Bright red on a Portland street corner, Reel M Inn is impossible to miss, a positive feature given the notoriety of the dive bar’s fried chicken, easily the most talked about feature of the bar and one of the true food experiences in the city. Be warned, the wait is often considerable for the pressure-broasted delicacies that take a fair amount of time to cook and draw a crowd. As the sign outside says, Reel M Inn is famous for both fried chicken and “jo jo’s,” an item unique to the Pacific Northwest that feels like the result of a potato wedge crossed with a chicken tender.
The site Reel M Inn occupies has been one bar or another for decades, Spill M Inn, Hogan’s and Lion’s Den among its previous incarnations. Original Reel M Inn owners Bill and Sheri Purdy bought the space in 1994 and gave it its current name before handing off the bar to a string of owners that right now rests with former Reel M Inn bartender Carey Briggs. The site’s future has been threatened a time or two, Briggs saving the Portland dive bar when she purchased it amid rumors of a mixed use development purchasing the land. The global COVID-19 pandemic prompted another closure, but Reel M Inn found a way to survive.
Inside, the Portland dive bar looks like just that, tall tables and stools surrounding a small L-shaped bar amid wood paneling as far as the eye can see. The bar area includes a roof, like an actual sloped roof, making Reel M Inn feel almost like a dive bar turned inside out. Fishing equipment, beer signs and a bit of taxidermy hang from the rafters that fittingly include handwriting scrawled over the beams in places.