Two Days in Southeast Portland: A Bunny Ears Travel Guide
Insider tip: Portland’s hottest neighborhood sits at the foot of a volcano. Known for its supply-and-demand-defying concentration of pour-over coffee shops (not to mention an over-saturated body ink scene!), the South Tabor community affords visitors decent eats and some seriously earthy nightlife options. One day is too short a time to embrace it, but two is exactly how long you need in this corner of a city particularly amenable to late-risers.
Where to stay: DM me.
The traditional hospitality industry has given the part of town a wide berth, but if you’re looking for a fully immersive South Tabor experience, I’ve got a lead on an unlisted Airbnb. (For our purposes, this will always be our starting point on the itinerary.) Amenities include neo-vintage Swedish modern furniture and Roku.
Portland is one of just four American cities that can boast an urban volcano. Ivory tower naysayers have downgraded Mt. Tabor “dormant,” and even in her heyday, this feisty hill only ever erupted into a slow-moving lava crawl. But what she lacks in fire she makes up for in hiking and outdoor recreation opportunities, with countless miles of hiking trails.
If sizzle is truly what you crave, redirect your hiking sticks back to the pavement for a scenic 1.7-mile trek westward. Destination: The iconic Reel M Inn Tavern, where old friends and new gather to sip away the 45-minute minimum wait for a basket of the watering hole’s famed fried chicken and jojos. Bonus: the smoky interior is all an ambient illusion, meaning you can quaff the grease clouds without obstacle.
Movie buffs who want to make their journey more cinematic should start first at North Bar (0.2 miles), the real-life headquarters of the Nightmare on Division Street horror franchise. If you haven’t caught up on this seven-part (and counting!) sleeper hit, written and directed by North Bar’s proud owner, you must! Prefer the studio system? Consider taking a slight detour to the historic Bagdad Theater & Pub (1.4 miles). Not only did this profoundly haunted cinema host the premiere of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but they pipe movie audio into the bathroom speakers so you can relieve yourself without missing a beat! (A note to the ladies: Don’t linger in there too long; the women’s toilet is where most supernatural activity has been detected.)
But back to the bird: 1.1 miles into your westerly walkabout, give a quick glance to your left to spot Oregon Theatre, an unassuming 92-year-old venue that long ago shed its marquee and became a screening space for adult cinema. Admire one of the last dusty holdouts against neighborhood gentrification, and reflect on Travis Bickle’s ill-fated attempts to woo Betsy. Do it briskly. Do not go inside.
In addition to the tantalizing promise of geological unrest, Mt. Tabor offers up nearly 200 acres of park lands where you can laugh, love, and luxuriate — not to mention star-gaze.
But if celestial run-ins are really what you’re after, your best bet is the two leading ladies of lower Hawthorne Boulevard: Bar of the Gods and Space Room (0.8 miles). They’re two separate drinking establishments, both blessedly untouched by any kind of bar rescue campaign. Name your ambrosia: imbibe an El Diablo at Bar of the Gods as you laugh at how we are all but playthings at the whim of the immortals, or indulge in some video poker at Space Room and be amazed that everything in the bar is as it was when Laika was launched into her ill-fated orbit, brave and unprotected.
Then toast yourself for not going inside Oregon Theatre.
Need to sober up before the Amtrak, Bolt Bus, or Greyhound home? Mt. Tabor’s reservoirs are placid and calming, and until recently provided drinking water for much of the city’s population. The temptation to destroy such a nice thing proved too strong for the occasional full-bladdered local, however, and now the reservoirs are largely ornamental. But they’re hardly forgotten, and lapping them reminds one of the restorative walks in Bath’s Royal Crescent that Jane Austen described. But if you happen to dislike dogs, specifically Labradoodles and Boston terriers, you can reset the texture of your day by dropping into Zach’s Shack (0.01 miles), where you can find vodka-soaked gelatin (like so many prehistoric mosquitoes embedded in amber!) — at only $1 a shot.