A new Portland hostel is betting that a freshly vaccinated population is not only ready to travel, but they’re also willing to bunk with a group of strangers while exploring the world beyond their pandemic bubbles.
Lolo Pass is the latest local property to offer dormlike accommodations, following the highly anticipated opening of Icelandic spinoff Kex in late 2019. With 87 rooms that can host up to 282 guests, the business at 1616 E Burnside St. is actually a hostel-hotel hybrid, since some quarters are private while others hold four or eight beds that feature shared bathrooms and locker storage.
Lolo Pass is also home to Portland’s newest rooftop bar—a fifth-story perch where locals and visitors alike can sip drinks and take in the view of the central eastside. On the ground floor you’ll find a newly constructed lobby restaurant, bar and a cafe scheduled to open June 12.
Even before the pandemic, when stuffing people into tight quarters became a health hazard, getting Americans to embrace hostel stays was always a bit of a challenge.
Lauren and Lee Gonzalez want to change those perceptions. The sisters are well acquainted with hostel living, having used them as their home base while traveling as students. After that experience, the pair figured they could improve upon the model, so after brief careers in finance, they moved to Barcelona and opened two small operations in 2006.
The Gonzalezes expanded to the States several years later by opening The Local, an industrial building in Queens, N.Y., converted into dormitories. While simultaneously working to launch Lolo Pass—the sisters’ first ground-up construction project, in development since 2017—they managed to shepherd the East Coast property through the pandemic.
“When the travel ban was announced in mid-March, we saw reservations drop to zero overnight and almost everything on the books was canceled,” Lauren Gonzalez tells WW. “We furloughed almost all of our staff, and our saint of a GM moved in to keep things running along with the help of my sister, Lee. We eventually stabilized operations with a consistent group of long-term guests plus the occasional traveler.”
If anything, Lolo Pass—named after the mountain the sisters spotted on old expedition maps at the Oregon Historical Society—could be an easy way to dip your toes into the world of hostels. Unlike a higher-risk stay somewhere in Europe, you likely won’t get lost on Burnside; if you do, the street signs are all written in English and beds start at just $36 a night, making the stay an affordable splurge.