The streets of St. Johns are changing as fast as any neighborhood in Portland. Yes, there's a forest of new apartments and condos, but there are also exciting new bars, restaurants and businesses that have brought a bull economy to the community. And for now, the things that brought people to this charming neighborhood, like an eclectic music scene, well-preserved dive bars, and beautiful parks are alive and well. No other Portland neighborhood can match the electric collision of the new and the old that's happening in St. Johns right now.
Mama San Soul Shack, 8037 N Lombard St.
The Fixin' To, 8218 N Lombard St.
Second Gear, 8926 N Lombard St.
Cathedral Park, North Edison St. and Pittsburg Ave.
2 Stroke Coffee
8926 N Lombard St., 503-954-2339, 2strokecoffee.com. Breakfast-early evening Monday-Friday, breakfast-midnight Saturday-Sunday.
For Portland bikers cruising down Old Germantown Road, 2 Stroke Coffee has recently become the perfect pit stop. Stylistically, however, the cafe feels like it would be found on some imaginary highway between a 1930s French motocafe and present-day San Francisco. The coffee comes from Water Avenue Roasting, to be enjoyed alongside pastries, charcuterie, and items on a small beer menu. Even old-school bikers will find something to like here. Know in advance that you'll find yourself fantasizing about riding two wheels of hell out some country road, even if you're just sipping espresso on your own two feet.
Dub's St. Johns
9520 N Lombard St., 503-998-8230, dubstjohns.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Saturday.
We can think of no better way to carbo-load before a marathon than Dub's fried chicken. Order your choice of pieces, which should be a leg and a thigh, served over two gigantic, fluffy waffles and doused with syrup. $.
Mama San Soul Shack
8037 N Lombard St., 503-719-4288, mamasansoulshack.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Southeast Asia and the Southeastern region of our own country don't share much in terms of culture, but Mama San Soul Food shows that the love of pork, spice and pickles makes the cuisines easier friends than you might imagine. The Southern fried chicken wings have a delicate, lacy coating, and the housemade kimchi is mouth-puckering and hot. $-$$.
Pattie's Home Plate Cafe
8501 N Lombard St., 503-285-5507. Breakfast-early dinner Tuesday-Friday and Sunday, breakfast-dinner Saturday and Monday.
Pattie's Home Plate Cafe is a blue-plate diner that segues unexpectedly into a sort of Betty Boop-filled thrift shop. On at least one occasion, people have sung karaoke among it all. It's an oddity, but the right kind of oddity. $.
Tienda Santa Cruz
8630 N Lombard St., 503-289-2005. Breakfast-dinner daily.
One of Portland's perfect hangover cures is Tienda Santa Cruz's consomé de Barbacoa weekend special, which features five roast lamb tacos and a bowl of lamb consommé with garbanzos. The burritos have the magic ability to stay hot from the first bite to the last. $.
The Fixin' To
8218 N Lombard St., 503-477-4995, thefixinto.com.
The Fixin' To is undergoing some major changes, including adding a music venue and bringing the pizza from the superb food cart Pizza Contadino into the kitchen. In spite of these changes, the place still feels like a timeless, hard-drinking Southern bar where the substantial list of shot-and-a-beer combos gets well-used by regulars.
The Garrison Tap Room
8773 N Lombard St., 971-279-5587, royalebeer.com.
Royale Brewing's brand-new Garrison Tap Room in downtown St. Johns is the only place so far where you can try its full selection of beers. The Pilsner is perfect for summer, but don't sleep on the chocolaty porter when the weather cools down.
6635 N Baltimore Ave., 503-719-7102, occidentalbrewing.com.
With a lineup of celebrated German-style lagers, Occidental is one of the North Portland's original craft brewers. Locals flock to the taproom (especially in the warmer months), a cool industrial space in the shadow of the St. Johns Bridge.
Club Sky High
8957 N Lombard St., 503-719-5801, clubskyhigh.net.
Club Sky High is a popular choice for bar crawlers in St. Johns wishing to take their evening to the next level. It's mostly about the flower at this dispensary, but the buds are reasonably priced and the budtenders are voluble with what is clearly lots of firsthand experience.
8926 N Lombard St., 503-477-8027, secondgear.com. Closed Monday.
As the retail side of the 2 Stroke Coffee space, Second Gear is the place to find reclaimed motorcycles alongside new and used apparel and accessories. It carries a mixture of vintage classics and contemporary pieces that will keep you looking as good as you feel flying around on two wheels.
Tre Bone Pet Supply
8326 N Lombard St., 971-255-0772, trebone.net.
Perusing the collection of locally produced pet accessories and alternative dog and cat care products at Tre Bone makes shopping at the pet megastores seem a heartless chore. For the animals that don't yet have an owner, Tre Bone also supports adoption.
North Edison Street and Pittsburg Avenue
The pale green uprights of the Gothic St. Johns Bridge give a stunning aerial architecture to Cathedral Park, under which lies a wide grass expanse that slopes down to the Willamette's sandy bank. It's probably Portland's most beautiful park. The only major contender would be Forest Park, which happens to be in view just across the river.
One Good Hand at Brekken's Bar & Grill
8728 N Lombard St., 503-286-2815.
If you hang out in enough North Portland dive bars, you'll eventually be invited to play poker at Brekken's, where cash games are played weekend nights. Most of the players seem to be regulars of deeply varied skill levels, but they'll still let you in if your money is good.
The Pigeons Studio and Gallery
7325 N Alta Ave., thepigeonsstudioandgallery.com.
The odd decorum of most galleries can push away curious potential customers, but at the Pigeons, the gallery is a more interactive art space. From tarot readings to poetry readings to collections by visual artists, you can experience art here with no guards on duty.
St. Johns Farmers Market
St. Johns Plaza, 503-841-5522, stjohnsmainstreet.org/farmers_market. 9 am-2 pm Saturday.
From June to November, there's no better place in St. Johns to buy ruby red strawberries or fragrant foraged porcini than the St. Johns Farmers Market. Local artisans and charming junk collectors are ready to talk your ear off, making this one of the community's most compelling gatherings.
St. Johns Twin Cinemas
8704 N Lombard St., 503-286-1768, stjohnscinema.com.
One could kill many a dreary winter night in the St. Johns Twin Cinema, munching on slices of pizza-window pizza while draining a pint. As with many of Portland's other ancient theaters, the seats are battered and deceptively comfy, and tickets ($8 normal, $6 matinee) are cheap enough for a weeknight.