Archive for August, 2012

Oblique Coffee House

Oblique Coffee
3039 SE Stark
Portland. OR

There’s a vine-covered wrought-iron-sort of fence surrounding the place, and a sign in the window that says “hippies use side entrance”. You think, “Am I a hippie? Was I ever? Did I qualify when the sign was current? If so, maybe I still am, inside, even if my baby-boomer bones and graying hair give me away. But since there are only occupiers and hipsters and no free-love flower-child peaceniks these days, maybe the sign is just another old-time artifact with racist tones, representative of Portland in the olden days, when the town was less liberal but real honest-to-God hippies were free-everything-liberal” Then you go in the front door, and you find a typically-diverse coffee house (except everybody, including the barista, has a computer!). Excellent Portlandia, with no repercussions for avoiding the side door exhortation . . . Of course, when you enter via the side door, you must pass the grim reaper on the wall, next to the sythes and sickles. Sobers up those hippies pretty darn fast, so they get down to the business of purchasing their coffee. Cash, no drugs or barter.

OK. It’s relatively new in town, I’m told, a “phoenix” coffee house arising from the clutter of an old hoarder’s general store. The building was gutted, leveled, and rebuilt beginning in 2007, a process that took upwards of 2 years. Cool things like the grim reaper, old photos, framed moths, coffee cans, bottles, antique signs, etc. etc. etc., were saved to provide the ambience. New beams, door, and upper windows grace the front, and the walls have been resurfaced and covered in art work. A variety of tables, including a round one from France, wooden chairs, easy chairs, and couches fill the room, and an attractive old upright piano takes center stage. Several handmade tables—including a trestle table—and handcrafted easels and stools appear to be the work of a featured furniture crafter. The furniture somehow makes a whole, and doesn’t seem to be scrabbled together as in lots of coffee houses. A puppet, two odd white mummy-dolls, and an “air-proof” wood-and-glass box for weighing out gold nuggets–well, gold dust, maybe—add to the collection of interesting stuff. Behind the counter, an old one, is a large, shiny coffee roaster, along with small bins of coffee and some gunny sacks. Yes, they roast their own! Generally, it was a pleasant place, except for grating heavy metal music during the first half of my stay. I’m told that sometimes they offer live piano or a (small) band, and at other times a DJ. Nobody tickled the keys today.

Fare: My coffee was $1.50 (medium size) with one free refill in the washable house cups. They offered several sweet treats, but these were moderately-priced and rather small. No day-olds; these get donated. I found out, after the fact, that they serve iced coffee! Most of the customers had cold drinks in jars, but seemed much more interested in their laptops.

Service and clientele: As I said, lots of quiet computer-users. Two others chatted at length with the server, who later seemed perfectly willing to answer any questions I had.

Bathroom: Really odd. 60’s- or 70’s-style paintings on each wall: those extra-big-eyed characters, originally intended to be “cute”. Six or more of them staring you down, watching you doing your bathroom business. Maybe that’s how they keep those hippies from tripping in the “head”, as they call it.

Rating: 3 of 5 coffee beans.


Palio Espresso and Desserts






Palio Espresso & Desserts

      1996 SE Ladd Av., Portland, OR

Palio Espresso & Desserts sits smack in the middle of the Ladd Addition of inner SE Portland, probably the oldest planned housing subdivision in the western US, with stately old elm trees and old mini-mansions flanking the streets. Wm.Ladd was a 19th-century mayor who owned 126 acres in E Portland. When E Portland was annexed to the city, he subdivided his land in his own special way. Wanting to mimic Washington D.C., he ran the streets diagonally to the usual N-S grid, rather like spokes out from a central garden, and his landscaper put small rose gardens in four diamonds at intersections in his diamond-grid. Ladd’s Addition becomes a quaint little enclave just S of the busy rag-a-tag Hawthorne Av. Palio’s has been around long enough to really settle into this unique neighborhood, and it is situated in an old building that was originally a grocery store. It has a definite classy feel to it, similar to an old European cafe.

The place is attractive inside and out, and with its plantings, it merges into the neighborhood. Inside is a beautiful mosaic stone floor, quality wood tables & chairs on the first floor. Beyond the service area is another entire room, which has tables and was—surprisingly—filled with men. Each had a laptop, and was working alone. Maybe 10-12 of them! I think this was a fluke, not that the room is exclusive to young men online. The room itself was not very interesting, and I was definitely outnumbered. I withdrew to the balcony several steps up on the far end of the place, a carpeted area with a wrought iron fence. Somewhat formal upholstered chairs are used for this upper section, and it has large bookshelves with adults’ books, children’s books, and games such as chess and checkers. A covered bench and table fill the center of this area. I felt relaxed as I overlooked customers who were very quietly reading or playing computer; this could have been an old library! Pleasant guitar-picking and mellow vocal music set a relaxed mood, helping with the lack of conversation.

Fare: I had a small coffee—in a warmed ceramic cup—for $2, and chose a day-old snickerdoodle for $1.25. Besides an assortment of pastries and desserts (tarts!), they had soup and a few other choices, plus the regular assortment of lattes and Italian sodas. Two men came in to buy one of their summer specialties, key lime pie. If only I had noticed the key lime! The desserts did seem a tad expensive, however. For that matter, so did the coffee.

Service and clientele: One young woman served everyone, and, although she had several customers while I was there, she managed to sit on a stool to eat her sandwich or croissant and drink. She was friendly and helpful, and I observed her directing customers to another establishment. Most clientele seemed to be from the area (in fact, were known by name), well-off, and orderly!

Hours: Apparently they are open until 11 p.m. (from 7 or 8 in the morning). Coffee anytime!

Bathroom: Oddball place, but sufficient except for lack of ventilation. This was very dark, with darkened stone mosaics (it only seemed that way), and an orange chandelier. A velvet curtain covered the hot water heater. Maybe vampires hung out in there? Too dark to see ‘em, if so.

Rating: 4 (of 5 coffee beans), despite the (scary?) bathroom