Alberta Street northeast of downtown is now on a lot of things-to-do-in-Portland lists. The most common word used to describe it on travel websites is vibrant. It is that in a rather surreal way.
Once a major thoroughfare in an African-American neighborhood, Alberta morphed into an artists’ enclave that is now a trendy arts and shopping district in a city that prides itself on alternatives to mainstream think. About 26 blocks long, it’s a mix of old and new that’s consistently entertaining. To see it is to get a better understanding of a settled-in Blue State attitude that isn’t about to change.
What’s still there from the old days are St. Andrew Catholic Church, the community cycling center with a flamboyant mural on its side-street wall, and the long-lasting Alberta Cooperative Grocery. Murals decorate many buildings. The businesses include restaurants, trendy clothing stores, and galleries without a single recognizable name, not even Starbuck’s, along its entire length. One corner cafe next to a tattoo emporium sports a classic Rexall sign. Don’t be surprised if a pedestrian politely asks you for money despite the fact that the old single-dwelling neighborhood behind the Tula gluten-free bakery cafe has become a desirable place to live.
Also known as the “Alberta Arts District”, this area definitely has a multi-ethnic feel. School busses on nearby streets let out a United Nation’s of children. The vibe is diversity. Once a movie theater, the Alberta Rose is now as likely to have a classical concert as its current show, “A Circus Carol with 3 Leg Torso”.
While I took photos and noted a tea house that I wanted to try, Ruth ducked into several of the stores like Frock and Close Knit and came out with favorable reports. I passed Green Bean Books and was reminded of the TV show Portlandia, not for the first time.
If you visit Portland and want to experience its essence, head for Alberta Street where the sign below is in its venerable cooperative grocery. If you don’t have a car, the common way to get there is by city bus.