Powell Lives

When driving down SE Powell Blvd, it is easy to cast it off as an ugly, depressing and overly busy thoroughfare. That's because it is. Especially in comparison to other arteries cutting through Southeast Portland, such as Hawthorne and Belmont Streets. Not only do you fear for your life when crossing traffic on Powell, but there is nothing aesthetically pleasing about the boulevard. It is flat out ugly and unwelcoming. This is true, as it begins at the Ross Island Bridge and extends east in to Gresham. Whether it's run down motels and apartment complexes, cheap fast food joints and strip malls, or a psychiatric residential facility, the street just does not reach out and grab you in a warm, fuzzy way.

Some tend to use Powell Blvd as a marker, a boundary of sorts, to cut off where hip Portland begins and ends (depending on what direction you're going). For this reason, on a recent night, Old refused an invitation to meet some friends and I at a restaurant/bar on Powell. I don't blame him, as he probably thought "bar" was code for meth-house, which wouldn't be out of character for the street. However, the fairly new establishment, The Blue Dragonfly, turned out to be a decent spot, even if it didn't fit in with its surroundings. While a bit overpriced, the restaurant offered a varied menu of food and drinks. And, more importantly, there was an outside patio that allowed for a more relaxed atmosphere.

In looking around, yeah, I saw a dirty gas station, a Jack in the Box, and an uber busy intersection (Powell and Milwaukie). But in looking deeper, I realized we were also surrounded by a popular all-night coffee shop, a cool music venue (The Aladdin) attached to a bar/restaurant and, further down the street, a large park. What's more, earlier in the evening, the same group (celebrating Gretchen's retirement) were enjoying themselves at another establishment, Vino Vixens, also on Powell. Vino's is a wine bar with expansive lounge seating sectioned off to accommodate groups of about 10-15 people. It is mellow, ambient, and very comfortable with it's seating array of couches, stools, and cushioned wicker chairs. What's more, there is a room that offers free pool and foos ball.

I do not want to sit here and pimp The Blue Dragonfly and Vino Vixens, although very cool in their own right, rather I want to suggest that maybe Powell Blvd isn't so much of a dead end that it is portrayed to be. In fact, the street is only going to improve as families continue to move into the Foster-Powell neighborhood and more restaurants and bars open shop on Powell. In addition, the city of Portland is proceeding with a beautification plan for the boulevard that will see more trees planted, increased maintenance of the street and sidewalks, as well as better management of traffic (including safer crosswalks).

While it may be a while (if ever) before Powell is mentioned in the same breath as Broadway, Burnside, Belmont, or Hawhthorne, I do believe that, in time, it will be a place where people can go as an alternative to trendier spots north of the boulevard. Take a venture to Powell...get some meth, get some fast food, but don't forget to check out some of the hidden gems in the area.


Chelsea said...

I used to be really scared of this area until I moved there:) Now it is my neighborhood, and while it is quite rough around the edges, I think there is quite a bit of potential. I joke about my neighborhood being ghetto but I love it. I just wish there were a few more coffee shops and friendly neighborhood businesses. Thanks for highlighting a few of them. Another great spot is Sanborns restaurant on Milwaukie, for breakfast.

luckygreen said...

I, too, live in the neighborhood. And while it isn't my preferred hang, I do see some bright spots and have hope that it will get better.
Thanks for the heads up on Sanborns. I'll have to check it out.

Oldie said...

You had me this close to being convinced...that is, until I spied an add in the Mercury for an event titled "Fun on Foster Festival & Foster Art Walk" featuring cartoons, a dart competition, dog wash/car wash, hopscotch, a jungle gym, and the inexplicable "fire engine clowns." Sounds like a human breeder meet and greet. I think I'll pass.

faceturnsread said...

The second pic reminds me of the unassuming roadside landscape of the midwest which, in contrast to the neon, branded cityscape of nyc, I long for at various moments of the day.