About two weeks out from the official November 12 opening of the Hoxton Portland—Old Town/Chinatown's first luxury hotel, possibly ever?—the New York-based publicity team for London-based Ennismore International offered Portland Monthly a tour.

I expected the nine-story tower to be a beehive of activity, with staff readying for a Halloween week full of special events, then a soft opening, then the big day. But what I wasn't prepared for was the vibe: adrenalin suffusing the place like a road crew about to put on a rock concert. Everywhere, chic employees took notes during a cocktail master class, tasted wine, and stalked the lobby in personally customized Pensole trainers. (The shoe design school shares the block with the Hoxton.) 

I shouldn't have been surprised. Old Town—a corner of downtown where Portland's problems have long concentrated, where crime rates are high and children are scarce—is finally, noticeably, anxiously transitioning to ... something else.

Above street-level establishments like Deadstock Coffee, vintage arcade Ground Control, and Berber rug purveyor Kat & Maouche, airy lofts and creative spaces are replacing low-income housing. Rent is going up, and some resident social services are expanding or even moving out. Take Old Town mainstay Central City Concern, which began reconsidering the primacy of downtown for its services following a poll that showed many of its clients had migrated east. (CCC plans to expand to meet them, with an innovative new facility now under construction on Northeast 112nd.)

In the meantime, the Hoxton moved in—catching Portland by surprise last fall when it purchased the nearly complete Grove Hotel from local entrepreneur Bill Naito, shortly before the Grove was set to open. It's literally the biggest development in Old Town in years, and it speaks to the young hospitality brand's confidence that there's money to be made right here, at the intersection of social and economic tension.

The Hoxton has placed its bet on going big on Brand Portland, filling every corner of the tower with arty local call-outs, from in-house workshops with sex shop She Bop and travel magazine On She Goes to the lush Solabee plant displays that throng ninth-floor rooftop bar Tope.

Will Hoxton's bet pay off? Given recent local hospitality trends, we're guessing yes. Perhaps the bigger question: How exactly will that success shape Old Town’s inevitable transformation?

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