Portland, OR: Backspace

We make frequent trips to Portland, sometimes for a cultural activity and other times just to play. It was on one of these play trips that we discovered Backspace. They bill themselves as Portland’s “hip, uncool place”. It’s a 4000 s.f. space that reminds me of the beatniks of old. Yes, this conservative, Bush-loving, gun toting Christian mama likes a hotbed of insurgent thought. I just look past the anti-W stickers, the slogans of disillusioned youth, and the propaganda of the left, knowing that as they grow and have families, they’ll recognize the error of their ways ;-).

Seriously, though, it is a place that you need to look beyond the obvious. The guy behind the counter with the funky hair and piercings serves the best coffee in the Northwest. You can sit and sip an extra large mug for less than $2 including fresh cream. I’m not normally a huge coffee drinker, but their coffee is the best I’ve tasted and warrants a second cup.

While I sip coffee, the boys play chess or board games. What they’re actually doing is waiting their turn for the X-box. For $6/hr, they can rent the box and a current game, and play it on a big screen with excellent acoustics in a room built just for the electronics rentals. They also have the PS2, PS3, and Gamecube. We have a Wii at home, but didn’t get an X-box because so many of the games were too violent. When it’s for an hour every once in awhile, I have let them play some of the rated T games.

I spend the hour reading a book or just watching and listening. Backspace showcases local art, and some of it is pretty interesting. It is the art of the patrons, however, that I find most fascinating. An odd-looking man sat at the table next to us last time. I peeked at his sketchbook and was surprised to see the most beautiful tree come to life from his pen. They have free wireless internet if you’d rather do that than people-watch.

Cautions for parents: Backspace is better visited in the daytime if you have children with you. At night, alternative bands play. There’s some weird music on the speakers at times anyway, but in person is a little harder to ignore. The bathroom walls have been decorated by the patrons. There is some profanity and some crude things scrawled on it. If your children can’t keep their eyes from it, you might want to have them “go” before they get there. Note: I wouldn’t bring young children here, but it’s okay for your teens and pre-teens.

Backspace is located at 5th and Cooch, about a leisurely 10 minute walk from the Amtrak station. You might want to combine it with a trip to Ground Kontrol, right around the corner.