Problem: The city is dismal after hours.
Idea: Open a Waffle House.
Portland isn’t dead. It’s just dead after 10 pm.
When the lights went out last March at The Roxy diner on Southwest Harvey Milk Street, it wasn’t just the end of 27 years of serving pancakes and camaraderie to the LGBTQ+ kids and scruffy misfits. It was the demise of the last 24-hour indoor restaurant in central Portland.
If this city seems less vibrant than it did a decade ago, that’s in part because its nights are dark. Even before the pandemic, few restaurants stayed open after 10 pm. Now, even the 24-Hour Original Hotcake House on Southeast Powell Boulevard closes at 11 pm.
Micah Camden, founder of SuperDeluxe and ramen shop Boxer, says staffing shortages further contracted the operating hours of restaurants in an already sleepy town.
“Seven-thirty is prime witching hour for food in this town,” Camden says. “It just starts to slow down from there. It would be nice to go out and get something and feel like the city is alive after 9:30 at night.”
Portland isn’t Manhattan. But it’s also not Biloxi, Miss.—where the glowing sign of a Waffle House signals at all hours that somebody is up and dishing out hash browns. The 24-hour diner is a nightlight: It says not to fear the darkness.
That’s a reassurance Portlanders could use. “Downtown is still bleak as hell,” Camden says. “The sun sets at 5:30, and you’re not bringing your family down there.”
If the city’s vaunted dining scene has been pillaged by ghost kitchen trailers, one solution is for a few brave entrepreneurs to take back the night. Start with one or two places that start service at 6 pm, rather than four, and extend their hours until midnight. (That’s similar to a model Camden says he’s planning for the Alberta location of Boxer.) Then we need one person to open an all-hours hash hut—a beacon proclaiming that Portland lives.