After decades of citywide neglect, Portland is increasingly the neighborhood on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Indeed, seeds sown by the Portland Investment Initiative, are starting to bloom all over Louisville’s northwest corridor. However, much of Portland’s charm lies in the things that have long been a part of the fabric of this area, a fact that locals are eager to share.
With its mix of warehouse districts and residential grids, all of them close enough to the bustle to have skyline views, Portland is poised to live up to its history as the River City’s point of origin and inspiration. Whether you just moved in, are a third-generation resident set in your routine, or are just curious about the area, Louisville Distilled breaks down the neighborhood’s mystique with its day-to-night tour of Portland.
8 AM: McQuixote Coffee and Books, 1512 Portland Ave., Ste. 1
Situated right at the bend where 15th Street becomes Portland Avenue, McQuixote’s spot in the front of the Tim Faulkner Gallery is pretty ideal. You can often find one of its founders, Trevor DeCuir, working behind the bar, which is lucky. Besides being a seasoned barista, DeCuir’s also a trolley guide for Portland’s annual Art and Heritage Festival, and he can tell you just about anything you need to know about Louisville’s first neighborhood.
With a menu that’s crafted to cater to young professionals and blue-collar workers alike, McQ’s is the perfect place to start a day in Portland. Take a stroll through Faulkner’s funky, cavernous expanse of studio, gallery, and venue space while you sip your cup of joe.
9 AM: McAlpine Locks and Dam, 805 N. 27th Street
When Portland’s famous locks and dams were completed in 1830 it was the first major engineering project on the Ohio River. Almost 200 years later, the locks still help barges avoid the Devonian limestone shelves that make the river impassable. Visitors can enter through a tunnel in the levee and cross a high-lift bridge that spans the locks. There’s an outdoor center with a self-guided audio tour of the project’s history, and you can cross a high-lift bridge that spans the locks and connects the mainland with Shippingport Island. Watching barges loaded with freight being passed along the locks is still something to behold after all of these years.
10 AM: The Portland Museum, 2308 Portland Avenue
Housed in an 1852 Italianate mansion that’s been augmented with a modern addition, the Portland Museum is exemplary in the realm of small-scale local museums. There’s no better place to develop your appreciation of Portland’s prominence in Louisville’s history and development. The museum’s warm and knowledgeable staff can show you newsreels from the 1937 Flood or guide you through an interactive tour of Portland’s founding along the Falls of the Ohio. The walls are hung with stunning black-and-white photographs from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and the museum features an art gallery with rotating exhibitions. The museum also has archaeological sites in the Portland Wharf Park and is currently restoring the Squire Earick House, which is likely the oldest wood-frame house in all of West Louisville.
11:30 AM: Shaheen’s Department Store, 2604 Portland Avenue
Like a lot of things in Portland, Shaheen’s is a true throwback to days gone by. Founded in 1922, it’s storefront on Portland Avenue is as original as they come. What’s more, Shaheen’s is still owned and operated by the Shaheen family, with the business now in the hands of Kevin, the grandson of the founder, Sam. Shaheen’s has clerks that have worked the register for almost 25 years, and it’s common to bump into Kevin arranging merchandise on shelves during the afternoon.
You can find everything from the latest Air Jordan sneakers to Carhartt coveralls and racks of school uniforms. It’s rare to find a store that’s been in the same family for 95 years, and you’d do well to visit this important little bastion of local retail.
12 PM: The Table Café, 1800 Portland Avenue
If you subscribe to the idea that each dollar you spend amounts to a vote of what you value, you’re probably going to want to spend some money at The Table. It’s been billed as the first “sit down” restaurant in Portland, but it’s way more than just that.
The menu is locally sourced, farm-to-table fare, and the restaurant embraces a pay-what-you-can-afford model. Staffed largely by volunteers, the motto “Everyone has a seat at the table” means that you can pay for your meal through serving, pay full price, or give a little extra that is “paid forward” so that meals can be provided free of charge to neighbors in need. They’re only open for lunch Monday through Friday at the moment, and in spite of the inclusive motto, the food’s so good that seats can be hard to come by during peak hours.
