Hidden Portland: Secret Spots

Portland's Best Basements, Back Rooms, Attics, and Hideaways

Here are some of the city's most out-of-the-way spots to eat, drink, or just be mysterious.

By Kelly Clarke, Ramona DeNies, Margaret Seiler, and Benjamin Tepler December 21, 2018 Published in the January 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

Fly Awake Teahouse

Image: Thomas Teal

A Woo Tea Party

Down the alley behind She Bop off North Mississippi hides a loopy, enlightened realm of rare Chinese brews, trailing vines, and tarot cards. The serious tea nerd staff at Fly Awake Teahouse host pretty much the most “Portland woo” events ever—screenings of Koyaanisqatsi set to live ambient improv music, a monthly Sip & Sketch, and vegan, gluten-free nacho Wednesdays. Sit in the corner sipping a 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. 909 N Beech St, Suite B —KC

Image: Michael Novak

Buy Where You Borrow

People visit downtown’s Central Library to borrow books (or to pee, or check their email, or just stay warm), but at the Friends Library Store, lurking just off the entryway, visitors can buy some well-kept used tomes. There are also Edward Gorey greeting cards, Hermione Granger–inspired T-shirts, and Out of Print–brand socks patterned after the borrowing cards that were once tucked into library books (hot item: the rainbow pairs), plus a bargain kids’ book cart, jewelry, and a Friends of the Library tote bag celebrating such local literary greats as Kesey, Cleary, Carver, and Auel. 801 SW 10th Ave —MS

The People’s Potty

Under the Pioneer Courthouse Square Starbucks, through the doors behind the fountain, and past the TriMet schedules and tourist brochures sits a gender-paradigm-smashing, germ-avoiding, bladder-emptying paradise. A 2017 renovation converted ye olde lads’ and ladies’ rooms to an all-user, all-gender, ADA-accessible, 11-stall restroom. Doors nearly to the floor give privacy, while an unobtrusive attendant uses the sink area’s open sightlines to make sure there’s no funny business for the 300,000-plus annual users. Dyson Airblade dryers mounted right on the sink taps lend an Epcot Future World feel to the post-pee handwashing. 701 SW Sixth Ave —MS

McMenamins Cellar Bar

Imbibe Underground

Escape the summer heat or hide from even the sound of winter rain in one of the city’s many cozy basement bars. Hermits, covert operatives, and intimate couples all find shelter in Pépé le Moko, a dark bunker beneath the Ace Hotel with a tight list of schlocky cocktails made relevant again, grasshoppers to espresso martinis. Rare wine finds and a spelunking spirit await at Les Caves on NE Alberta. Beer and Blazer lovers can grab a pre-game Engelberg Pilsener at Upright Brewing under the Leftbank Building. On SW Barbur, the sloping lot keeps Caro Amico’s bar from qualifying as a basement, but the Italian classic’s coziness makes up for it. The EastBurn’s subterranean space offers old-fashioneds with a chaser of Pac-Man Battle Royale. Grab a SoCo-loaded Ramses cocktail at downtown’s Mummy’s, which feels nearly as old as its ancient Egyptian muses. McMenamins’ Cellar Bar beneath Ringler’s Annex has barely changed in its two decades, though now the old bathroom punches through to Al’s Den music venue and, beyond, the Crystal Hotel’s tiny, guests-only pool. —BT & MS

Spring Restaurant

Image: Kelly Clarke

Revel in the Rafters

Achieve a higher state with a cloudy absinthe at Northeast’s time-warped Secret Society Lounge or down a smoky-sweet, chile salt–rimmed house mezcal margarita at Teote’s baroque Coyote Mezcaleria, upstairs from its nondescript SE 12th Avenue arepa counter. Survey Slabtown from Solo Club’s pretty mezzanine, aperol-goosed spritzer or perfect rosé in hand, or get buzzed on an elaborate Turkish coffee service sipped atop Tov’s red double-decker bus parked off Hawthorne. Want suds? Upper Lip is the mellow upstairs sib to Bailey’s Taproom’s midweek tech-bro madness, with a curated tap list and vast bottle selection. At indie stalwart Valentine’s, the loft gives a bird’s-eye view of nightly DJs. Hungry? Indulge in fruit-infused cocktails and honey-sticky cornbread on a creaky velvet couch in an old Portland foursquare-turned-boîte Beech Street Parlor, or just share all the banchan at Spring Restaurant, hidden up a near-secret stairway inside G-Mart Korean market in Beaverton. —KC

