New shops and restaurants pop up in this rapidly expanding area so fast it can give neighbors whiplash, while the hood’s heartbreaking lineage of gentrification and displacement makes scoring a house along the leafy streets a bittersweet coup. And yet, there are few better places to spend a day hanging out—for better and worse. Here, a handful of locals share the standby watering holes, shops, and block-party parks that make North Mississippi and Williams feel like home.
Andy Kryza, senior features editor at Thrillist
Having lived in the nucleus between Mississippi and Williams for a few years, there are few secrets that haven’t been blown wide open. Still, for a city that claims to so love dive bars and patios, I’m consistently surprised by the relative calm you can still find behind Maui’s. Yeah, the dive (or the closest thing this neighborhood has to a dive) is well known to basketball and soccer fans, but that patio is just fantastic. Most people seem to just stop at the covered corridor that serves as a smoking section, and they’re missing out on the sprawling yard in the back that might just be among the most underappreciated and largest patios in the city. It’s like a bizarro-world reflection of the Zen-like patio of Vendetta: sprawling, smoke-choked, and filled with enough mismatched yard furniture to fill a trailer park. There’s even foosball and Ping-Pong. The whole place feels like somebody took over the backyard of a frat house, then kicked all the bros out. It’s fantastic.
I’m also consistently surprised that the tiny, narrow Sidecar 11 isn’t more heralded among whiskey heads. It’s one of the best, friendliest, least-buzzed-about places on the east side to get a classic cocktail, and does absolutely fantastic things with a manhattan, with more than a dozen available. For the hard-core among us, they’ve also embraced a “vintage” cocktail program, which has seen everything from a century-old vermouth to a 1952 Galliano make its way into (rather expensive) cocktails. But if you don’t feel like ordering a $35 cocktail, they also have $6 fresh-squeezed greyhounds every weekend and sidewalk seating, just in case you feel like having a few while you watch people wait to eat at nearby Gravy.
Kevin Bacon, principal at Boise-Eliot/Humboldt School
(Editor’s Note: Apparently this well-loved educator has really strong ties to his school—all his picks are within 500 feet of the pre-K–8th grade institution, which sits right between North Williams and Mississippi Avenues.)
Grand Central Bakery: The BLT is hands down my fav!
Por Qué No: Bryan’s Bowl with chips and guac is a must!
Ecliptic Brewing: Sweet and spicy drumsticks are off the hook!
Thank you to all Mississippi Avenue businesses for supporting your neighborhood school!
Maggie Gardner, associate creative director at ENGIN Creative
Thinking about why I love my hood was really healing. With all the recent construction, traffic, displacement, and change, any conversation about this neighborhood quickly becomes polarizing and political. I have lived here 12 years—hardly a long-term resident, but rooted enough to know the conflict this community feels. Strolling down Williams and Vancouver with the expressed goal of appreciating things filled my heart and reminded me how lucky I am to live here.
I have the mind of a historian, and could run a tour of “Hey! You know what that used to be?” all over this city. Many of the things I think are cool are the stories that provide context, not just a list of places to go. (Yeah, of course the People’s Pig has great food, but have you heard about the building it’s in? Do you know where the pavilion at Dawson Park came from? Have you seen the public art signs?) But if you’re simply looking for a solid destination, here are a few picks:
Few Portland parks are as well-loved and well-used as Dawson Park, and maybe none that feel so integral and intimate. My heart swells for this park. It is where kids go to get outta the house, where families go to escape the heat, where neighbors go to show off their grillin’ skills. Old men play checkers, and kids walk around sharing Popsicles with everyone. Just by being there, you are greeted with a wave and assumed to be a friend. Movies in the Park and summer concerts are packed to the gills. The playground and fountain just got an overhaul a few years ago and are beautiful. It was also the rallying point for civil rights causes in the 1960s and is still a place many activists gather. I go there when I need to feel grounded.
In so many ways Williams St. Market is like every other corner market in the city—a quick place to get your vices at a value. But behind the counter is fresh injera (Ethiopian flat bread) and the friendliest guy in town [read PoMo's story on market owner Tamrat Alemu]. // Livingscape Nursery is not a precious, only-made-for-Instagram kind of garden store—this is the real deal. They get to know their customers and want to be a community hub. Everything I’ve purchased there has lived! (Shock!)
Brass Tacks sandwiches are made with love and wrapped in a waxed butcher paper that I’m convinced makes it taste better. The hood to their grill is actually the hood of a vintage muscle car! Snap. Take my advice and get an extra pickle—one is not enough. // I can get a bowl of granola and a cup of (amazing) coffee at Ristretto Roasters and sit there reading a book all day, and they won’t judge me. // Stoopid Burger food cart deserves a cult following. Burgers that are adventurous without being pretentious, and the guys running it are rays of sunshine. (Plus! Monday Madness menu deals!) // Izakaya Kichinto, I LOVE THIS PLACE! It’s next to Secret Society on NE Russell. I can eat their seaweed salad by the gallon. Their gyoza are done to perfection. They have ramen, sushi, curry—something for everyone—with excellent service and a beautiful but casual environment.
