Sunday, February 5, 2017

Discovering Portland’s Alberta Street: Food, Murals and Tiny Places to Stay

Saturday the weather was mild enough to head out to north Portland and enjoy a 5K walk starting at McMenamin’s Kennedy School. The Columbia River Volkssport Club has a tradition of hosting a “Pre-Superbowl Walk” annually.

We chose the route taking us along colorful Alberta Street. As I walked, I realized the street had changed during my time in the Portland area. Once a neighborhood where mostly African American ship workers lived, it was now an eclectic arts district with a hipster vibe.

Alberta Street was first developed by immigrants in the 1880′s and expanded during the era of streetcars. The Vanport Flood of 1948, just across the bridge from Vancouver, Washington’s shipyards, resulted in many African-Americans and low-income families having to move out of the area and seek low cost housing. The Alberta area was not far away. Ultimately the Alberta area became known as an African-American community.

By the ‘80’s the area fell into disrepair, banks wouldn’t lend to people settling there and it became known as a dangerous crime area. Urban renewal shifted neighborhoods. African-American families moved out of the area.

The Arts District
Many neighborhoods in Portland have been revitalized, gentrified and no longer affordable. Alberta was one of the neighborhoods where people organized to create this transition yet keep the sense of community. Artists found affordable studio space, small businesses opened up where once shop windows were boarded and community events like the monthly Art Walk were planned to bring in customers to the business area.

Alberta Street was the center of the activity. The community feel remains. Art on Alberta, a non-profit arts organization, was formed by a small group of art businesses and artists who first met in 2000 to secure a grant for fabric banners for the street and organize the first spring Art Hop.

The Community Cycling Center was established over 20 years ago as a place where people could learn to repair their bikes and kids could get free or inexpensive wheels. Now it’s a great place to find a used or even new bike and their charitable mission continues.

The Murals
When you walk down Alberta Street and peer into alleys you’ll start discovering the murals. There is fanciful art and art depicting the diverse tapestry of cultures found in the Alberta area. Community Cycling Center has an amazing mural on the side of their building depicting fun bike riding experiences and animals.

The public art extends to ATM machines and newspaper racks. Walk slowly and discover the art.

Fun and Fanciful Businesses
One of my first experiences in the new and revitalized Alberta food scene was the Grilled Cheese Grill. They make such innovative cheesy delights as The Hot Brie… Melted Brie, Roasted Red Peppers, Fresh Tomato and Spicy Brown Mustard on Sourdough and The Cheesus, where TWO grilled cheese sandwiches serve as a bun for a 1/3 pound burger! You can eat outside on a picnic table or in their converted school bus.

And then I discovered Bollywood Theater! Bollywood Theater serves up freshly made to order East Indian street food. Once you taste their carefully spiced foods, you’ll never want to eat at an Indian buffet again. When you’re there, be sure and visit their Bollywood inspired restrooms complete with movie.

As you walk Alberta be sure and check out the Tiny House Hotel with tiny home accommodations surrounding a convivial courtyard. And across the street we noticed they have expanded! They now rent those tiny teardrop campers so you can continue your tiny experience as you explore the out of doors. Choose between Rosie, Miles and Sunny at $80 - $90 a night.

Continue down the street and you’re likely to see a restaurant with a permanent line. That’s Pine State Biscuits and the line is part of the culture there. They have more than biscuits including pies, fried chicken and chicken pot pies.

Year Round Walking
Alberta Street, between NE 33rd and NE 11th is a vibrant area for a walk even on a rainy day and even when the shops are closed. Enjoy the murals and plan a lunch stop.

If you don’t mind some crowds, Alberta businesses pack in late-night crowds during the monthly Last Thursday street extravaganza. Expect some of Portland’s best people-watching there (especially in the summer months, when the road is closed to traffic and crowds fill the street). The Alberta Street Fair, held in August, features live music on multiple stages, more than 150 local vendors, kids’ activities, a beer garden and more.

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