1831 W. Burnside St.) where Shannon orders, 'A double cheeseburger, a small Coca-Cola and a small regular hamburger for my dog.'
We arrive at the Towne Lounge (714 S.W. 20th Place). The club isn't as crowded as usual.
Owner Angelo Puccinelli is leaning against the bar, bravely enduring the jam-rock of J. Bird and the Magic Moments - not quite his usual thing. A girl with a flower behind her ear and a spangle in her belly button twirls, alone, on the dance floor.
Rubin joins the girl; Shannon hugs Puccinelli; Oprah Winfrey jumps up onto the stage.
Shannon starts dancing. 'That guy could have fun in a concentration camp,' Puccinelli says.
Unlike my tour guide, this bar owner definitely thinks Burnside could use some improvement, although he has his own ideas of how to do it.
I have to admit I'm not picking up everything he's laying down; somehow we're talking about fractals and my entourage, which now includes the dancing girl, has ditched me.
They're at Tony's Tavern (1955 W. Burnside St.), where there's plenty of space down the long bar and in the wooden booths at 1 a.m. on a Saturday.
The Rolling Stones are on the jukebox and we're playing pool and Shannon and Rubin are telling me, Burnside isn't the cherry on top of the sundae. It's the banana! The banana and the ice cream!
Our last stop is the building where 'Louie, Louie' was recorded. We stand on the sidewalk at 13th and Burnside, looking up at the windows of an old building.
The crazy thing is, we could do this every night for a week and never go into the same bar or music club twice. Couplet or no couplet, Burnside will change. But right now, late at night, it feels like the center of the universe.