I am starting a new series called Discovering PDX, where I will document my experiences as a newcomer to the City of Roses. This is the first installment of the series.
My first order of business in Portland is to find the perfect coffee shop that I can work from, hang out and make new friends. To this end, I am on a mission to try different coffee shops until I find the perfect one. I have a point of reference, Lux Coffeebar, which was the perfect coffee shop for me in Phoenix and which ended up having a profound impact on my life. But I am open to finding something new and seeing what Portland has to offer.
Today I find myself at Sound Grounds. Below is my review.
What it has going for it:
Sound Grounds is about a ten minute walk from my place, located on Belmont and SE 37th Avenue. It’s on a great street from which I can walk to a lunch spot or an afternoon coffee shop. Bus service from here is very good, so if I had a meeting in another part of town, I would have no problem getting there. And as you can see from the photo, bike parking is a plenty right in front of the coffee shop.
Sound Grounds is spacious and comfortable and welcoming. I had no trouble finding a seat and I get the sense that no one minds that I will be sitting here working for a while.
What I really like about Sound Grounds is that they have a bar facing the street. This is usually my favorite spot to sit when I need to get work done. I get to enjoy the coffee shop vibe, but because I’m facing the window, I’m not distracted by what going on behind me. Plus I love soaking in the sun (or whatever sun makes it through the clouds) and watching people walk by. I also love the fantastic view I have of a great red brick apartment building in front of me. Sitting at the bar is the closest I get to the indoor/outdoor experience that was well executed in a lot of places in Phoenix. (Side note: the best indoor/outdoor experience in a Phoenix coffee shop can be found at Giant Coffee, especially when the glass Nanawalls are open, but even when they’re not.)
Sound Ground has good wi-fi, a must have for me if I’m going to work from here.
Why it’s not the perfect coffee shop for me:
While it’s in a fantastic old building with lots of character, the interior design at Sound Grounds is terrible. The actual layout and flow work well, but the materials and the furniture are really bad. They use the most basic plastic laminate for the countertops and the furniture is something you would get at Walmart. The best thing about the design here is the stained concrete floor, which is the only visible remnant of the terrific building it’s in. But the Cracker Barrel-like wood trim on the columns and walls and the blah beige colors make this coffee shop oh so boring. Instead of trying to make the interior into something you could find anywhere, it would have been nice if there was an attempt to expose the character of this great building and creating a unique sense of place.
Food & Drink:
Admittedly, I haven’t tried the food, but they have a fair tea selection. Compared to Phoenix coffee shops, this place has a great tea selection as many of the coffee shops there didn’t seem to take their tea service very seriously. But compared to other coffee shops I’ve been to in Portland, the tea selection here is just ok. And the Oolong I got is nothing special.
The bad design contributes to a vibe that shouts out “WE ARE JUST AVERAGE”. There is nothing remarkable or unique or interesting about this place. Perhaps it’s because it’s trying to appeal to everyone, but in doing so, it doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t think I’ll be back here very often.
And so the search for the perfect coffee shop in Portland continues…