Of all the cafés I have visited in Portland, there is one for me that feels like home more than any other. Located on the corner of Park Avenue and Market Street near Portland State University, Park Avenue Café has become something like a second home to me. The past two years I have spent many hours in there studying, hanging out with friends, drinking coffee, writing and just thinking about where to go next in life. It is the place my wife and I were drinking coffee one hour before my son was born and the first place we took him when we left the house the next day. The baristas know me well enough that they often have my drink ready when I get to the counter. The other day, instead of waiting in a long line, I sat down to write a little to wait for the line to clear. While I was sitting there, Jodine, one of the baristas, brought me my drink without even ordering. She made my day.
I first discovered Park Avenue on a crisp sunny afternoon in October 2008. I was looking for a quiet place to drink a good espresso, and had noticed the café because of its red umbrellas over the outdoor tables. I ordered a double espresso and sat down on one of the bench seats below the windows facing Market Street. The barista brought my drink out to me and I sat there with the sun on my neck and shoulders, savoring Illy’s signature espresso blend. That afternoon the stereo happened to be playing a selection of classical music, which gave the café an air of refinement. Between the coffee, the sun and the music, I was hooked. When we moved downtown a month later, the café’s proximity to my house and to PSU made it a natural place for me to hang out, alone or with classmates.
Over the last six months the café has added two features that have improved the café: The first is free Wi-Fi, always useful for a student or a writer. The second is a 50-inch TV for watching sports, primarily soccer. The owner, Essam Buker, put the screen on the wall two days before the 2010 World Cup began. When he did that, I almost asked him if I could lease a table for the tournament so that I would never have to worry about having a bad seat for the matches. Throughout the next month, I probably watched twenty matches in the café, celebrating Landon Donovan’s miracle goal against Algeria, marveling at Germany’s dismantling of Messi’s and Maradona’s Argentine squad, being shocked at Uruguay’s stunning win over Ghana and cheering heartily for Spain when Iniesta scored the Cup winner in overtime. This fall, the soccer has continued, with the Spanish Primera League and Champions League being on regularly.
The café has good coffee. As I mentioned before, Park Avenue sells Illy coffee. Illy’s coffee is known for its consistency, not its variety. If you like an espresso blend that has low acidity and is more like what you would find in a traditional Italian caffè, you ought to like what you get at Park Avenue. If you’re looking for exotic or single-origin coffees, Park Avenue is not where you want to go.
In addition to coffee, Park Avenue has a fairly extensive food menu. From pastries to salads to quiche to soups and sandwiches, it is easy to find something to suit your tastes. I recommend the lox bagel or the French dip sandwich. The bread for the sandwiches is delivered each morning from the Grand Central Bakery.
The biggest drawback of the café is that when it is busy, it can take a while to get your order, especially when ordering food. The wait is not usually too long, but if you are in a hurry, you might avoid the café between 12-1pm. The rest of the day it doesn’t usually take as long.
After spending so much time at the café, I admit that I am not the most objective reviewer, but I would not recommend the café if I didn’t think that it was a quality place. I thoroughly enjoy my time there, and I bet that you would too.
Address: 1535 SW Park Ave, Portland OR, 97201 (map)
Food: Breakfast and Lunch menus
Free Wi-Fi? Yes, but it can be temperamental. Seems to work best towards the back of the café.
Hours: 7am-8pm, seven days a week
Recommend it? Yes