When legalization first hit Portland, plans for the future of recreational cannabis culture were grand. The owner of the building housing the late Brasserie Montmartre downtown wanted to put a subterranean wine-and-weed lounge in the historic restaurant's basement. Dispensaries talked about on-premises massage rooms using medicated topicals.
Then the regulations dropped—revealing strict consumption protocols that limited use of cannabis products to private residences—and the gilded projections of a social smoking scene were extinguished.
But Flight Lounge—a new, tiny smoking lounge on the corner of Southeast 72nd Avenue and Harold Street—is keeping things simple. According co-owner Leia Flynn, the concept is "to make a Portland version of an Amsterdam cafe," a no-frills spot to spend an afternoon sipping tea and using in-house equipment to smoke weed brought from the outside. Flynn owns the building, and has a license from the city of Portland to operate a members-only club.
"We legalized cannabis, but we banned social consumption," says Flynn, who runs Flight Lounge with business partner Josh Young. "Where are people supposed to smoke? If you're over 21, you should be able to walk into a private business and consume it responsibly."
In truth, Flight Lounge is more of a cannabis snack shack than a cafe. But there's free WiFi, and the locally made art covering every inch of the walls oozes genuine Southeast Portland charm.
Though Flight Lounge isn't allowed to sell cannabis or alcohol, for my inaugural visit, I was able to pick up a quick $6 gram at Cannabis Corner down the block beforehand. After getting buzzed in, I was met with a cheery ambience of colorful paintings, a popcorn machine and a handful of red leather booths and benches.
Every table has a silicone mat for a dabbing surface, and an array of artisan picks and tools sit on the glass counter. You're given a clean crystal ashtray, a poker to clear your bowl and an alcohol pad for resin-stained fingertips. It was lovely, like getting tea and cookies on a dainty plate—if the tea was a $1 can of Canada Dry.
And unlike at other cannabis-friendly venues or events, every visitor must sign a non-disclosure agreement, ensuring no one talks about fellow patrons of Flight Lounge and what gets said within the smoke circle.
"A lot of out-of-state professionals come here to experience what they can't at home," says Flynn. "So confidentiality and privacy are my priorities. We would never disclose [names of] individual members or brag on social media about who came in that day."
The question for Flight Lounge is whether whiteboard menus, red banquettes and good vibes are enough to attract customers who have to pay to play. It's $10 at registration for membership, then $4 per visit or $24 a month for unlimited visits and perks like complimentary refreshments and passes for gifting a one-time entry to a friend. Even if those prices sound agreeable, you can't board Flight Lounge unless referred by a current member. That exclusivity risks losing curious people not ready to commit to ancillary fees just to smoke weed indoors.
But perhaps other Portland cannabis entrepreneurs have just been trying too hard.
Green Space Lounge outlined a larger-than-life space for the rich and famous to mingle and smoke in the SolTerra building on Southeast Division Street and 10th Avenue, only for the project to dissolve within months. NW Cannabis Club on Southeast Powell Boulevard has been operating without interruption as a BYOC smoking lounge for over two years in a space that resembles a college common room. Flight Lounge just wants to be a Southeast Portland-bent Amsterdam cafe, and other than the absence of an espresso machine, that's exactly what it is.
In the end, people just want a place to be with other people who smoke weed. Much like the difference between going to a bar and drinking alone in front of your TV, there's a lot to be said for meeting new friends at a semi-public place where everyone has at least cannabis in common. And maybe straightforward confidentiality is an underrated draw.
"We are over 200 members strong already," says Flynn. "There are so many of us professionals who worked so hard, for years, to conceal cannabis consumption. This is a safe space for them to be themselves. We deserve a place that understands confidentiality where we feel comfortable."
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Flight Lounge's cross street. WW regrets the error.
GO: Flight Lounge, 5427 SE 72nd Ave., flightlounge.biz. Noon-10 pm Tuesday-Saturday.