Sidewalking Portland - Hawthorne and South East Division

The Bagdad Theatre and Pub on Hawthorne
I was lucky enough to be taken to Portland by my girlfriend as a birthday present. Even better was that we were staying right in between two great neighbourhood centres, Hawthorne and South East Division. 

If you are driving it is a bit of an adventure to get to Portland but not unmanageable. For this trip we took the Coho Ferry that runs between downtown Victoria and Port Angeles. From Port Angeles the drive takes about four and a half hours, but with a stop for lunch it goes by quickly. 

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The Airbnb we were booked into sat on SE Harrison Street, right in between Hawthorne and Division. Portland as a whole is divided into four quadrants: NE SE NW and SW. Each one has different neighbourhoods to offer and I am looking forward to going back and checking out some more of them. 


Hawthorne is similar to a lot of cool neighbourhood strips in cities, while not in anyway like Cook Street Village, perhaps the perception of it is similar. It seemed to me that this was at one time the "in" strip for people that live in Portland, but over time its popularity and notoriety has increased that it has become almost a caricature of itself. Don't misunderstand me, it is an awesome street, especially the eastern end past Cesar Chavez Blvd. In some ways though once a place is present in the outsider's mind (me the tourist), it is hard for it to be cool to the local. 

One of the key places to go for me would be the Bagdad Theatre, though not necessarily for a show. This is one many McMenamins properties and so it has a couple bars in it. With its tables spilling out on the sidewalk, it is a great place to sit and watch the throngs of people walk up and down Hawthorne. It is a bit of a tourist draw, but it is easy to look past it and enjoy the cool architecture and vibe. 

The Sapphire Hotel
Another amazing place on Hawthorne, though at the very eastern end, is the Sapphire Hotel. The decorations inside are as eclectic as the patrons. In contrast to the Bagdad, it feels more like a locals place and the food and drinks were great. 

One thing that I found interesting in comparison to Victoria or Vancouver is that despite the fact that most Portlanders would say that Hawthorne is already gentrified, the street is lined with very few multi-storey buildings and the surrounding streets are mostly single family houses. Despite that the retail and dining scene seems to be vibrant with many restaurants having long lines out the door. This is in part be due to Hawthorne being a destination for people around the city and for tourists. 

S.E. Division
Note the curb bulbs.

The other neighbourhood centre near to where we stayed was S.E. Division. Despite being less than 10 blocks from Hawthorne, Division has a completely different feel from Hawthorne. It seems that the businesses in Division are more local oriented. There are still some big pubs and fancy restaurants that are meant to draw from the larger city, but there are also lots of small bars and thrift stores that seemed to target those that live nearby. Division also seemed to have a larger variety of restaurants from Pok Pok's, a street food themed Thai restaurant to The American Local, a farm to table pub style restaurant. 

The Bollywood Theatre Pub
One thing that made Division distinct in my mind, was the narrowness of the street. There was only one travel lane in each direction and the parking lanes had large curb bulbs. The effect of it being that the traffic moved slowly and the street felt very calm and relaxed. Another interesting aspect of Division and something that you see a fair bit in most of Portland's neighbourhood centres is that there are quite a few old residential homes sitting in between the businesses, this in my opinion also give the street a more relaxed feel. That said, Division seems to have more new built condo buildings than you see on Hawthorne and this might be because it feels more like a street to live on than a busy commercial strip. 
Division by night.

You could easily spend most of a week eating and shopping on these two streets and not get bored. For my next post I will have some more of Portland to share with you. Specifically the Downtown Pearl District and the Alberta Arts District.