Bubba’s is a dive bar during the day, but on weekend nights it turns into a dance club. Photo by Angie Bryan

What do you get when you cross a former Marine who loves horses, a staggering collection of vintage lunch boxes, a loyal clientele that’s been coming back for decades, and a light-up dance floor? If you answered “one of the most fun Friday nights you’ll find in Portland,” you’d be right on target, thanks to owner Robert “Bubba” Larkin and dive bar/dance club Bubba’s Sulky Lounge. (A sulky is a lightweight, two-wheeled, jockey-carrying cart pulled in races by horses or dogs, a nod to Larkin’s longtime love and ownership of race horses.)

Deemed the seventh-best dive bar in America in 2015 by The Daily Meal website, Bubba’s opened in 1961, and many regulars have been coming from the beginning. Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Patty Griffin even wrote a song about it. If you’ve never been, be prepared to enter an atmosphere unlike anything you’ve experienced. One fan describes it as “entering the attic of your hoarder grandmother,” and she’s not wrong. The place is massive, with different themed areas (including a post office, a diner and a barber shop), all stuffed to the gills with mannequins, antiques and, yes, over 1,000 lunch boxes. There’s also a pool table, a back room with its own bar that can be rented out for private parties, and a collection of old record players.

A light-up dance floor and lunch boxes hanging from the ceiling are among Bubba’s charming quirks. Photo by Angie Bryan

Sunday through Thursday, Bubba’s is home to a steady crew of day drinkers, but Friday and Saturday nights, beginning at 8:30 p.m., it transforms from dive bar to dance club. Every Friday is ’80s Night, with free admission for people who show up in head-to-toe ’80s attire. Party poopers pay a $5 cover. Revelers range from 20-somethings to 90-somethings, all of whom fit right in. On Saturday nights the crowd is a bit younger, and the music focuses on music from the ’90s onward.

A cash-only establishment (with an ATM on the premises), Bubba’s isn’t the place for a fancy cocktail – it serves basic mixed drinks and canned or bottled beers. While the bartenders take great care of both old and new customers, you don’t go to Bubba’s for the drinks. You come for the energy of the crowd and the sheer fabulosity of the surroundings.  It’s rare to go to a place where employees and patrons alike rave about how much they love the owner, telling you one story after another about things Larkin has done to help people, but in Bubba’s you feel like you’re part of one big happy (but slightly dysfunctional) family.

Angie Bryan is the Bar Guide columnist for the Portland Press Herald.

One of a few bars at Bubba’s Sulky Lounge. Don’t expect fancy cocktails – just basic mixed drinks and beer. Photo by Angie Bryan

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