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St. Johns Dive Bar Portway Tavern Nearly Burned Down Monday Morning

Portland Fire and Rescue says the fire started while the bar staff was emptying ashtrays

The insides of a bar after a fire, with a burnt floor and ruined ceiling.
The burnt interior of the Portway Tavern
Alex Frane/Eater PDX

The Portway Tavern — a dive bar frequented by St. Johns neighborhood residents and University of Portland students — caught on fire Monday morning, shutting down the bar for the foreseeable future.

Around 4 a.m. on September 6, Portland Fire and Rescue responded to a call in St Johns, arriving at the Portway on North Willamette Boulevard. Terry Foster, public information officer with Portland Fire and Rescue, says the fire started outside, quickly spreading inside where it did significant damage to the ceiling, bar, and walls of the dining room. The Portway is currently, and indefinitely, closed.

Foster says that there were no injuries reported, and that no one was on the scene when the firefighters arrived. “There was heavy fire on arrival at the back of the building, going up the fence line through the brush,” he says. He describes the source of the fire as an accident caused by improperly disposed ashtrays, with the outdoor trash cans catching fire and quickly spreading.

The Portway has sat on North Willamette for years, reopening after a pandemic-related closure. A drink at Portway was often seen as a rite of passage for University of Portland students; in a piece for the university’s student paper, Ana Clyde calls the bar “a safe haven for one to sit, have a drink, and talk about everything and anything.” Clyde reports that, on the last Friday before the university transitioned to online classes, students packed the bar before heading home. The bar is currently closed as the owners evaluate the damage to the space. Eater Portland has reached out to the bar’s owners for comment.

Update, September 21, 1:00 p.m.: A community member has set up a Go Fund Me account with a $5,000 goal for restoring the bar. At the time of publication the fundraiser has earned just over $1,000