Art galleries adorn the streets of Portland, but none are quite like those in the Alberta Arts District, while murals by local artists cover the walls of the recently renovated neighborhood. It is the land of the locals here – there are no chain stores or businesses and you can't get your Starbucks fix. You can, however, get a taste of homegrown grub and garb.
Despite its congenial presence today, Alberta's history is slightly sordid. Once a segregated section of Portland, the area was predominantly African-American until the social revolution of the 1960s. In later years, it was dominated by low-income housing, with few employment opportunities and a reputation as Portland's ghetto. In the last ten years, however, Alberta has been renewed and transformed -- with the city's help -- into a haven for local art, food, and entertainment, while still remembering its roots. Investment in the neighborhood has skyrocketed in the last few years, leaving the streets lined with shiny new cafes and retail spots adjacent to barber shops and corner stores that have been a part of the neighborhood for decades. While Alberta is an eclectic mix of the new and the old, the theme of small and local businesses resonates throughout.
At first glance, you might think you've wandered back to the Hawthorne neighborhood – the small shops, the bohemian feel, the emphasis on art. But don't be confused: Hawthorne's position as the "hipster" area of town is established and comfortable enough that it also caters to some big businesses, but here in Alberta, you'll find almost none. Some refer to it as Hawthorne five years ago. While hardly commercialized, Alberta's roots and up-and-coming status keep this location free of trend-seekers and fast food chains.
Always the rebel, Alberta has an answer to the Pearl District's recent attempt to co-opt the title "Portland's Art District". While the Pearl has "First Thursdays," Alberta has "Last Thursdays." On the last Thursday of every month, a pub and gallery walk that usually includes live music creates a virtual street fair with late hours for most businesses, drawing residents and visitors alike to enjoy the open doors and friendly atmosphere. There is no air of stuffiness here – art connoisseurs and newcomers are equally welcome.
If you continue east through Alberta far enough, you'll run into its newer sections, like Concordia. McMenamins Kennedy School is a popular stop out here. But don't let the Northwest-owned chain fool you: this is not the average beer and brew. A wading pool, multiple eateries and pubs, and a movie theatre located in this old school house will keep you (and your crew of all ages) busy for hours.
But don't defer just to McMenamins for food: Alberta bursts with good eats. Every meal of the day is covered, but if you can wake up early enough for breakfast, old and new diners offer in-house, prepared, organic cuisine that will keep you going through the day.
- • Alberta Street Neighborhood in Portland Oregon: www.portlandneighborhood.com/alberta-street
- • Alberta Street on Wikipedia: www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberta_Street,_Portland,_Oregon
- • Alberta Street Fair: www.albertastreetfair.com