When a bar doesn’t have a sign above its door, you know it’s meant for locals. Vendetta has a great patio, a gorgeous old-fashioned, and a new flavor of deviled eggs every week. // Waypost has Margarita Mondays, a long happy hour, and old-school open-mic nights. // Crow Bar is the destination that introduced me to this neighborhood 15 years ago, and remains the pillar of Mississippi bar hopping—a dark place to drink beer and play pool. // And Sloan’s? A CLASSIC. The truck booth, of course. The jukebox, of course. I can’t call it a dive bar ’cause it feels like the owners care too much about it to ever let it stink like cigarettes and beer, but also love it too much to have changed a single thing about it in 50 years.
Fiona McCann, senior editor at Portland Monthly
By far my favorite recent addition to the neighborhood is Another Read Through. Elisa Saphier’s wonderland of used books is replete with a specially commissioned reading tree (hands down most appealing spot in town for page turning in Portland), a browse-worthy collection of adult and kid fiction, mystery, memoir, sci-fi, fantasy, poetry, and more, and a warm and knowledgeable proprietor with a big heart and a mighty passion for books.
Nearby, HalfPint offers up a fine collection of used leather boots, belts, and bags in all sizes and styles, at satisfyingly knockdown prices. For a caffeine kick, a cream cheese bagel, a newspaper rattle and some neighborhood people watching, Fresh Pot still has the goods. And a special shout-out, too, to the upcoming Ori Gallery, which promises to amplify the voices of trans and queer artists of color from its newly renovated Mississippi Avenue space—in a neighborhood that’s become a byword for displacement.
Katie Burnett, co-owner of fine barware outfit Bull in China
I’ve lived on or a few blocks off Mississippi Avenue for almost 10 years now, and I just adore this neighborhood. We have a really tight-knit community here and the sheer number of cool restaurants, bars, and shops within walking distance is icing on the cake.
My go-to restaurants in the neighborhood are Mee Sen for my weekly Thai fix, Quaintrelle for a splurge dinner out, Lovely’s Fifty Fifty for date night, and XLB for noodles and dumplings. I usually walk up to the Prost! Marketplace for Native Bowl and park it on the Prost patio with a Bitburger Pils. Another neighborhood gem is Life of Pie. They do Neapolitan-style pizzas and have a $5 margherita pizza happy hour from 11 am to 6 pm, which is hard to beat. Brunch lines get pretty crazy on the weekend between Gravy and Tasty n Sons, but my favorite brunch, hands down, is Interurban for a Campfire Skillet or Cowboy Ranchero plate. It’s not fussy, and always delicious without a long wait. Plus, their cocktails are always on point.
I do most of my shopping on North Williams. Ink & Peat is one of my favorite stores, not just in the neighborhood but in all of Portland. They carry the sweetest cards and stock other unique home goods, clothes, jewelry, books, etc. It’s where I get most gifts. My husband loves Black Book Guitars on Mississippi. The owner restores vintage music equipment and has a highly curated lineup of gear. It’s definitely a musician’s dream. Also Mississippi Records behind Sweedeedee is a must. I also love Workshop Vintage on Williams, which carries a mix of vintage and locally made products. I think the vintage clothing selection is some of the best in town. [Co-owner] Audra Stantillo has a background in set design, so she has a great eye and she cuts through the clutter with her selection so you don’t have to. I recently came across Somethings, which is an adorable shop with imported and locally made goods. It’s been there a few years but I somehow just discovered it. That’s another thing I love about this neighborhood. I walk it daily, but somehow always discover something new.
Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow
(Editor’s note: We asked Mark for neighborhood recommendations; we received this “philosophical response, an encomium of Dive Bars.” We’re into it.)
There are two kinds of dive bars: those with shitty drinks and great service, and those with shitty drinks and shitty service. Both are authentic modus operandi in the dive bar genre. (Recently, some freshly acquired dive bars have introduced good food into the mix (Sandy Hut) while others have decidedly not (Clyde’s Prime Rib), but that’s another story.) North Mississippi’s Crow Bar has been around since before the Meadow appeared on the street in 2006, and back then the old owners really put it out there, practicing the very un-Portland (and probably quasi-legal) but time-honored tradition of offering free drinks to neighborhood regulars. [It was] friendly, smoky (remember that?), and pleasantly crusty.
The current owners are, shall I say, not particularly concerned with your happiness. That doesn’t take away from the place unless you are judging it by the wrong criteria. Katie O’Brien’s, the Slammer Tavern, Holman’s, Joe’s Cellar—I never think to judge a dive bar on the awesomeness of its service. Professionally, I’m obsessed with service, and the Meadow’s philosophy is that it’s a true honor and even a thrill to explore food and drink together. But I neither expect nor want the same experience at a dive. In the realm of dive bars, my judgment is simple: if the place just is, it is rad. From the friendliest and busiest (Reel M Inn) to the most indifferent and deadest (Korner Pocket), you need to drop your ego and any provincial ideas of service and just chill. Agree? The Crow Bar is there for you.