Where Highway 26 forks at the fast-food vortex of T-Bell and KFC, head southeast down Foster Road, past the discount tobacco shack and "variety" store selling VHS tapes and wind-up toys. Take note of the number of new eclectic eateries and slew of "coming soon" signs between Southeast 52nd and 65th avenues. This is a neighborhood that until recently boasted the strip club Devil's Point as its most recognizable landmark. Today it's better known as "FoPo," one of the last affordable places to live and do business in Portland (at least, for now).
Longtime locals have heard this story before, with neighborhood names like Alberta and Mississippi. The average two-bedroom home in the dusty, urban frontier that is the Foster-Powell neighborhood currently runs about $250,000, compared with Hawthorne's $350,000 average, which has driven many young couples and families to move to the area within the past five years. And, like any thriving Portland community, residents would rather work and play nearby. Not everyone was interested in cocktailing at the Point. So several young entrepreneurs have seized the open storefronts along Foster and created their own opportunities.
Marcus Ginther, co-owner of inner-Southeast bar Acme, has lived in FoPo (yes, it seems every new hip 'hood needs an abbreviated name) with his wife and son for the past three years. But it wasn't until last fall that he—along with Acme partner Kevin Dorney and manager Melinda Archuleta—decided to open Bar Carlo (6433 SE Foster Road, 771-1664). After noticing that a 3,000-square-foot building that previously housed a Russian restaurant was for lease, Ginther jumped on the charming architectural space and cheap rent (around $2,000 a month—the same square footage in the Pearl can run up to $3,500 a month).
In late March, Bar Carlo opened its doors for breakfast (smoked-salmon scrambles) and lunch (bacon, mozzarella and basil sandwiches), using local produce and breads. By summer, the rest of their full-scale Italian-Mediterranean restaurant and lounge should be completed and open till 2 am.
"There's not too many non-greasy places to eat around here," says Ginther. "You shouldn't have to get in your car to grab a healthy breakfast."
Ginther's longtime pal Randy Montgomery agrees. He also has lived in Foster-Powell for several years and has witnessed the growth and demand for more local business. "Last year alone, more than eight houses sold on my street," he says. This July, Montgomery will open Cava, a European pub in the old community-center space at Southeast 53rd Avenue and Foster Road. No Lotto machines or ashtrays here—Cava's focus will be on microbrews, imported beers, inexpensive wines and an "esoteric atmosphere," according to Montgomery.
Not that Ginther and Archuleta are opposed to a smoky room, a game of pinball and, more importantly, cocktails made with strawberry soda (from the bar gun!). The threesome—along with many others locals—are pulling up bar stools at Slingshot Lounge (5532 SE Center St., 445-6649), which opened around the same time as Carlo. With Yakuza portraits lining the neon-green and black walls, the slender dive is definitely a hipper, younger alternative to the 'hood's shadier watering holes. "Look outside," says Slingshot bartender Chazz Madrigal, pointing to the prime view of the Gun Room weaponry store from the window. "How do you think the owners came up with our name?"
Several new joints balance out the bar-to-cafe ratio—a must for any booming Portland pocket: Coffee Lovers (4144 SE 60th Ave., 775-3476), which expanded from a hallway-sized storefront to a tavern and restaurant last November; Guapo Comics & Coffee (6416 SE Foster Road, 772-3638), a year-and-a-half-old distributor of Japanese manga and mochas; and Sweetness (3524 SE 52nd Ave., 788-2177), an Internet coffee shop and bakery that opened last month. At FoPo's sugary addition, fourth-generation baker Kay Krueger and her mom, Gretchen, churn out sticky buns, blueberry strudel bars and apple deep-dish six days a week. "I've worked all across the city, and it's nice to work closer to home—and, well, for myself," says Kay, who held baker positions at Grand Central Bakery and Whole Foods before opening Sweetness.
With greater dining choices, older residents aren't complaining about the new kids on the block. "Within the last five years, there's a lot more people who've come forward and said, 'We can fix this or that' to make things better," says 20-year-plus resident Linda Goertz, who contends that despite the recent influx of Caucasian youngsters, Foster-Powell remains one of the city's most diverse neighborhoods, boasting large Russian and Hispanic populations. "It's not a gentrification thing, 'cause we're all still funky," says Goertz.
In an area labeled "up-and-coming," the shift oftentimes makes for amusing run-ins. "We still get a few stragglers who wander into Carlo at 10 am looking for a beer because the word 'bar' is on our sign," says Ginther.