Portland’s Arts District can be daunting to the young artist who would rather think about strangers than interact with them. There are so many creatives (I’m looking at you, theater folk) who want to embrace the public in a very enthusiastic, face-to-face manner, and the places for quieter community engagement can be more difficult to spot. For this little walking tour, we’ll be going to East Bayside.
1. Ease into it.
Step one, of course, is to get out of the house. A good way to do this is by not owning coffee of your own. I recommend Coffee By Design on Diamond Street — the coffee is good, but not trendy. Their caramel cream latte tastes just like slightly burnt marshmallows. This is the location of their roastery, so it smells amazing and there are impressive machines that you can glimpse from the café. It’s big enough to disappear into while still being local.
Once you’re awake, head to where Diamond Street meets the Bayside Trail and follow it up to Cove Street. You’ll pass some gyms along the way and you can be glad you’re not trying to navigate the insecurities involved in public displays of exercise. There will be a handful of people on foot or bike, so stay in your lane. Enjoy the murals, both commissioned and graffitied — the stuff you won’t see in galleries, which in a lot of cases is a good thing, because a lot of it is still an experiment.
2. Explore with your senses.
On Cove Street, look for a sign shaped like a sheep that marks the Portland Fiber Gallery and Weaving Studio. Unless there’s a class going on, this place feels pretty private. There are soft rolls of color displayed on every wall, silky plaits of roving to run your fingers over, uncarded wool that feels like a telephone cords, and rows of spindles like skinny Seussian mushrooms stuck out of a log. The owner, Casey, will be there and she’ll tell you everything you need to know about what to do with these tools, unless you’re in more of a touching-soft-things-and-not-conversing mood, and that’s fine too. There is both comfort and stimulation in a room of beautiful fibers that can be enjoyed whether you know what to do with them or not.
Next, take a left out of the fiber gallery and follow Anderson Street to Urban Farm Fermentory, where you can taste things like Thai basil or turmeric and black pepper kombucha. Always get a sampler — the taps rotate frequently, and this is another good place to experience experimentation. It’s a little more populated here and the music is low enough to be heard over easily but loud enough to bob your head to. The windows are curtained-up, giving it a little bit of a cave-y vibe, but you still feel okay being here in the middle of the day because of the cheery color scheme, décor of dried herbs, and the focus on education, local foraging, and fresh art for the walls.
When you’ve had your fill of jun and mead, sneak up the partially overgrown Gould Street to Washington Avenue and along to PhoPa Gallery. The small, quiet brightness of this place (which you will almost certainly share with the gallery assistant alone) is not for the faint of heart, but the focused selection of paper and photography shows are really worth the trip. You can experience each piece on your own; introductions and supplementary material are often provided right on the wall. When you’re done your little turn around the room, you can hang out on the rather comfortable couch for a little while and listen to what are usually some pretty good tunes.
3. Accept that it isn’t comfortable outside of your comfort zone (and that’s a good thing).
Walk to Congress Street, where it gets noisier, there are more people and more businesses. Go to Ferdinand, where owner Diane has done a remarkable thing: she’s created a store for her own small creations and obsessions — screen printed cards and clothing but also small plastic jewelry, mushrooms on a wire, vintage randoms, and miniature animals priced to collect on a whim — and manages to be a friendly introvert and the face of this business all in one. Come here for inspiration and the childish joy of buying all the sparkly bracelets that you wouldn’t need if they cost more than five dollars for a wristful. Recognize that uniqueness is working here.
4. Find support in kind.
Down the block a little is Print Bookstore. This will be the straightest-appearing place on the list, with the bright, clean-cut appearance that could almost be any bookstore, except that this place is aggressively supportive of local writers and artists, giving them space on the shelf often before they ask for it. They’ve also got some surprisingly comfortable chairs right in the window, unarrogantly knowledgeable booksellers, and a small but excellent toy selection.
5. Retreat when You Need To
When you’ve had your fill of other people, scurry back up the street to Portland’s unsung graveyard, the East End Cemetery. It’s not very big, the grass is not very green, and there isn’t much in the way of walking paths or monuments or ponds or wildlife. But no one else will be there. Creep over the hill and find a place to read the book you just bought. When the sun starts to set, make sure to skedaddle (because of ghosts and also laws). Go to The Snug, which really is a dark cave you can disappear into with your new satchel of inspiration and also a beer. Remember that this is just a taste, and the next bite should be bigger.