Street View of Bagdad Bar

photo by: Another Believer, Wikimedia Commons

October 8, 2015

The Back Stage Bar in Portland, Oregon

The back stage of a 1927 movie palace is now a friendly neighborhood bar with tall ceilings and twice-daily happy hours.

When you step inside Back Stage Bar in Portland, Oregon, look up. And we mean way up -- seven stories above you, to be precise.

Back Stage Bar bills itself as the “loftiest place to play pool and drink a beer among bars in Portland.” That’s accurate. But you do have to know where to find it -- tucked behind the movie screen at Portland’s famed Bagdad Theater & Pub.

Floor View of the Back Stage Bar

photo by: McMenamins

The Back Stage Bar sits in what used to be the Back Stage Theater.

When it opened in 1927, the Bagdad Theater was a grand movie palace. It was the city’s largest theater outside downtown. It was also the most spectacular. There was a fountain and a grand colonnade in the foyer, an orchestra pit and a custom-made pipe organ in the theater, and the entire interior was filled with Middle Eastern decor.

During its early years, the theater focused mainly on silent movies and vaudeville, with performances by the likes of a young Sammy Davis Jr. It remained on the national vaudeville circuit until 1949. It was turned into a two-screen theater in the 1970s, and a three-screen theater some years later. In 1975, it hosted the Oregon premiere of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with actors Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher in attendance.

Chandelier of the Back Stage Bar

photo by: McMenamins

The chandeliers of the Back Stage Bar used to belong to the 1920s Oregon Bank Building in Portland.

Behind the scenes of this bustling theater throughout the years, you would find a tangle of lights, set pieces, curtains, rigging, and catwalks. In the mid-1970s, the theater’s then-owner, Roger Paulsen of Moyer Theaters, turned that backstage space into an art house theater called, appropriately enough, The Back Stage Theater.

The whole National Register-listed building was purchased in 1991 by McMenamins, the popular Portland-based chain of brewpubs and hotels owned by the preservation-loving McMenamin brothers. They turned the theater back into a single-screen operation and gave it a new name: the Bagdad Theater & Pub.

Meanwhile, the Back Stage Theater closed and remained dark for a number of years. In 2006, after an extensive renovation, it re-opened, with mother-of-pearl inlay, pool tables, neon signs, an old vaudeville curtain, and dramatic chandeliers that originally belonged to the 1920s Oregon Bank Building in Portland. There was also the massive, 20-by-20-foot painted canvas chronicling the long and winding history of the Bagdad Theater, created specifically for the 2006 renovation.

Today, under the seven-story ceiling, people come from near and far to watch a game projected onto the massive wall, to play a round of pool or shuffleboard, or to just drink a beer in one of the deep wooden booths.

View of Mural and Pool Tables in Back Stage Bar

photo by: McMenamins

Pool tables and the bar are overlooked by the large square mural that depicts the history of the Bagdad Theater.

Here’s what you need to know before you check out the action behind the scenes:

Location: 3702 S.E. Hawthorne, Portland, OR 97214

Hours: Monday - Thursday, 5 p.m. - 1:30 a.m.; Friday, 5 p.m. - 2:30 a.m.; Saturday, noon - 2:30 a.m.; Sunday, noon - 1:30 p.m.

Don’t Miss: Happy Hour, twice a day, every day. Find cheap treats from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. until close.

Perfect For: Grabbing a drink before or after a movie at the Bagdad Theater & Pub.

You’re Having: A lamb turnover and a pint of Terminator Stout.

Best Yelp Review: “Awesome awesome. It's places like this [that] make me love Portland. Sky-high ceilings flooded with neon fluorescent lights, every inch hand painted with something awesome.”

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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