Amid all the upscale food courts, from Pine Street Market to the Zipper, Koi Fusion's four-eatery, Riverplace CARTlab (1831 SW River Drive, 503-477-5577, cartlabpdx.com) is the one thing you'd never expect: an honest-to-God, down-home sports bar.
Sure, there are "food carts" inside it. A back wall of the huge pub is lined with ginned-up facades for FOMO Korean chicken, Koi Fusion short-rib burritos and a full-sized-burger version of PDX Sliders, alongside a currently closed Tight Tacos. The former Stanford's even has a sushi window on the restaurant side serving rolls both California and Dragon. If you want, you can order straight from all those cart windows—but unless you've got kids in tow, why would you?
Around the flat-screened island of an old-school, suburban-style, dark wood bar, you can order a mix-and-match of Thunder Island IPA, a $9 chili-doused bowl of Korean fried chicken, some fries from Sliders, and a spare $3 bulgogi taco from Koi just for the hell of it. The bar has all the variety of a food hall, but none of the inconvenience—not to mention Big Buck Hunter, NBA Jam and a bar boxing game, plus cushy couches lined up in front of a big-screen TV.
In the theoretically chichi Riverplace, the clientele on a Tuesday was blue-collar and warm-hearted. When a sad guy at the bar—he was having bad luck in dating—reminisced about Ronald Reagan before launching into a barwide outburst that he's "going back to Louisiana!" he was treated with bemused empathy by the wind-turbine exporter sitting next to him. Left on the bar, meanwhile, was a rare piece of reading material: The Uline Complete Book of Material Handling. Which is to say, CARTlab may be an experiment—but it's the sort you embark on while someone else holds your beer.