Hostel Takeover

Want to Sleep with Strangers? Here’s a Handy Guide.

The modern hostel has come a long way, baby.

By Margaret Seiler Published in the March 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Bunking down at Kex


Like sleeping with strangers? Or maybe not with, but adjacent to? Portland boasts an increasing number of boutique hotels offering bunk rooms, where budget-conscious guests shell out about $40 or $50 for a berth. And far from being killed off by these new rivals or Airbnb, the city’s older (and slightly cheaper) traditional travelers’ hostels, affiliated with the nonprofit Hostelling International USA, are keeping up, with recent expansions and ongoing renovations.

The boutique “new wave” includes Kex in the Central Eastside (opened last November) and the Society in Chinatown (opened 2015). They place more of an emphasis on aesthetics and privacy, both in communal spaces and with their sleek, curtained bunks. While the HI hostels and the downtown Society technically ban locals (guests need to show an out-of-area ID upon check-in), the rest are solo staycation possibilities for locals—and they’re all options for stashing an extra houseguest.

Sleeping cheap at the Hawthorne Hostel

Hawthorne Hostel

In a 1909 house that spent several decades as a day care before becoming a hostel in 1984, travelers get an experience that is both peak hostel and peak Hawthorne. Sustainability awards line the walls, interpretive signs explain/celebrate the building’s green roof and rainwater capture system, anyone traveling solo by bike gets a discount, guests can request oat or almond milk for the free oatmeal and cereal at breakfast (pancakes, too—guests make their own and do their own dishes), and there are regular open-mic and movie nights. Fliers advertise neighborhood bar trivia, a local pub-crawl tour guide, and the hostel’s weekly free taco dinner. Best bunk: No. 3 in the coed dorm, a bottom bunk on the quieter second floor, with a view of the hostel’s green roof. Bunks $24–42, 3031 SE Hawthorne Blvd,

McMenamins Edgefield

This brewery-distillery-hotel-concert complex has men’s and women’s dorms on the main building’s third floor. Between the soaking pool, pool tables, fire pits, shuffleboard, movie theater, and more, there’s little reason to stay in the room, but it’s a warm space with comfy chairs and tall wooden lockers that let guests set their own combination. (The other hostels are all BYO padlock, or you can borrow, rent, or buy one from their front desks.) The 12-bed rooms tend to fill up in advance on big concert nights, but most of the time there’s space available for locals who’d rather pay for a night’s stay than have to schedule a spa appointment to access Edgefield’s storied soaking pool. Best bunk: 11, the farthest from the door and around the corner from the couch and common area, with a full side curtain. (Top bunks have only partial curtains.) Bunks $35, 2126 SW Halsey St, Troutdale,

Northwest Portland Hostel

Opened in a converted apartment building in 1998 with about 30 beds, the Northwest hostel is now a complex of six buildings that can house more than 230 people at a time in shared bunk dorms and private rooms. The encircled courtyards, alleyways, and guests-only “secret garden” lend an old European village feel, while a five-story building that went up in 2017 houses an oh-so-Portland café with a bike hanging from the ceiling and local beer and cider on tap. “Before, people were just stopping in on their way between Seattle and San Francisco,” says Tracy Larson, one of the operations managers, of the hostel’s early days. “Then there was the show Portlandia, the Blazers got good again ... and more people want to come to Portland for Portland.” Expect to encounter Australians, budget-savvy academics, and, with Providence Park just a few blocks away, traveling megafans of whomever the Thorns or Timbers are playing. Best bunk: The first-come-first-served berths are fairly interchangeable—just pick one where you won’t be disturbed by people opening the doors to the hall and the en-suite bathroom. Bunks $28–44, 479 NW 18th Ave,


The second location for this Icelandic hotel, Portland’s Kex has a wood-lined sauna and communal kitchen in the basement, a rooftop bar opening this spring, and breakfast choices from yogurt-esque Icelandic skyr and cured fish to pancakes and granola. A bunk room with 16 beds is surprisingly quiet aside from the occasional beeps of a kneeling bus stopping outside. The custom-designed bunks have handy hanging fabric pockets to stash phones and bedtime reading. Best bunk: Any bottom bunk, which will have a thick privacy curtain, but know the heads of bunks 14 and 16 in the hotel’s biggest shared room are very close together. Bunks $35–50, 100 NE MLK Jr. Blvd,


Just across the street from storied nightclub Darcelle’s in Old Town-Chinatown, the Society is smack in the middle of a bridge-and-tunnel-crowd stumble zone on weekend nights. Inside, though, a café and a roaring fire in the lobby offer an oasis of calm, and the triple-stacked bunks provide downtown’s cheapest lodging for travelers. At its second location, an hour away in Bingen, Washington, the Society team renovated an old schoolhouse-turned-hostel and built a ring of cabins and a spa structure with hot and cold tubs and a sauna. Just across from Hood River, the Bingen hostel attracts people headed for the slopes or looking to play on the water. At both spots, lights dim automatically in the bunk rooms to announce quiet hours, earplugs are complimentary, and beds have side and end curtains and headboard lockers. Best bunk: 21 in Portland, with a window and no one opposite you; also up top, 15 in Bingen, insulated from the train on one side of the building and the HVAC setup on the other. Bunks $29–49 in Bingen, 210 N Cedar St; $35–56 in Portland, 203 NW Third Ave;

Take your hostel experience on the road. Find some real out-the-front-door highlights at HI Pigeon Point near SF, which boats a cliffside hot tub; The Green Tortoise, just across the street from Seattle’s Pike Place Market; or the brand-spanking-new HI New Orleans on the border of the festive French Quarter.

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