Being the coffee shop junkie/loiterer/aficionado that I am, I’m way overdue for one of these silly lists. The nice part was that it was actually pretty easy. Before delving in, it’s important to consider that I’m not a coffee connoisseur. My list speaks more to aesthetics and overall experience than the actual quality of your cup o’ joe. Secondly, I’m biased toward places that break the mold. There are dozens of great coffee crashes all over Portland, but I give precedence to the places that have something more to offer than the standard. There are too many coffee shops in this area that seem to be all cut from the same mold, as if Stumptown were making mandatory design stipulations for the retailers that brew their coffee. My list honors those that serve up an experience going beyond caffeine and pastries. What else you got?

Anyways, *ahem*. Should you find yourself in Portland, my top five recommendations for places to hang out and drink coffee are as follows:

5. Southeast Grind (1223 SE Powell blvd)

I’ve talked about them before, and I really don’t have to say much beyond “they’re Portland’s only 24 hour coffee shop” to justify their inclusion. They’re double-espresso only, so they certainly take themselves seriously. They’ve also got plenty of seating (couch, table, or stool) and some pretty hip old-school PCs with behemoth monitors. You’d think that Portland would have more 24-hour coffee shops, but if they’re drinking coffee at midnight, then they’re not drinking microbrew, and we certainly can’t have that. If only they sold books, then they’d be higher on this list than…

4. The Fresh Pot (3729 SE Hawthorne blvd)
Fresh Pot on Urbanspoon

Now, before you say it: Yes, you could always go to the ginormous Powell’s in downtown PDX with the ginormous cafe inside of it. Well, you know what? If I want a copy of the UK special box set of The Gum Thief, I’ll drive downtown to that book metropolis and get it (which I did). In the meantime, I’ll relish the cuisine (like, donuts, or something), comfort (wooden furniture), and caffeine found at the Fresh Pot. Being conjoined to mini-Powell’s Books, it can be hard to find a seat in the cafe, and I’m sure it hasn’t gotten any easier with the opening of the New Seasons market nearby, but it’s one of the more complete cafe experiences you can ask for. It’s also open late (10pm Mon-Thurs, 11pm Fri & Sat, 9pm Sun), and, as I’ve already mentioned, that’s rare around here. Whenever I go there, however, I really wish I was at…

3. Guapo Comics and Coffee (6350 SE Foster Road)
Guapo Comics and Coffee on Urbanspoon

Take the best elements of Fresh Pot on Hawthorne (graphic novel section of the bookstore and a coffee shop), multiply the comics by 10, subtract the sweet location, add some rockin’ interior decorating, and you get Guapo. Yes, I’m biased because it is essentially a comic shop and a coffee shop that have been in a transporter accident. The nice thing is, it does both well, with a good selection of comics and respectable menu options for coffee and food–which actually includes dinner-ish options. The bad thing is, you’ve got to sojourn all the way to Southeast Portland to get there. I ain’t complainin’, but I regret that I don’t get there as often as I get to…

2. Elevated Coffee (5261 NE MLK Jr.  Blvd.)

The waffles are great, the service is great, the coffee is great, and the interior is gorgeous. Computers for the laptop challenged and a white baby grand piano for the musically inclined. Lot’s of options, but the Honey Latte is especially tasty. It’s location also makes it easy for me to drop into. MLK blvd. is a slower alternative to I-5, but at rush hour it’s actually preferred. On top of it all, you might even catch some live music on the weekend. In fact, the place is so great I’m surprised I didn’t find it in…

1. Vancouver, WA

Located due north of Portland, on the other side of the Columbia River “fence” lies Portland’s wacky neighbor, ‘da Couve. Compass Coffee, Java House, Mon Ami, Paper Tiger, Rosemary Cafe, and even that Starbucks that stays open until 9:30 basically make it worth never heading south across the I-5 bridge again. Vancouver’s also got less traffic, a half dozen art galleries, an underground arts community, and even it’s own local satire column. Yes, I’m a curmudgeon for Washington and I live in the ‘Couve. Represent, yo.

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As you may have gathered from my absence, it’s been an eventful week. This included bluegrass weddings, Alice in Fire-land, a rockin’ Minnesota bluesman, and a Northwest heatwave from hell. Let’s skip all that and get to the important stuff: the coffee shops. There have been several this week, after all. I’ve also begun cataloging my coffee adventures on the “My Life in Caffeine” page, so give it a looksee if you like more info on some of the spots I’ve graced with my lazy, loitering self.


What does it mean!?!?

Mugs ahoy!

Mugs Coffee Company on Urbanspoon
The grammatically puzzling Mugs Coffee drew me in by engaging my curiosity most actively. What on EARTH can it possibly mean? There’s no apostrophe, so the owner’s name can’t be “Mug.” There’s no preposition “of,” so clearly we’re not implying a number of mugs of coffee. Finally, there’s the generic signage. It’s like they’re daring me not to be interested. Well, Mugs is new to town, but they’re certainly firing on all cylinders, offering sandwiches, milkshakes, and a damned good chai. They’ve also got a host of events on their schedule including acoustic music night and bellydancers. They’ve also got Voodoo Donuts and wi-fi, and that certainly can’t hurt their popularity. Best of luck to them.

Just imagine it at 3:47 AM...

Just imagine it at 3:47 AM...

Southeast Grind on Urbanspoon
Southeast Grind on Powell has managed to accomplish what even The Fresh Pot adjacent to Powell’s couldn’t do: I actually regretted being outside of Portland. They are my first 24-hour coffee shop discovery and I couldn’t be happier. They’ve also got wi-fi, some killer vintage tech going on (oh, if only you cloud see the size of those monitors!), and art of all flavors on display. Check-minus on the parking situation though. They’re a double-only espresso institution, and vegan as well. They also proudly display their core values: local, healthy, organic, sustainable, and vegan.  Oh, and they’ve got Voodoo donuts and a freakin’ fireplace as well.

I'd raise kittens here.

I'd raise kittens here.

My new favorite at the moment, however, is the cleverly hidden Marcell’s Latte House on Columbia Ave. and 31st in Vancouver, WA. It’s off the strip of Main St. businesses, so if you’ve never heard of it, you probably would never find it. It’s basically a house-turned-café that’s got the best of both. They’ve got food, beer, wine, coffee, tea, wi-fi, a full wall of books, a back porch, live music shows, a Thursday afternoon bluegrass jam, and more space than I know what to do with. The back room, which is still unfinished, may hold even more surprises including a music stage. If they had AC and were open 24 hours, it would a flawless establishment of caffeine culture.

*****08/17 Update!**** Marcell’s actually has two(!) fireplaces and a back room with a stage and piano. Yes, this place rocks.****
*****Dec. 2009 Update!***** Most tragically, Marcell’s Latte House has fallen victim to fire, and is no longer with us. You will be missed!*****

Oh, and for the record: House of Donuts in Lakewood, WA will wipe the floor with Voodoo Donuts any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

“Coffee: helps you do stupid things faster with more energy.