If you are a regular reader of Caffeinated PDX, it probably won’t surprise you that the other morning I left the house without a definite plan of where I was headed (If you’re not a regular reader, you might click on “wandering” in the tag cloud and see what I mean. I tend to wander a lot and have had some very interesting adventures because of that). I knew I wanted to try a new coffee shop but wasn’t sure which one. By habit, I was drawn toward downtown, so I headed for the #19 bus stop. As I was walking along the street, I saw a large pink delivery truck coming towards me. My first thought was “Mmm, Voodoo Doughnuts! I wonder if they’re going to stop in this neighborhood somewhere.” As the truck passed me, however, I was surprised to see that it was not the Voodoo Doughnut truck. Instead, it was the Spunky Monkey Coffee truck.
The Spunky Monkey! I had seen their booth at the farmer’s market at PSU. There was always a long line, though, so I never tried the coffee. Seeing the truck reminded me that I still had not been there and needed to go. Coincidentally, the #19 bus that I was planning to take downtown also swings back out into Northeast Portland close to the Spunky Monkey, so I wouldn’t even have to change buses to get there. It was a good omen—I was obviously meant to go for a visit.
Without too much trouble, I found the Spunky Monkey at the corner of Northeast 20th and Couch (pronounced “kooch”, for those of you not from Portland). What I found was probably the weirdest café in Portland, and I mean that in a good way. I don’t know the whole story behind the café, but I do know this: the Spunky Monkey is a true Portland original.
When you walk into the café, the first thing you notice is the close quarters. The space is very small and reminds me of the submarine at OMSI (with bigger windows). The small space gives the café a natural familiarity—you really don’t have much choice but to be friendly with people. There are two and a half tables and four seats at the bar. The tables are made of old wooden doors cut in half, supported on one end by a cable hanging from the ceiling. They are not flat, which is a little inconvenient for writing, but fine for drinking coffee. If you plan to go there with a group of more than three or four people, you probably ought to wait until the weather is a little warmer so that you can sit outside on the covered patio. There is more space outside.
My barista was very friendly. She told me that the espresso was a blend of beans from Sumatra, Brazil, Ethiopia and Tanzania. My espresso, pulled on a La San Marco lever machine, was low-acid and earthy, with a little bit of bite on the back end. It had a mouth-drying feel to it, and although it was a little big for an espresso, it wasn’t weak. Spunky Monkey roasts its own coffee and tries to use all fair-trade, organic beans. It also makes its own chai, and while I was sitting in the café, I heard the baristas discussing a new organic mint flavor syrup that they were working on.
The Spunky Monkey offers customers more quirkiness than most Portland cafés. In addition to the funky tables, there was a pogo stick and an old guitar sitting in the corner of the café, waiting to be used. If you are a musician, you can bring in a CD of your own music to get ten free coffees and your music played in the café. The bathroom was a highlight too, with a laser light show, disco lights and an electric drum set.
With its organic, fair-trade coffee, its left-leaning politics (as evidenced by the café’s “Evil Monkey Warlord Decaf Blend”) and its general weirdness, The Spunky Monkey is a no-compromise Portland café that fits the Portland ethos. If you wanted to hit the highlights of the Portland Coffee scene, your tour wouldn’t be complete without visiting a place like the Spunky Monkey. More hippie than hipster, the Monkey serves up Portland quirk in abundance and is a great example of why PDX has a reputation for being weird. In a good way, of course.
Address: 35 NE 20th Portland, Oregon 97232 (map)
Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-4pm
Coffee: Spunky Monkey
Free Wi-Fi? Yes (ask the barista for the password)
Recommend it? Yes, especially if you want to show your friends how quirky Portland can be
Websites: http://monkeyroasters.com (the online store)