While this neighborhood seems to constantly reinvent itself, from towering condos to new boutiques, there's a handful of spots that defy the laws of time and trends. In search of tiny orchestras, storied toilets, and future forecasting beverages? This area's got you covered.
Floral carpet, rabid Blazers fans, and a semi truck cab jutting from the outside wall: there’s no place in Portland quite like this kitschy haunt, which has barely changed in nearly 40 years of existence—and thank goodness for that. Go for the killer jukebox alone, a quarter-operated 1950s-era machine that boasts a teensy animatronic orchestra, one of 11 such remaining wonders in the country.
Other cities boast car museums or vintage toy collections; we’ve got half a city block full of old front doors, vintage conveyor belts, and yards of knobs and hinges. A towering bank of faux trees marks the entrance of this nonprofit, which sells salvaged and reclaimed goods at discount prices to encourage locals to use recycled, sustainable materials in their home projects. It moves eight tons of building materials through its dusty, dirty, wondrous corridors daily. It doubles as a Portland memory palace: vintage handsaws, tulip pendant lights, fire hoses, old Powell’s bookcases. You can wander for hours and never get bored. Plus, the center’s Twitter feed is oddball gold, updating the warehouse’s inventory in real time: “Electric massage table in excellent condition” ($450) to “Theatre seats from the OMSI Planetarium” ($10 per chair.)
Off the main North Mississippi strip, in the alley behind She Bop hides this loopy, enlightened realm of rare Chinese brews, trailing vines, and tarot cards. The serious tea nerd staff host pretty much the most “Portland woo” events ever—screenings of Koyaanisqatsi set to live ambient improv music, Full Moon Success Rituals, and vegan, gluten-free Nachos Wednesdays—but on any day you can just sit in the corner undisturbed with a book while sipping a truly great, spice-singing mug of house-blended chai or a bright hibiscus-ginger tonic dubbed Universal Bezoar. Better yet, just let a house “tea wizard” dream up a custom blend for you.
Since 1989 visitors have walked inside the doors of Sunlan to hear owner Kay Newell call out from the desk, “How may I light up your world?” Walk the narrow aisles crammed floor to ceiling with everything you need, and all the things you never knew you needed, lighting related—think Edison bulbs, lamp bases, funky bulbs with hula girls inside, and disco-tastic nightlights. Also, the window displays, crammed with teeny figurines and curios, are pure madness.
Blink as you scoot down Vancouver Avenue and you might miss one of this neighborhood’s greatest treasures: A modest, low-slung, beige building that has been the home to 70-year-old Columbia Gorge Model Railroad Club since 1983. What lies within is a 4,200-square-foot railfan paradise: intricate miniature layouts of railroads that snake through a frozen-in-time 1950s Oregon, including the Gorge, the Deschutes River, and an exquisitely detailed model of Union Station. Members of this auspicious club meet here weekly, but laypeople are welcome in November, when doors are opened every weekend during the month for all ages to ogle thousands of feet of track threading through tiny, kinetic scenes of our splendid state.