Psychic Bar

Image: Thomas Teal

Dark Realms

You’d be forgiven for mistaking this inky black Victorian set back from the North Mississippi bustle for a set piece from a gothic prestige TV drama, or, as the red neon beaming in the window suggests, a spiritualist’s lair. Instead, Psychic Bar is a moody-wonderful spot that trades in eye candy as surely as cocktails and Indian-leaning snacks. Every inch, from trippy infinity bathroom mirror to tall velvet curtains, is crafted for maximum witchy drama by a trio of local film industry insiders. Settle in with an excellent house punch (recently sweetened with pineapple and spiked with fizzy CBD soda) and swap stares with the hand-painted, arcane-patterned walls—mostly eyes and hands. 3560 N Mississippi Ave —KC

Circa 33

Behind the Door

Keeping with the Belmont bar’s Prohibition-era theme, Circa 33’s back bar also adds a dash of Scooby Doo with an entrance disguised as a bookcase. Go on the right night (i.e., a Thursday through Saturday, and when the space isn’t already booked for a private event), enter the right code in the right book on the right shelf at the end of the hall by the bathrooms, and enjoy Circa 33’s classic cocktails in a leather-appointed speakeasy complete with a shuffleboard table. 3348 SE Belmont St —MS

Queso Chamber

You think you know cart-turned-national superstar Güero: affordable, gut-busting tortas, excellent margaritas, the occasional Blazer game projected onto the wall. But step into the back room, a pet project from owners Alec Morrison and Megan Sanchez: The tiny, candle-lit cantina, set off with white plaster and colored concrete and strewn with hide rugs and cushy pillows, is next-level Güero. For $80 a person, the chef-duo will turn out five courses of snacks and shared plates, from queso fundido mini-tortas to platters of Yucatecan-style meats. More of a mezcal person? Rent the room out as a cocktail party, with a roving bar cart pouring flights and shaking cocktails for up to 15 (intimate) friends. 200 NE 28th Ave —BT

The Nines library

Hotel Highs, Lows

Put on your best tourist face and pretend you’re staying at Hilton’s new Canopy (425 NW Ninth Ave) to reach the skylit basement rec room of your dreams: long tables, plush cushions, foosball, and the occasional pop-up yoga class. Need something cozier? Head to the not-so private library at the Nines (525 SW Morrison St), crammed with tufted leather couches, 3,000 titles from Powell’s, Gus Van Sant photographs, scribbles from John Callahan, and a ceramic antler chandelier. —KC & MS

The Evergreen

Masonic Party Pads

When Imago Theatre took over a ’20s-era Masonic Lodge, there were relics of former freemason pageantry in the top-floor ballroom: a hat, some stage scenery, symbolic flotsam. Bookending the 4,500-square-foot aerie, two doors open to mysterious corridors running the ballroom’s length. “We call them ‘secret’ hallways,” says Imago’s Jerry Mouawad. “They’re not that secret—just not apparent.” Blocks away, another not secret but not apparent staircase off Loyal Legion’s taproom leads to a one-time home of freemason fêtes and, later, decades of ruckus as the Portland Police Athletic Association’s after-hours hangout. Called Orient Lodge #17 by the Oddfellows who commissioned the structure (which opened in 1909 and is built “like a brick shithouse,” says Portland restaurateur Kurt Huffman, a current co-owner), the near-perfect replica of an Arts and Crafts London wallpaper factory from British starchitect C. F. A. Voysey is now called The Evergreen, its lofted second-floor ballroom hosting weddings and suds-fueled dance extravaganzas under a faded, staunchly patriotic PPAA mural. —RD

Rose City Book Pub

Book Nook

The creators of the Rose City Book Pub, the sudsy new bookstore that opened in County Cork’s old space on NE Fremont in November, understand that sometimes the best drinking partner is a hardcover classic. Beyond its main floor of scuffed tables and well-worn couches hide a few prime reading nooks and sipping crannies among its shelves of mismatched titles. You’re not coming here for the pub grub—most of which trends sweet and underseasoned. Instead, claim your spot with a book chosen at random (Dorothy Parker, Russian fantasy, Alice Munro ... Your Chickens), order a regional pint from the 18-strong tap list, and get busy ignoring the world for a while. 1329 NE Fremont St —KC

Glowing Greens

Underground, Under Par

Beneath downtown’s Duniway Hilton, sirens, skeletons, prop rum barrels, and clanking dungeon gates are bathed in blacklight at Glowing Greens. Lauded (somewhat mysteriously) as one of the best miniature golf courses in the country by Men’s Journal, the 13 holes are more noted for their spooky pirate theme and all-weather availability than the actual golf experience. New ax-throwing lanes (safely separated from both the mini-golfers and the just-added bar) and a soon-to-come escape-room attraction add to GG’s subterranean lures. 509 SW Taylor St —MS

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