Tin House was lucky enough to have been founded in the 20th century, right at the tail end, when the dot com bubble hadn’t yet burst and the world was still on its first or second guess at just how boundless the internet could be. Without Slack, Submittable, or Skype, a magazine, like most businesses, still needed a physical headquarters—a hometown.
Luckier still, ours was Portland: a blindly, gloriously indulgent city; a city of visionaries and goofballs, heroes and clowns; a city that drools as much for the lyrical provocations of actual geniuses as it does for the accidental breakthroughs in nacho-making that only legal cannabis can bring about.
Portland has been the home of Ursula K. Le Guin, Beverly Cleary, Chuck Palahniuk, and Katherine Dunn—but one of the great writers to come out of Portland was James Beard, the chef and writer whose name, through the annual James Beard Awards, is still synonymous with the best of the best in food and food writing.
Like the Portland Beard knew over 100 years ago, Portland today still indulges the wildest culinary and literary ideas. We at Tin House are so bad at separating them, in fact, that if you have ever submitted to us, it’s safe to assume a drop of IPA, a splash of Fernet-Branca, or a blob of artisan ketchup has graced your writing’s pages at one of the fine establishments below.
We know you writers offer an infinite array of interests and obsessions. To that end, here’s a list of bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, arranged by corresponding genre. Whatever you’re into, here’s where you should get into it:
Who Cares About Genre, I Just Love Books!
You probably already know that both city locations of bibliophile heaven Powell’s Books house fine coffee shops, but if you find yourself in the Overlook neighborhood, check out The Stacks, a book-lined coffee shop-cum-community library—replete with rolling ladders you’re NOT allowed on. Later in the evening, check out Rose City Book Pub, a converted Irish bar on NE Fremont now home to hundreds of dusty tomes and local beer on tap.
Tucked into the newly minted Woodlark Hotel, another famed Portland writer’s name is attached to Abigail Hall, the cocktail bar in what was once a meeting room for novelist and women’s rights advocate Abigail Scott Duniway’s suffrage groups. (Bonus: they serve a gimlet made with vodka and a Red Bull reduction.)
We can’t explain this, but a current trend in Portland hospitality is “bars and restaurants named for songs by the band The National.” In the Pearl District, dig Pink Rabbit’s artsy vibe with a plate of taro tots or beef tendon chips. In North Portland, the National is only the beginning: check out Bloodbuzz, a coffee/breakfast/lunch/beer/cocktail cart, or just up the street, there’s beloved brunch spot Sweedeedee—named for the Michael Hurley song—and Victoria, a bar where all the cocktails are named for quotes from The Princess Bride.
When writing the change you want to see in the world gets too tiring, there’s no better place to take a load off than Ex Novo Brewing, where profits are donated to a rotating cast of four non-profit organizations. That way as you sip on a cold Eliot IPA or Puff Puff Passion passionfruit sour, you’ll be putting your money where your mouth is.
No one can deny that AWP is a hotbed for, well, hot beds—but please, don’t have your first date in the makeshift food court of the Portland Convention Center. For proper courtship, we’d recommend an evening on N Mississippi Avenue: a cocktail at pretty, airy Quaintrelle; then a game-changing pizza* from Lovely’s Fifty-Fifty and some of their ice cream in a cone to go, enjoyed on a stroll up the street to the Peninsula Park Rose Garden.
So you conned someone into paying you to go on vacation, huh? Good for you. You’ll feel right at home at any of Portland’s fine island-themed establishments, including Hey Love in the Jupiter Next Hotel, whose menu is actually a master class on establishing a compelling voice in very few words, or Eem, the current hot-shit restaurant from a supergroup of one of Portland’s premier Thai chefs, a Texas style BBQ pitmaster, and the maestro of a popular tropical cocktail popup.
Love to write about the best of the best, be it music, film, or fashion? Check out the musical talent at the neon-clad tiki haven The Alibi, the Tin House staff’s karaoke bar of choice; grab a meal and a drink during an arthouse flick at the Living Room Theater (or stick around through Sunday night for Church of Film at Psychic); and peruse the flyest sneaker collection anyone ever put in a café at Deadstock Coffee.
So you like the long read, huh? Well you know that feeling when you’re 751 pages into a 1500 page novel, and it’s only the first in a trilogy? That’s how you’ll feel twenty minutes through eating Stoopid Burger’s flagship monstrosity, the Ignorant Burger: a foot tall stack of three patties, steak, bacon, hot links, ham, two cheeses, an egg, mushrooms, onions, and jalapenos—topped if you so choose with some fried chicken.
Everything Tin House
If you’re taking part in one of our Craft Intensives, or if you just love us—and trust us, we get it—you might be wondering what to eat in our neck of the woods.Two blocks from our office on NW Vaughn, women-owned and -run distillery Freeland Spirits slings cocktails starring their delicious gin, inspired by the southern garden the founder’s grandmother loved. For tapas and sangria, Ataula can’t be beat; The Solo Club is our go-to spot for cocktails after work; and the Jell-O shot capital of the US is housed in a place just up the street called Crackerjacks.
We had to get sweaty goth dance parlor Lovecraft Bar on this list somehow. Hope you brought your good eyeliner.
But of course, the entire Portland food and drink scene can’t be defined by half-assed jokes about the writing life. So for more of our favorite places to “research your novel,” check out the map below.
*We’re not going to get into a fight about regional pizza styles, because Portland has something more important than an allegiance to thin-crust or deep-dish: ingredients. From fiddleheads and mushrooms to clams and cheese, the entire state of Oregon is edible—and delicious on a pizza, no matter what shape the pizza comes in. We’ll take a pie from Lovely’s or NE Sandy’s Pizzeria Otto over anything New York, Chicago, or Detroit has to offer, every time.
Thomas Ross is a critic based in Portland, Oregon who was an editor at Tin House Magazine. He used to sign your rejection letters, and he hopes this starts to make up for it. His food, drink, and theater criticism appears in the Portland Mercury.