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The Underground Guide: Portland with the Thermals


When Hutch Harris and Kathy Foster of the Thermals were looking to leave their hometown of San Jose, California, they wanted to move to a community that was creative and also cheap. The indie punkers (along with drummer Westin Glass) wound up in the Northwestern hamlet of Portland, Oregon. “We’ve always been really proud to be from Portland and sound like a band from the Northwest,” Harris says. “Bands from up here are always a little rough around the edges, kind of jagged, never perfect-sounding. That’s us.” Here’s where you’ll most likely find Harris around town.

  • Breakfast spot
    Junior’s Cafe

    1742 SE 12th Ave. 503-467-4971

    Junior’s is small, without much in the way of elbow room, so getting a table there can take a while. But it’s worth the wait, with a menu friendly to every taste, from vegan to carnivorous. “It’s very Portland,” says Harris, “with Stumptown coffee and indie rock always playing.”

  • Lunch spot
    Meat Cheese Bread
    1406 SE Stark St. 503-234-1700

    This unprepossessing sandwich shop has a deeper menu than you’d expect from the outside, including breakfast burritos and a cold steak sandwich (rare and sliced very thin). “You can get a mini French press with your sandwich,” Harris says, “and they do a pulled-pork sandwich with broccolini and this greasy mayonnaise that’s really good.”

  • Dinner Spot
    Savoy Tavern & Bistro
    2500 SE Clinton St. 503-808-9999

    Small and dimly lit, Savoy is a cocktails-and-steak kind of place, more typical of a diner you’d find in Chicago or New York. But the difference is, it’s cheap. “A steak that would cost you $36 in New York will run you $17 there, so it’s a good deal,” Harris says.

  • Classy joint
    Le Happy
    1011 NW 16th Ave. 503-226-1258

    Portland is a pretty casual town, so there aren’t many very formal restaurants in Harris’ world. Le Happy comes closest, with a menu heavy on steaks and crepes. “What we think of as fancy here, other cities scoff at,” Harris says. “But Le Happy is a cute little place. Definitely a date kind of place.”

  • Late-night hang
    Potato Champion food cart
    Corner of SE 12th Ave. and SE Hawthorne Blvd.

    Locals take care of late-night cravings at Potato Champion, which serves fries with cheese and gravy, among other top–pings. Nearby are carts for fried pies, crepes, and Mexican food. “If you’ve left the bar and need something to soak up the booze,” Harris says, “this is the place to do it.”

  • Dive bar
    The Vern (a.k.a. Hanigan’s)
    2622 SE Belmont St. 503-233-7851

    Named for the sign out front that once read tavern until a truck hit it and knocked off the T and the A, the Vern is, as Harris describes, “a typical smelly beer pub. Say ‘The Vern’ to anybody in Portland and they’ll know where you’re talking about.”

  • Music venue
    115 NW 5th Ave. 503-248-2900

    Backspace is proudly all ages for every show, and it slings a decent cup of coffee, as well. “The vibe there is good and the people are nice,” Harris says. “My other band, Forbidden Friends, did a show with Ted Leo there a few months ago.”

  • First local venue we played
    125 NW 6th Ave. (now closed)

    Located not far from Backspace, Satyricon went through a few incarnations, including a metal club, before closing. Though it’s gone, it’s not forgotten. “It was just a cool, old, dirty rock club,” Harris says.

  • Record store
    Jackpot Records
    203 SW 9th St. and 3754 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-222-0990

    Like most cities, Portland has lost most of its record stores in recent years. But Jackpot-which sells new and used CDs, as well as vinyl-has stayed in business and even expanded in 2001 with a second location downtown. “They do a ton of cool in-stores, too,” Harris says. “Sleater-Kinney played when they opened the downtown store.”

  • Bookstore
    Periodicals & Books Paradise
    1928 NE 42nd Ave. 503-234-6003

    Powell’s is the bookstore most people in Portland name-drop, but Harris prefers this more offbeat store. “I almost don’t want to tell people about it,” he says. “It’s a bookstore, but mostly it has magazines from the past 100 years. It’s a funny old place. They’re always doing estate sales with old copies of Life magazine.”

  • City landmark
    The Joan of Arc statue
    Coe Circle, NE Glisan St. and NE 39th Ave.

    A few years ago, this bronze statue in the Laurelhurst district, a World War I memorial, was looking rather weathered. The solution? The city gilded it. “It went from sort of decrepit to looking like a really gaudy toy,” Harris says. “But I’d still vote for that as best landmark in town.”

  • Movie theater
    Laurelhurst Theater
    2735 E. Burnside St. 503-232-5511

    Built in 1923, this Art Deco landmark is a cut above most second-run theaters (adult tickets are just $4), with a menu that includes pizza, salads, microbrews, and wine in addition to popcorn. “They also show old, slightly cultish stuff like RoboCop or Dr. Zhivago,” Harris says.

  • Shop
    Portland Modern
    2109 NW Irving St. 503-243-2580

    The store carries a well-curated, beautifully restored selection of mid-century furniture, appealing to Harris’ taste for the authentic. “So many people shop at IKEA now that everyone’s house looks the same,” he says. “But if you want more of a ’70s look, which I did, you go to Portland Modern.”

  • Museum/gallery
    Together Gallery

    Located on Alberta Street, Portland’s arts district, Together stands out from neighboring high-end galleries by its experimental, community-oriented approach. “Together is cool, run by these young guys,” Harris says. “Kathy just did a show of her paintings there.”

  • Thing to do on a day out
    Forest Park
    NW 29th Ave. and Upshur St. to Newberry Rd.

    When in Portland, do as the locals do and go outside to experience the city’s freakishly lush greenery. One of the bes t spots to do that is in Forest Park. “It’s enormous, with so many different trails, and it stretches all the way to Washington,” Harris says.

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The Underground Guide