The Candlelight Room goes bump in the night

Where do swingers with a '70s bent go when night falls?

They head to the Candlelight Room, where, incidentally, you won't find candlelit tables or other such nonsense. You will get straight-up pool, video poker, a small dance floor and live music seven nights a week.

'Everybody's 'up' here. It's not your hole-in-the-wall kind of place. It's fun-lovin'. People come to socialize, dance and listen to good music,' manager Hank Cartwright says. He's worked here for two years, 'but I've been coming here for 15,' he adds with a husky laugh.

On a given night, the music at the Candlelight might be funk, fusion, R & B or blues. The musicians play from a smoky corner at the back of the room.

The lineup at the Candlelight stays the same Monday through Thursday. Acts rotate on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday night legendary local blues singer Andy Stokes performs.

I first heard about the Candlelight Room when I was having a drink with my sister, and a man said: 'You two would like the Candlelight Room.' We were pretty sure this was a compliment. Later, we realized we had heard of the Candlelight Room. Our parents used to go there when it was known as Sidney's.

Candlelight owner Joe Shore breaks down the club's history:

'In '49 it was called Moguls. And then in '56 it became Portland's premium jazz house. That was '56 to '72, when it was called Sidney's. Then in '72, Sidney Porter passed away, and a guy named Bill Hills bought it and named it the Candlelight Room. I picked it up in '84, and I've been here ever since.'

These days blues diva Linda Hornbuckle heats up the Candlelight every Tuesday night. Hornbuckle used to sing with bluesman Paul de Lay, who put the Candlelight back on the map.

The Candlelight sits near an intersection where Interstate 5 and Interstate 405 meet. A few dark Victorian houses, caught in between the highways, hang on. The only sign of life is the neon of the Candlelight and the steady stream of cabs that pull up and drop off their fares. Outside the front door, there's usually a big bouncer in a leather jacket.

At 10 p.m., the joint is butt-to-butt jumping. To enter, you walk down a narrow aisle flanked by people crowded at the bar or perched on an elevated cushion opposite the bar. If you're trying to slink in unnoticed, don't bother.

On a recent Friday, a funk band called Ocean 503 played, complete with a smurfin' backup singer who strayed onto the dance floor from time to time. I ordered a ginger ale (they make a good spicy one with 7-Up and bitters) and staked out a spot on the padded bench near the bar. Next to me, a wavy-haired woman in a black leather jacket said she was studying gemology when she wasn't hanging out here. She seemed to know most of the regulars who streamed in.

The bartenders were busy slinging Spanish coffee and white Russians for the full-figured drinkers.

Owner Shore says Cartwright, the Candlelight's manager, also is an actor who picks up a play or two a year. (Recently, he was in 'The Weir' and 'Killer Joe' at Artists Repertory Theatre.) 'Some good. Some bad,' Shore says. 'Ha-ha! No Ñ he's very good. He's one of the best actors in town, in fact. He likes being a starving artist. And he likes working at the Candlelight because here he can keep his openness for acting.'

Anything special we ought to know?

'Nah, it really runs on its own,' Shore says. 'We're pretty easy. If you don't like us, leave.

'We get a lot of people sent over from the hotels, and the cabbies send a lot of people over. It's a safe environment. During the week, that's about half our mainstay.'

Is running a bar a good life? Shore is philosophical.

'It's been a lot of fun,' he says. 'A lot of traveling musicians come through, and they'll sit in. When Paul de Lay was doing his thing, he pretty much put it on the map before his stint at Sheridan, heh heh.' (De Lay served a 41-month sentence at the federal penitentiary in Yamhill County after a 1990 drug bust.)

Shore says the Candlelight is 'faring better than most' bars these days, especially since it doesn't charge a cover.

'Its essence is very eclectic: small bump-and-grind dance floor, generally crowded, best music in Portland by far.'

How's the hookup?

'There are a lot of couples,' Shore says. 'But it's a strong singles bar Ñ from what I hear Ñ from what people tell me. There were some people in here who wrote up a little ditty about it five or six years ago: 'It's a little bump-and-grind place; it's the kind of place you could even take your father; and, hell, he might even get laid.' '

All in all, Shore says: 'It's kind of like a bastard child. It's a love-hate relationship. When it's good, it's good. When it's bad, it's baad!'

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