If you are an avid Portland coffee drinker or a regular reader of this blog, you know that you can find good coffee in most parts of the city. Downtown, Southeast and Northeast PDX are hotbeds for great coffee. Northwest has its share too, as does North Portland to the east of I-5.
But what about far-out North Portland, west of the interstate? Can you find good coffee up there? It turns out you can, and you don’t even have to look too hard. After a little exploration yesterday, I found a brand-new place at the corner of Interstate Avenue and Rosa Parks Way that is worth visiting. The Arbor Lodge just opened this week, and it is going to raise the bar for what passes as quality coffee in that part of the city.
When you walk in, you first notice the smell of fresh paint and varnish, as the café fixtures are all new. In its previous incarnation, the building was a struggling-to-survive mini-mart. Scott Davison, the café’s kilt-wearing owner, has completely transformed the building into a coffee shop, though he did not do it by himself. Friends from around the neighborhood helped, pitching into donate their carpentry, painting, washing—whatever they could to support his efforts. Thank you notes are situated around the café, acknowledging people for their help in getting the café off the ground.
The first thing I did, as I am wont to do, was quiz the barista about the espressos. The café had two different single-origin espressos available, both roasted by Coava. There was a Nicaraguan coffee called Bella Aurora and a Costa Rican coffee from Finca Zarcero. The barista described them as having similar profiles, with the Costa Rican being “brighter” (both “tasty,” of course). I elected for the more northern of the two. The shots she made me were consistent, with a distinct tanginess and notes of walnuts and toffee.
I sat down to chat with Davison, to find out more about his shiny new café. He began by explaining why he opened a café in the first place.
“I see coffee as a medium,” he told me. “It gives people in the community an opportunity to come together in a neighborhood that doesn’t have that many options.”
The café is named after the Arbor Lodge neighborhood where it is located. Davison explained, “We called it that because we really wanted the shop to be a part of the neighborhood.”
Although this is his first time owning a coffee shop, Davison is not completely new to the coffee industry. Originally from Olympia, he spent two years working for Starbucks, back in the days when the company still had manual espresso machines and a more coffee-focused business. Several of the friends he grew up with ended up getting into the coffee business in one way or another, so opening a shop seemed natural to Davison. He already has a popular food cart downtown, Give Pizza a Chance, and he felt like his experience running that would translate well to the coffee shop.
When I asked about his vision for the future of his new café, he said that he would like to “serve the best cups of coffee in town, without any attitude.”
Davison emphasized the importance of combining great coffee with friendly service. “Even if the coffee is excellent, if you come in and have a bad experience, you’ve had a bad cup of coffee. You can’t have one without the other.”
Beyond having great coffee and service, Davison also hopes to see the cafe become a place where the neighborhood gathers together. The café space will be available to rent out in the evenings for community events and activities. Multiple times he said he would like it to be a place where Arbor Lodge residents seek out each other.
When residents do come, one feature of the café they will notice is its unique tables. Fashioned out of a 114-year-old deadfall Sitka spruce, the tables are made from massive slabs of natural wood. Davison hired someone to cut the sections, then he and a friend attached the legs and finished the tops. Looking at them, you can imagine the once-mighty spruce towering over an Oregon forest.
Keeping it close to home, the Arbor Lodge Cafe features local pastries (Nuvrei), art (right now it’s from Jolby & Friends, a design firm in Portland that also did the café’s branding) and teas (Foxfire). To make sure you feel like you are visiting a Portland coffee shop, there is a retro olive green couch and a patch of black shag carpet at the back of the café. Throw in the carefully-roasted coffee from Coava, and residents of the Arbor Lodge neighborhood (and anyone venturing to this part of North Portland) have a new meeting place, a namesake they can call their own.
Address: 1507 N Rosa Parks Way, Portland, OR 97217 (map)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 6:30am-6pm
Free Wi-Fi? Yes
Recommendations? If you need an outlet for your laptop, sit near the front