A Downtown Summer PDX Walkabout

It’s summer in Portland! Let’s go for a walk around all the new shops west of the river. There’s the stunning new Sterling Coffee Roasters location in NW, the Case Study pop-up on Yamhill, Phuong Tran’s bike-through espresso bar Maglia Rosa, Keith Miller and Mindy Farley’s Red E Cafe counter in the EcoTrust building, and a soft-open first look at Billy Wilson’s new Barista location on Alder and 3rd. All these spots are an easy walk from one another, or an even more pleasant bike ride. It’s 75 degrees out with a nice breeze off the river, the sun is shining, and the air feels crisp and cool. Why wait?

First up is the newest to open: Barista 3, located at 529 SW 3rd Avenue in the heart of Downtown Portland. This new addition to owner (and former NWRBC champ) Billy Wilson’s portfolio of properties is immediately distinct from the other Barista locations. Barista’s Pearl District shop is sleek, modern, clean and compact; their Alberta street location is a neo-hunt club tribute to an older generation’s masculinity, all taxidermy beasts and brass newspaper holders. The Downtown space holds over some of those vintage touches from Alberta while echoing the modernity of the Pearl space, but with an urban Downtown Americana vibe all its own: white dot “penny round” tile floor, an antique cherry-tinted wooden cash register (with iPad inlay), analog push-button light switches, a turn-of-the-last-last-century hand washing faucet behind the bar, ancient mounted wall fans, similarly ancient-looking library desk light mounts, and a 13 star Third Maryland Regiment American Flag, a replica (probably) of the one originally used at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781, during the American Revolutionary War.

Barista 3 is still in its soft-open, which means certain elements (like the condiment bar and window seating) have yet to be put in place. But what’s there now is impressive enough, particularly the battalion of 4 Mazzer Robur E grinders and the brand new La Marzocco Strada MP, decked out in a custom in-house matte black paint job with cream La Marzocco script on the sides. The windows and center of the space are marked by arching marble counter tops, roughly a foot wide, mounted on who-knows-how-old brass piping. Their entry hallways has a collection of mounted wall clocks, each set to Portland time – for small cities called Portland in North Dakota, Texas, Connecticut, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania.

The opening day menu at Barista 3 featured Heart’s Ethiopia Yukro, Coava’s Guatemala Xeucalvitz, and Intelligentsia’s Black Cat espresso blend. Brewed coffee is available via French Press press pot. Look for more on Barista 3 as the local food and design blogs inevitably descend upon it, but for now, congratulations on Mr. Wilson and Co. for a decidedly firm soft opening, and we’ll be watching for big things to come.

Meanwhile, eight blocks away, 2005 USBC champion Phuong Tran is pulling shots at her brand new cafe Maglia Rosa. We offered an exclusive first look at Maglia Rosa when it opened a week and a half ago, so today was a lovely chance to stop back in, say hi to Phuong, and enjoy shots of Stumptown’s Colombia Hacienda El Roble and Ethiopia Mordecofe. Phuong’s warm wood and forest green bar is buttressed by a simple menu, and the space itself was in full flower in the sunshine, open to passers by and bikers schlepping around town or patronizing West End Bikes, the shop with which Maglia Rosa shares space. We especially enjoyed Maglia Rosa’s wall-mounted filtered water tap, and its lovely seating area complete with mock Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair love seat. Our shots were top notch.

Sterling Coffee Roasters has been an important part of the NW Portland neighborhood vibe since opening in 2010, and so a little thing like losing their lease to Trader Joe’s couldn’t possibly phase them. Sterling’s new location on NW 21st, billed by the company as a “tidy Parisian cafe”, shares digs with M Bar, a neighborhood wine and beer joint with piquant outdoor seating and an interior built on economy of space. Sterling is the daytime stop; M Bar is the nighttime destination. The designer wallpaper and carefully coiffed aesthetic of Sterling’s original location have been held over here, and the sophisticated vibe has been amplified by a couple of utterly unique service choices. Is there another cafe in North America sporting white table cloths? Does anyone else serve their espresso in Glencairn whisky glass?

Maybe we’re wrong here; maybe this is all old hat. Or maybe Sterling thought of it first. In any case, there may be no greater tactile thrill in all of coffee culture than swirling one’s espresso in a brandy snifter, allowing the shot to cool just a bit, then sipping slowly and tipping the head back while doing so, so as to force the espresso onto the back of the soft palate. An enjoyable experience indeed, one we took on for both their Brazil Sertao and Ethiopia Kochere.

Case Study Coffee have long had a lock on coffee service in NE Portland’s Hollywood District, but now they’re building out a brand new space on Yamhill and 10th, just across the street from the iconic Downtown Portland Public Library. Until their official space opens, the curious can stop by their neon-clad pop-up shop just down the block on Yamhill. When we visited, there was one coffee on offer – Case Study’s own Guatemala Santa Maria de Jesus – which Case Study offers in both a “dark” and “light” roast format. The Case Study employee on hand was quick to show us some of the new cafe’s incoming fixtures, including antique piano benches he boasted were “like a hundred years old!” Look for the new Case Study space to be open by October.

Last but definitely not least, North Portland fixture The Red E Cafe has been open their new Pearl District location for a few months, during which we’ve had plenty of time to hang out there (one of us even worked a few shifts). Red EcoTrust is awesome; owner Keith Miller’s custom woodworking sets the tone, which is equal parts lobby hang-out and espresso on the run. Stop by for an espresso shot on their La Marzocco Strada MP, and enjoy coffees roasted by Mr. Miller and sold under The Red E brand.

So next time you’re out and about in Portland and you’re thirsty for some espressso, maybe want to bring some pour-over upon your lips, consider these brand-new and exciting new cafes to visit and explore! Heck, if you have anything to add, sound off in the comments below!


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