Welcome to the second edition of A Walk On the Weird Side – An Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Fabric of Portland. – By Anna Alexander
For our next Walk on the Weird Side adventure, you’ll need to put on a good pair of walking shoes or grab your bike or unicycle because we’re headed to the Cully Neighborhood. This neighborhood of 2.74 square miles borders the Roseway neighborhood and is a very diverse, “working class” neighborhood with a strong underlying sense of pride.
To keep your energy up, we’re starting at the top of the hill at Bison Coffee. Owned by Loretta Guzman, a Portland Native and tribal member of the Shoshone Bannock tribes of Fort Hall, Idaho, this cute little coffee shop is a reflection of her pride with beautiful, native artwork and a large, stuffed bison head that keeps a watchful eye on the patrons. The coffee, food and pastry options at Bison Coffee are excellent as not every coffee shop does both well. Additionally, the soundtrack of funk, old school R&B and 70s classics contributes to the fun and inviting atmosphere to meet with friends or write your next bestseller.
Now that you’re awake and sated, we’re talking a short half mile walk to a cemetery. I discovered Rose City Cemetery when I was meeting a friend at Bison Coffee and she was running late. The cemetery shares a border near the coffee shop and something about it caught my attention, so I went for a visit. I don’t make a habit of going to cemeteries as most of my relatives are buried in Minnesota, but Rose City is different. Along with a veteran’s cemetary, the Japanese Cemetery is within the grounds and is maintained by the Japanese Ancestral Society of Portland. Its leaders purchased a large portion of cemetery after World War II and are now the cemetery’s title holder. As a writer, I enjoyed wandering around this peaceful setting taking in the beautiful mausoleums and making up stories about the people and families buried here. It’s the perfect place to mine for interesting character names and get a better idea of the people who made up Portland’s fabric. I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you do visit Rose City Cemetery, please be respectful.
The next stop on our tour of the Cully Neighborhood is Metalwood Salvage. From the outside, this unassuming building does not grab your attention right away, but the inside is a restoration artist’s dream. I wasn’t able to visit Metalwood Salvage during regular business hours because I’m at work, so I sent my husband who now tells everyone about this three part design, retail and education business. People can bring in old scrap metal and wood and rent equipment for projects or donate materials to be repurposed or sold. Additionally, if you want to brush up your welding skills or learn how to make a lamp, classes are available. The recycled furniture is beautiful and you’ll be dropping your mortgage payments here in no time.
If wandering around cemeteries and admiring recycled materials makes you hungry, bring your appetite to Cully Central. When I started this column, I said I wanted to highlight businesses not covered by the glossy magazines and weekly newspapers and I do, however, Cully Central has received a lot of press and for a good reason – it’s really, really good. Much like the other businesses in this neighborhood, Cully Central looks like any other bar from the outside, but inside is Laotian sports bar with a menu featuring Lao street food. Watch the game on big screen TVs while devouring plates of nam kaho, egg rolls and addictive papaya salad. Cully Central has an excellent beer list and late-night bar bites which contributes to this genuinely friendly and welcoming environment. On one of my visits, they were making hot pot for the staff and I wanted to stay and beg for a sample. It’s the perfect neighborhood bar to hang out in and eat ALL of the menu items. You can also get food to go, which you’ll need as we head to our final destination.
But before we go there, let’s take a quick walk across the street from Cully Central and admire a garage. Painted on this garage is a memorial for the artist that is and was Prince. The memorial was painted shortly after Prince died in 2016 and makes me cry whenever I visit. I have been a Prince fan ever since 5th grade (a long time ago) when I saw Purple Rain and we tricked our music teacher into playing the soundtrack during class. His music is a part of my DNA. I have been to the garage a few times and I don’t know the owners of the home, but this year on the 3rd anniversary of his death, someone painted a picture of him in the middle of his symbol.
Your food is probably getting cold, so lets head to our final destination – Cully Park. This former landfill turned 25-acre park was a work in progress for over 17 years and was officially dedicated in 2018. It is perfect mix of design and natural habitat, and, as I was told by a friend, is now the park template for city parks going forward. Cully Park appeals to adults and kids with a beautiful, modern playground where you can bring your kids, or just bring yourself and sit on the grass with a good book and picnic lunch and enjoy the scenic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Saint Helens. The paved trails are perfect for runners and walkers and there’s a circuit fitness course around the park for those looking to get in an extra workout. Bordering Cully Park is the NE 72nd Ave Community Garden and a dog park which contributes to sense of pride one feels when they tour this neighborhood.
Next month – you’ll need to hop on public transportation or take a drive to the opposite end of town to a sprawling neighborhood where you can hear Pagan jug bands play and you won’t have to wait in line for two hours to enjoy an amazing breakfast.