Neighborhood Guide: Mississippi and Williams
This close-in North Portland corridor is a gold mine for wanderers who hunger for Portland culture writ large. The booming area sports outlets of many homegrown mini-chains (Blue Star Donuts, Little Big Burger, Ruby Jewel), with massive new apartment projects popping up like dandelions. But the growth is also a part of Portland’s bitter legacy of displacement. Historically one of the city’s few Black neighborhoods due to discriminatory redlining practices, this area was gutted by decades of so-called urban renewal and construction, with gentrification eventually pushing many of Albina’s longtime residents out of the area altogether. So, it’s complicated.
Off Mississippi, ambitious, astronomy-themed Ecliptic Brewing offers higher-brow pub fare and a revolving roster of heady brews from owner John Harris—otherwise known as the dude who created Deschutes Mirror Pond and Black Butte Porter. Sarah Minnick of Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty is a pie auteur, deeply connected to local farmers, Northwest cheeses, and free thinking. The age-old pleasures of Bavaria find a home at obsessively authentic beer hall Prost, while its adjacent Prost! Marketplace hosts a range of cart options, for eating in the lot or on the deck.
By day, Mississippi Studios and its attached Bar Bar beckon with one of the finest garden patios in town (pictured above), while the intimate church-turned-recording-studio-turned-music-venue inside offers sweet acoustics and the cozy feeling of a living room jam session (once we can gather again for such events, of course).
Over on Williams, juicy baby back ribs, upholstered in sticky, crackly bark, vie for PDX’s barbecue crown at The People’s Pig, but the smoked fried chicken sandwich is the real star: thighs, skins on, smoked to smithereens, baptized in hot oil for crispy ruffles, then glazed in jalapeño jelly and captured in a monumental, char-blistered sourdough bun.
Other cities boast car museums or vintage toy collections. Mississippi boasts half a city block full of old front doors, vintage conveyor belts, and yards of knobs and hinges at the nonprofit ReBuilding Center, which sells salvaged and reclaimed goods at discount prices to encourage locals to use recycled, sustainable materials in their home projects. You can wander for hours through this Portland memory palace—vintage handsaws, tulip pendant lights, fire hoses, old Powell’s bookcases—and never get bored.
Since 1989 visitors have walked inside the doors of Sunlan Lighting 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 Edison bulbs, lamp bases, funky novelties with hula girls inside, and disco-tastic nightlights. Sunlan’s window displays, crammed with teeny figurines and curios, are pure madness.
With its dedicated bike lanes and steady stream of two-wheeled commuters, N Williams is a natural home for Sugar Wheel Works, which matches bikers with perfect custom hand-built wheels.
Named after the county’s first African American sheriff’s deputy, Matt Dishman Community Center just off N Williams has been a hub of activity for nearly 70 years. With a large indoor swimming pool, on-site gym, a legit boxing ring, and dance classes galore, it has physical opportunities for all ages and levels, once it is reopened to the public post-pandemic, of course. Plus, there’s a popcorn machine at the front desk. Nearby Dawson Park is a century-plus-old Albina neighborhood gathering spot, home to everything from civil rights marches to free summer concerts and movies.