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The Best Secret Nooks and Hidey-Holes in Portland Cafes

Where we go to drink coffee when we don't want to see you

The coffee shop is a Portland ritual and home away from bars—the social halls of daylight hours. But sometimes it'd be nice if so many people didn't have the same idea. Here are the hidey-holes, secret spots and semi-private nooks we seek out in Portland when we'd rather not see you.

Tea Chai Té
7983 SE 13th Ave., 503-432-8747, teachaite.com.

Built around an old train car, Sellwood's Tea Chai Té looks cozy even from the outside. The renovated caboose has a narrow hallway lined with cushy couches and armchairs, and there's a backroom with a fireplace. But the most unique nooks are the snug lofts built into the caboose's walls. Accessible by ladders, they're basically human cubbies. Tucked beneath a slanted roof covered in chalk graffiti, the wooden benches are just big enough for one or two. You can also climb up into the caboose's cupola, where two more pairs of benches sit next to windows that look out onto the street. SHANNON GORMLEY.

Clinton Street Coffeehouse
2706 SE 26th Ave., 503-238-2547, cafes-unlimited.com.

Just off Clinton Street since 1983, this two-room neighborhood coffeehouse has a secret. Near the children's play area, there's a tiny, hidden nook containing a single table with a single chair. If there are kids, you're out of luck: Don't sit there, you'll look creepy. But if it's empty, you have the only table in the cafe where you can't see the door and nobody entering can see you. The only bummer is, when Cleveland High kids get out for lunch, they'll barrel in talking loudly about homecoming. Time your visit to this hidey-hole wisely. SOPHIA JUNE.

Pied Cow Coffeehouse
3244 SE Belmont St., 503-230-4866.

With Nietzsche quotes printed on the menus and a cluttered altar dedicated to everyone from Nick Cave to Buddha, the Pied Cow is like a goth's approximation of an Old World cafe. The lights are left off in the daytime, there's no Wi-Fi, and it's supposedly haunted. Since the Pied Cow doubles as a late-night hookah bar, it's rarely crowded during regular coffee-shop hours, which makes the tiny tables pushed up against large windows perfect loner havens. In the garden, benches and plastic chairs are sectioned off from the rest of the yard by a large white tent. Lit by a heating lamp and multicolored Christmas lights, the tent houses a few tables, but during off hours, you're most likely to have it all to yourself. SHANNON GORMLEY.

Kopi Coffee
2327 E Burnside St., 503-234-8610.

On weekends in this packed coffee neighborhood, it is strangely impossible to find a place to work or read or have spare space inside one's head. Heart has no weekend Wi-Fi. Crema is like an angry mob of librarians. But even though Spare Room patrons crowd the front counter at Indonesian- and Vietnamese-inspired coffee shop Kopi, they never go down the stairs into the little backroom. There, amid newly furbished benches and bamboo-slat shades, you can find one of the only truly calming rooms in the entire neighborhood—a warm-wood refuge where reading a book on a Saturday afternoon feels like the only truly right thing to do. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Rocking Frog Cafe
2511 SE Belmont St., 503-230-8914, rockingfrogpdx.com.

Rocking Frog is claustrophobic in the best way possible—basically every table is nestled into its own little corner. There are round tables in an enclave of dark wooden bookcases, plus a backroom with board games and comfy leather chairs. If you’re willing to sacrifice some privacy for plushness, there are armchairs around a fireplace near the cafe’s counter. Otherwise, there are two-seat tables hidden behind a dividing wall. There, you’re fully obscured from the counter, which is key to being neither seen nor heard in coffee shops. SHANNON GORMLEY.

Cathedral Coffee
7530 N Willamette Blvd., 503-935-4312, cathedralcoffee.com.

The hideaway at this cutesy cafe, itself tucked away along a residential stretch in almost-St. Johns, isn't exactly hidden. It's basically a two-seat reading nook built into a corner of the wide-open main room, distinguished by ceiling-high wooden shelves stocked with random books and old issues of National Geographic. You won't get a ton of privacy, but the slightly dingy thrift-store chairs are cozy enough to kick back in with a cup of Tanager and leaf through a copy of Uppity Women of Ancient Times.

Fehrenbacher Hof
1225 SW 19th Ave., 503-223-4493.

This converted old house is decorated with what looks like the contents of several grandmas' kitchens: Worn hand-crank egg beaters hang from the ceiling, vintage toasters line the rafters, and there's a bookshelf full of disintegrating dictionaries. But the homiest corner is the backroom, where there's a chess set, potted ferns and two armchairs with cushions you can sink into. Best of all, the space can accommodate only two parties at a time. Aside from the armchairs, the only other seating is at a wooden table on the other side of the space. SHANNON GORMLEY.

Anna Bannanas
1214 NW 21st Ave., 503-274-2559, annabannanasnw.com.

Anna Bannanas is hidey-hole heaven, but nothing beats the basement. When most of Slabtown's power went out following the natural-gas explosion at Portland Bagelworks last year, the WW culture staff ended up meeting at this coffee shop—an accident that quickly became a habit. But one day, we found our usual backroom table occupied. "You could go to the basement," the staff suggested. Minds: blown. Downstairs we found an alt-weekly meeting mecca—an unfinished stoner basement clubhouse straight out of That '70s Show—with sunken couches and chalk-covered concrete walls. At times, a DVD playing on the basement TV will inexplicably be left showing the main menu, with a basket of microwave popcorn on top. Now WW's culture staff meets there whenever possible—and the staff carries the coffee and pastries downstairs. It's a special place: the kind that feels like it belongs to you and will forever belong to only you. Don't come. SOPHIA JUNE. t