Central Eastside: A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland’s Artisan Quarter

By: Crai S Bower

March 10, 2015

Portland‘s heavy industrial zone serves as prime example of the transformation of America’s urban centres from train tracks and warehouses to streetcars and lofts. For travellers, these former “no go” environments have become the new must-see urban spaces, be they in Brooklyn, Kansas City, or PDX’s Central Eastside, aka The Artisan Quarter. Here’s a handy guide to Portland’s coolest district.

A Grand Streetcar

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

Central Eastsiders ready for adventure © Jamie Finch

Unlike many artisan mazes, Portland improved this area by adding railway tracks, not removing them. The CL Line streetcar conveys passengers to and from downtown to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry via Martin Luther King Boulevard and Grand Avenue respectively. The line’s many stops along SW 11th and SW 10th in the city centre are within a short walk of most Portland hotels including the hip Ace, dog-friendly Monaco and swanky Benson.

Walk over Water

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

Cycling the Eastbank Esplanade © Jamie Finch

Central Eastside’s location directly across the Willamette River from the urban core makes for a lovely stroll. Just head east to Waterfront Park, cross either the Morrison or Hawthorne bridges, then take in the city skyline and West Hills backdrop from the recently restored Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. The city’s commitment to urban art is on full display, so keep your eye out for Echo Gate, Ghost Ship, Stack Stalk, and Alluvia Wall installations bordering the 1.5-mile boardwalk. Of course, this being Portland, you can borrow a bike from most hotels or be among the first to ride in the inaugural bicycle share program.

Start your day the Portland way

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

Stumptown Coffee Roasters first outpost © Dennis Tang/Flickr

Keeping pace with the Portland vibe is always a challenge, which might explain the appearance of a coffee shop on almost every corner. Never ones to grow stale, roasters follow the lead of brewers and artists here by constantly experimenting with how best to prepare their brew. Water Avenue Coffee specializes in “micro-roasting,” small batches of beans prepared in a vintage roaster. Nationally recognized Stumptown Coffee Roasters began in this neighbourhood with a single roastery. Today, the Stumptown Annex provides bulk beans and complimentary tastings throughout the day.

Bathtub Spirits

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

House Spirits tasting on Distillery Row © Travel Portland

Portlanders often look like extras from a circa 1920’s movie set, so it’s no wonder the town was rife with speakeasies a few years ago. Today, bathtub distilleries exist front and centre along Distillery Row, a set of eight boutique bottlers that dot the neighbourhood. Wild Roots Vodka is the newest spirits maker on the block, cooking up a series of vodkas infused with locally sourced raspberries and marionberries.

Pioneering plates

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

Kale Salad at ClarkLewis © John Valls

The aptly named ClarkLewis was among the first restaurants to establish a homestead here, within a former loading dock, naturally. The wood fire prepares great oak-planked steaks and a rotisserie prepares other delectable distractions that change daily. New arrivals have recently come down the trail, led most recently by Le Pigeon, where Chef Gabriel Rucker merges chicken with escargot and fuses a bacon-rabbit meatloaf. Day visitors should check out Olympia Provisions charcuterie sandwiches, while late night noodlers look to Biwa.

Groundbreaking breweries

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

Gluten free suds at Ground Breaker Brewery © Jamie Finch

Once upon a time breweries existed among the paper mills and shipyards on the outskirts of town. Today, breweries usually lay the groundwork for a city’s trendsetting neighbourhood. With more beer producers here than weeks in the year, it’s hard to find an area without one or two mash silos. Yet the brewery’s industrial aesthetic still fits best off the railroad tracks in the Central Eastside. More than one tenth of the Rose City’s brewpubs can be found here, including the alpinists turned brew masters at Base Camp Brewing, sour beer specialists inside the Cascade Brewing Barrel House and bottle-conditioned, high alcohol beers from Hair of the Dog. Ground Breaker Brewery specializes in gluten-free beer and Burnside Brewing serves charcuterie during their “fermented hour.” Want to sample a little sip of everything? Take your turn beside the 62 taps inside the Green Dragon Pub.

Boutique Buildings

East Burnside

Sidewalk shopping in East Burnside © Jamie Finch

Gone are the days when peering through dusty windows here revealed machine works and metal shops. A visit to the 811 Building today finds jeweller Emily Baker’s Sword+Fern studio/showroom, fashion designer Holly Stalder’s Haunt and imports extraordinaire inside Nationale. The shops may be located on the northern edge of the Central Eastside, but the goods demonstrate why this area has been dubbed the Artisan District. Led by 811, East Burnside is thriving as Portland’s latest independent boutique go-to arcade that includes the exotic Una, male fashion oriented Machus and the provocative Lille Boutique.

Out and about

A Neighbourhood Guide to Portland's Artisan Quarter

The attractive OMSI building © Marcin Wichary/Flickr

OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, stands out among the finest interactive technology attractions in the world. The traveling exhibits range from Leonardo da Vinci to Sherlock Holmes to the Mythbusters crew. In the Artisan Quarter, you won’t just find the trendiest boutiques and cuisine in the converted warehouses. Stick your head inside Yale Union, a contemporary art centre and philosophy salon located within a cavernous, 100-year old laundry warehouse. The Newspace Center for Photography also features galleries dedicated to the visual arts, as well as classes and studios. Fill your brain with fresh air while paddling a kayak rented at Alder Creek, conveniently located near the Hawthorne Bridge.

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Have you visited Portland’s Artisan Quarter? Share your favourite spots with us in the comments section below.

Written by Crai Bower


Crai S Bower

Award winning travel writer, photographer and broadcaster Crai S Bower contributes scores of articles annually to more than 25 publications and online outlets including National Geographic Traveler, Journey, American Way magazines and T+L Digital.

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