Many now-famous acts have had their origins at Dante's including the "lounge-core, mash-up" band Storm & The Balls featuring Storm Large who had a regular Wednesday night show at the club, the SuicideGirls Burlesque Troupe and The Porcelain Twinz neo-burlesque act, both of which first performed regularly at Dante's well-known Sunday night "Sinferno Cabaret."
Dante's is popular locally, and has received numerous "people's choice" awards, such as Best Live Music from AOL.com, "Favorite House of Rock" from Willamette Week, and "Best Live Music Venue" from Portland Citysearch.com. Dante's located in downtown Portland near Old Town and is housed in one of Portland's many historic buildings.
In transcribing the history of the building, it is important to remember that Dante's is composed of two structures with a rich and intertwining history. The main room is in a one-story structure and comprises the eastern half of the venue. The Limbo Lounge sits to the west and there are an additional two stories above it, that are currently in use.
Examination of Oregon Historical Society documents indicates that the parcel of land that Dante's currently sits upon are lots 5 through 8 of the block in Couch's Addition, and were owned by various members of the Jorgensen family, beginning sometime around the 1890s to 1900s, and possibly earlier. This is further corroborated through the City of Portland's Bureau of Buildings, which is in possession of several building permits for the property, filed by various members of the Jorgensen family or estate. The earliest dates to October 19 1921 at the 3-story property at 314 West Burnside Street (formerly known as 266 West Burnside Street under the pre-1931 street system), which references the ground floor property as a "Soft drink and Lunch." Permit records from June 30 1926 indicate that the same property was home to a rooming house on its second and third stories. By cross-referencing these records with a phone directory from 1930 and the Crane's Directory, it appears that the 3-story building was formerly known as the Montana Hotel.
Further examination of Oregon Historical Society photographs of the intersection of SW 3rd and Burnside, dated from May 1927, clearly show the landmark Union Theater (now the Paris Theater) just across the street from the eastern half of Dante's which is where the main room, bar, and kitchen are currently situated. There is a second and third story on top of the existing structure which is labeled as the Winchester House. It is this property that was reputed to be a brothel, but in the parlance of the times it was also known as a "flophouse". Interviews with persons of this era also indicate that this was where day-laborers could be found, in addition to a host of other characters. The 1929 phone book also lists tenants of the first floor of the block to be a restaurant owned by Fred Soller and a clothier named Julius Breall. Prior to the appearance of the Winchester House, this building is reported to have been a liquor distribution warehouse.
On October 2 1930, Pauline Jorgensen, the listed owner of the Winchester House had the Rose City Wrecking Company demolish the Winchester House's wooden structure down to the existing one-story structure that forms Dante's main room. The last existing inspection records of the 3-story property referencing Jorgensen ownership are dated March 24 1959 and specifically cite the installation of fire doors and wooden partitions in the current 3-story structure that forms Dante's Limbo Lounge. The City's last record of Jorgensen ownership or activity of the one-story structure is dated June 29 1983 and lists a Victor Hugo Jorgensen as the owner of the one-story property.
From the 1960s onward, records on the 3-story structure are sparse, but a series of documents dated to 1979 indicated that the building was owned by Rip City Realty. There are additional documents dated January 8 1982 that list a Lanny Swerdlow as the owner of the aforementioned structure. Swerdlow came to rather infamous notoriety in Portland after opening a series of alternative-lifestyle nightclubs for teens, running afoul of the law on numerous occasions. In the 1990s the ground floor was home to the infamous Dr. Bill's Learning Center. Following Dr. Bill's retirement in 1996, it became Aja's Lingerie "modeling shop," which is a nice name for what is known in the business as a "jack shack". Finally the lingerie shop was moved up to the third floor to make room for Dante's expansion in 2001.
The one-story structure has primarily served as a restaurant since the 1960s, but appears to have been unoccupied for several long stretches. Permits from 1984 indicate that the restaurant was known as the New Canaan Restaurant. Prior to 1984, there are virtually no official building or inspection records that help to identify the activity in this particular property.
From 1985 to 1999, the one-story structure comprising Dante's main room, at the southwest corner of West Burnside and Third Avenue, was the original Chang's Mongolian Grill. Before that it was a punk rock music venue called The Met, which featured such diverse acts at The Cramps and The Wipers.
The building is currently owned by J.A. Atwood Investments.