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.

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