Five Essential Old-School Portland Cafes

The old coffee bars are still allowed to live and breathe their history in this town; they haven’t all been torn down for new condos and Nordic-inspired minimalism.

Portland coffee contains multitudes—from modern, progressive coffee bars that can go toe to toe with anything you'll find in New York and L.A., to funky, deeply provincial Pacific Northwest expressions of cafe culture. The old coffee bars are still allowed to live and breathe their history in this town; they haven't all been torn down for new condos and Nordic-inspired minimalism. Ask Seattle how that feels (spoiler alert: it sucks).

Here are five old-school spots spinning in their own peculiar orbits.

Spella Caffe

520 SW 5th Ave., 503-752-0264,

There's a wormhole in downtown Portland, stretching between Southwest 5th Avenue and Alder Street and the cafes of Italy—Milan, perhaps, in the cafe-saturated area around the Duomo, or maybe Rome, where standing at the bar gets you a shot for one euro (or a float of grappa for two). Andrea Spella's love letter to the Italian espresso tradition is still as relevant and quality-focused as ever, celebrating 10 years at his postage-stamp-sized cafe (Spella started as a cart some years before). The place is intentionally unbeholden to the whims of fashion, instead aiming for a consistent daily offering focused on its Rancilio lever espresso machine. Your Northern Italian-style, medium-dark roasted shot will be served with a little sugar—and as in Italy, it's not impolite to use it. You might also try the shakerato here—espresso, ice, simple syrup, sometimes milk, shaken like a martini and served cold and foamy. It is the city's best.

Related: ere is a List of Every Coffee Roaster in Portland (We Think)


411 SW 3rd Ave., 503-228-5686,

(Rana Young) (Rana Young)

Huber's is on this list for its Spanish coffee, a fiery theatrical concoction made with high-proof rum, Kahlúa, triple sec and coffee, and because it is Portland's oldest restaurant, opened in 1879. But here is a piping-hot take: Fuck Huber's Spanish coffee. It's all show and no reward—you can find better coffee cocktails elsewhere in this town (at Americano on East Burnside Street, for starters). But you should still go to Huber's, because it makes the best turkey sandwich in this or any Portlandian century and the restaurant's Chinese-style barbecued turkey breast should get more play as an iconic Portland dish. And fine, OK, get the Spanish coffee—the show is really fun, because, ooh, fire, and look at how high they're pouring from! Just understand that the coffee-cocktail tradition does not begin or end here.

Related: Here are some of our favorite coffee cocktails in Portland.

Rimsky-Korsakoffee House

707 SE 12th Ave., 503-232-2640.

(Emma Browne) Rimsky-Korsakofee House (Emma Browne)

(Lights a clove cigarette.) Ah, yes, Rimsky's…a fine place, equal parts hot fudge and heartbreak, an angsty teenager's Trapper Keeper drawing of a cafe come to life, open from 7 pm till late, of course, because those are the only hours where this world makes sense.

(Emma Browne) (Emma Browne)

From the novelty restroom to the live music to the cash- and checks-only policy to the armada of nightly desserts to the enormous latte bowls a la Chandler from Friends, this is Portland's premier "alternative" coffee house, in all of that term's Gen X connotative glory.

(Emma Browne) (Emma Browne)

The must-get here is the orange cappuccino, a drink that was previously thought to be extinct before researchers discovered it on the Rimsky menu. Take a drag of your Djarum, give a longing look to that young poet across the room, and revel in a cafe that's more like a 20th-century set piece than a working business in 2016. And I mean that as a goddamned compliment.

(Emma Browne) (Emma Browne)

Anna Bannanas

1214 NW 21st Ave., 503-274-2559,

(Christine Dong) (Christine Dong)

Founded in 1989, Anna Bannanas claims the title of Portland's oldest coffee house. New owners took over the brand in 2015, and it is by all accounts a vast improvement: the food looks fresh and appetizing, the space is getting vacuumed regularly, and the espresso machine—a vintage 1989 Nuova Simonelli Program VIP—looks clean and cared for astride the counter.

(Christine Dong) (Christine Dong)

The cafe's interior oozes lived-in maximalism, from the strewn newspapers on the coffee table to the wheezing '80s-era carpeting. Every square inch of this place is covered in…something, or some form of original art, or tchotchke, or retail bags of Caffe D'arte dark-as-fuck roast.

(Christine Dong) (Christine Dong)

Places like this seem like they should be on death watch, but Anna Bannanas was packed at 1:45 pm on a Monday, from the rolly-smokin' hippies out front (there's an ashtray, natch) to the older laptop nerds in the back to the sleeping, farting dog beneath the table adjacent to mine.

(Christine Dong) (Christine Dong)

Generation X is alive and well here. The cafe is largely unchanged through the decades, and God bless 'em for it.

Pied Cow Coffeehouse

3244 SE Belmont St., 503-230-4866.

This is probably the least coffee-forward of these "coffee legends," and, yes, that includes Huber's, where the focus is very much on turkey. Like a Primitive Radio Gods song come to life, Pied Cow oozes 1990s alterna-sensibility, with a vintage through line that dates to the space's genuinely creepy origin story. Housed inside a Victorian manse built in 1893, this coffeehouse keeps goth-friendly hours (4 pm-late) and features a darkly spooky interior, replete with a tableside pantheistic worship altar, ceiling silks like a sultan's tent, and a restroom with burning incense. Teenage me would have just about died, and indeed, for those too young for the bar scene, spots like Pied Cow remain the pinnacle of underage nightlife in Portland.

Upon entry you will be given a dingy-ass set of old menus. There is hookah service, kava by the bowl, coffee from Italy's Illycaffe (my server had to double check), fondue and lentil dip, and herbal teas with names like "Yogi Spice" and "Aphrodite's Love Potion." The place vibrates with the spent psychic energy of countless Tinder dates, and OkCupid dates before that, and personal-ad dates from the back pages of papers like this one before that. Perhaps you'll sit inside, on one of the house's musty banquettes, or instead decide to enjoy the surprisingly vast patio, haunted day and night with the smell of cigarettes past. The printed menu sports a Nietzsche quote across the back page, and inside intones us to "Indulge the mind, body and spirit with substances and conversation to ease the bracing realities of 21st century life."

The overall aesthetic is like a sloppy Wes Anderson movie—quirky-askew—or perhaps a regional theater production of Interview With the Vampire. May it live forever.

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