Chin Yen Lounge
18 NE 28th Ave
Portland, OR 97232
The brunette with the cute Drew Barrymore lisp rocks with pleasure. “I LOVE IT when I get bought beers by guys who are leaving in cabs!”
She is, too ” loving it ” with two bottles of Miller High Life in front of her and a bucket-sized shot of whiskey on the way. She giggles and sputters and obviously loves to tell the story about how she dropped out of high school to travel Europe on five hundred dollars. The night is off with a bang.
As the Radio City black-and white-pulls away, I turn to the other woman at our table, a midwestern dirty-blonde with wide rangy eyes, in the hopes of securing an unspoken connection in the midst of this one-woman crazy-with-life-revue. Her eyes grow even more expressive and the message is clear, and promising: this is just the barest taste of what regulars in this bar enjoy on a nightly basis. I ready myself for the details tonight I seek the secrets of the Chin Yen Lounge.
Ah, the Chin Yen it has been a year and a half since my last visit and the place is still the same motel hallway I (barely) remember. A clear case of function ruling form; the proper Chinese restaurant adjoining might as well be in another country.
Located just off the intersection of 28th and NE Burnside a corner anchored by the popular Laurelhurst Theater this charmingly inauspicious lounge affords passersby little sidewalk splash, just a pinball machine standing up front by the floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside is even more drab. Upon entering, a bottle-stuffed bar back against the wall and a smattering of pre-fab Chinese tradition is all that saves the space from total aesthetic obscurity. Essentially, the Chin Yen (and I shudder for the phrase) “is what it is” a place for locals to gather and get hammered.
And as such, we can expect that there are stories to learn and details to glean, and to that end, tonight I’ve enlisted a friend the woman with the wide rangy eyes to impart a few choice tidbits. Of course, she is not alone her friend, so happy to hold court at our table, joins in frequently. This is how my notebook reads, such that it ever is.
- The girl with wide rangy eyes confesses that seventy-eight percent of her time in the Chin Yen has been spent on the floor in front the bar. I have a hard time believing that.
- She also claims that all the regulars have seen her breasts. How many times? “How do I know, it’s not like I was there!”
- Bartender J is evil. Good evil, as in, lighting a candle between two strangers at the bar in hopes that they start making out evil.
- Candles are not required for regulars. There’s lots of indiscriminate making out in the Chin Yen.
The women at my table estimate that they’ve made out together in the Chin Yen at least a half dozen times.
- The Chin Yen has no set Happy Hour; there is no need. Drinks are cheap and the pours heavy. Devastatingly leaden.
- The unisex bathroom in the back is said to have been recently the site of a very odd presentation of human waste, bundled like a present. That is, thankfully, rare. Take comfort in the fact that the bathroom is much more likely to be used for displays of nakedness and hurried sex acts.
- Regulars really can’t get ‘86-ed from the Chin Yen. Cut-off, yes. A line seems to be drawn at farting in pint glasses, stealing bar stools and horsing around with the free-standing Chin Yen sign on the sidewalk.
- In one case, a bartender showered a regular with a bucket of water, and then cut her off.
- Chin Yen bartenders get what they ask for, purposefully re-filling shot glasses when a favored regular’s back is turned.
The strength of the Chin Yen drink is daunting and debilitating. The girl with the wide rangy eyes only drinks beer there now. “I like a heavy pour,” she explains, “but not to the point of being killed.”
The brunette with the cute lisp disagrees, shaking her head, eyes in her lap. “Whiskey is yummy.”
“Yeah,” Wide Eyes responds, “but not in PINTS.”
By this point, that seventy-eight percent figure is starting to sound reasonable.