Starting on the north side of Mount Tabor, if you were to descend toward downtown Portland via Belmont Ave., you would find at a crook in the road a grand-looking gray stone church with a matching gray roof. The sign in front of the main entrance would tell you that the old building is the Mount Tabor Presbyterian Church, built in 1910. On one of Portland’s gray cloudy days, you might find it hard to know where the church ended and the sky began (which, in a metaphorical sense, is fitting). On a sunny day, though, with the bright blue sky in the background, the 100 year-old church jumps out as a landmark that is worth a second look.
Ever the explorer, you could hop up six concrete steps at the base of the church’s bell tower, through a set of double doors and into a room that might surprise you.
What is this, you might ask yourself, a coffee shop inside a church?
Yes. The café you would have stumbled upon is called TaborSpace, and it resides in one wing of the Mount Tabor Presbyterian Church. I made my first visit to the café the other day.
Walking in, the first thing you see is a row of small wooden tables to your right, along the wall beneath a row of stained-glass windows. When I arrived, they were full of people chatting over coffee. There did not appear to be space for me to sit down, but I was mistaken.
After the barista greeted me and took my order, she asked if I needed change. I was perplexed—baristas don’t usually ask that question (the only people who do are waiters, and they shouldn’t—but that’s a discussion for another day). After a quick glance at what was inside my wallet, I told her I didn’t.
“Have you been here before?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, not knowing any better.
“We operate as a non-profit,” she said, “so we only take donations. You pay what you want to and put your money in the box. We have suggested prices up here [pointing at the menu board behind the counter], but you don’t have to follow them. If you want to use a card, you can. swipe it and enter how much you want to donate.”
With only a $1 bill and a $10 dollar bill in my possession, I needed some change. The barista cheerfully made change for me from the cash register, and I put my $2 (the suggested donation) into the box while she made the espresso.
The tables were still full when I got my coffee. Looking for somewhere to sit down, I stuck my head around the corner and peered through a set of wide-open double doors. I was struck by the quiet beauty of the scene in front of me. The space was dark, with a mahogany brown color theme. Seeing few people inside, I hesitated.
“That’s the commons,” said the barista, who noticed my questioning look. “Feel free to sit in there.”
Taking her encouragement, I walked in and sat at one of the many tables.
The ‘commons’ is a great space. At first, you get the impression that you are entering a sacred area, a place for contemplation and deep thought. Large, imposing wooden beams hang overhead and brightly-colored stained-glass windows line the walls, adding an air of splendor. Sitting there, I felt like I should keep quiet, or at least speak in hushed tones.
Unfortunately, once the awe of the space wore off, I realized it wasn’t quite as tranquil as I first thought. From a table along the wall, you could hear classic rock music from the café speakers filtering through the doors. Two men chatted across the room in front of a large white hearth. A few minutes later a group of retired men gathered around two tables pushed together and began to talk loudly, their voices echoing throughout the chamber. They looked like a crowd you would expect to see at a local diner, lingering over coffee and telling stories about fishing or home improvement projects.
Sipping a cup of Ristretto Roasters’ Beaumont Blend, I put Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto on through my headphones and got to work. The music helped restore some of the grandeur.
As I sat there, I thought it would be nice if the people would treat the commons more like a library, speaking quietly or not at all. The space is inspiring, and it would make the perfect place to write or to read a book.
However, TaborSpace is a meeting place—a commons, after all—so it is good that visitors feel comfortable using it as such. I just recommend you get there early, before they do.
Address: 5441 SE Belmont, Portland, OR 97214 (map)
Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 7:30am-4:30pm
Coffee: Ristretto Roasters (pastries by Nuvrei)
Free Wi-Fi? Yes (ask for password)
Recommendations? Arriving early to take advantage of the quiet