1:15 PM: Boone Square Park
As local writer and historian Jim Higdon will attest, you’d be hard pressed to find a plot with more history than the park that sits between Duncan Street and Rowan Street in Portland’s 1900 block. This piece of land that traded hands between the families of Daniel Boone, Henry Clay, William Lytle, and John Rowan is the only unbroken ground along the Falls of the Ohio. Daniel Boone’s cousin, William, hosted the state’s first game of baseball in his front yard here in 1866, and in 1891 his widow passed it along to the Frederick Law Olmsted Company to be turned into a park. It is the first of the Olmsted parks in Louisville, and features an original limestone wall, two full-sized basketball courts, and a backstop that serves as a gesture to its hardball heritage.
1:45 PM: Hot Coffee, 1626 Duncan Street
An offshoot of NuLu’s hotspot Please and Thank You, Hot Coffee occupies a little corner at the intersection of 17th and Duncan. Along with delivering what its name promises, the building that houses Hot Coffee also serves as Please & Thank You’s bakery. You know those chocolate chip cookies that P&TY has made so famous? Yeah, you can get them here. Need I say more?
2 PM: Explore Portland’s historic architecture
Louisville’s architecture doesn’t get nearly the attention it should, and this is especially true in Portland. It’s uncommon to find 20+ room Victorian mansions alongside early 20th century shotguns, but you’ll find both of those and more in Portland’s network of streets.
Of particular interest is the Enoch Lockhart Mansion at the place where Northwestern Parkway briefly ends near 30th Street. The 1863 mansion was built for Enoch Lockhart, the first superintendent of the Louisville Portland Canal. Rudd Avenue also offers access to Portland Wharf Park and is one of the oldest streets in the city, now mostly truncated by I-64 Lockhart mansion.
There’s also the Mackin Building at 26th and Alford that holds what was once one of the largest basketball gyms in the world, and a place where Muhammad Ali is rumored to have trained. Connected to downtown by the Louisville Loop, all this architecture can be easily explored on two wheels, too.
4:30 PM: In and Out Dairy Mart, 2329 Portland Avenue
Much like Shaheen’s, In and Out is a family-owned homage to a previous time. Stop by to have a conversation with Owner, Mike Taylor, and admire his collection of antiques that line the store’s walls. This corner has been a general store since the early 20th century, and Taylor has the black-and-white pictures from the ’37 Flood to prove it. Two generous scoops of hand-dipped ice cream are only $4, and they have Superman, among other flavors.
6 PM: Annie’s Pizza, 2520 Portland Avenue
You’ll never find a Portlander that doesn’t sing the praises of Annie’s Pizza. Pies are modestly priced, delicious, and ready in 15 to 20 minutes. It’s all delivery and carry-out at this location, and judging from the constant traffic out front they seem to keep the neighborhood full of good crust and toppings. Did I mention they offer a 28-inch pizza?
7 PM: The Wright Place, 501 N. 33rd Street
The Wright Place is a quintessential neighborhood bar. Offering everything from pool tournaments and chili cook-offs to dancing and darts, this watering hole serves as a public house for the surrounding community and is welcoming to walk-ins.
8 PM: Over the Nine, 120 S. 10th Street
A bare elusion to the West End’s infamous divider, and most of the city’s reluctance to cross it, this joint on Portland’s easternmost edge may be a prophetic example of things to come, and if so, we’re in luck. Over the Nine offers a simple menu with mostly down-home cuisine like cornbread soufflé and skillet mac and cheese, and it’s under the same roof as Falls City Beer and Old 502 Winery, so you can count on a great variety of local brews to finish off your day.
There’s a lot to look forward to as Portland evolves, and the first new establishments to stake a claim are finding the catch phrase from Field of Dreams to be true for business. But there’s more to be built on here than just ease of access and inexpensive real estate; there’s a civic pride and genuine hospitality that makes Portland unique. If you build it they will come, sure, but perhaps they’ve been here all along.