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Smashed to Bits: Where Design goes in Portland’s Old Town / China Town

Robin Clark
Visual Designer


IF DESIGN WEEK PORTLAND HAD CLIFFSNOTES, THIS WOULD BE PART OF THE CITY GUIDE APPENDIX; A PAGE CALLED ‘UNKNOWN OLD TOWN | CHINA TOWN, WHERE THE CURIOUS DWP GUEST CAN BUMP INTO A REAL DESIGNER IN THE WILD.’

Made in Oregon Sign
If you’re in town for Design Week, you’ve already got the notion that a thick part of our cultural stew is oddball mash-ups and crazy ideas that just might work. Portland at large? We’ve got that in spades. But Old Town, with it’s permissive atmosphere, cheap rents, and respect for the past? Old Town is full of creative spaces where ideas are forged, heads are banged, and design happens. The facade might be a crumbling warehouse with sketchy peeps out front, but there is alchemy happening inside those dark windows.

But, do you know where to look beyond the hotel bars and handlebar mustaches?

You see, Portland Design Week happens during the perfect Indian Summer months of PDX. The streets are crowded with blissed-out natives drunk on dreamy weather. Don’t judge! We look like that because we’ve been caved up with damp feet in a GORE-TEX shield for 8 months, woodshedding.
Remember: Portlandia only films during these perfect months. The rest of the time is miserable and we feel less like extras from that show, and more like extras from C.H.U.D. (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers).

Portlandia Extras

YOU SEE THIS

NOT THIS

C.H.U.D.

So who are some Portland designers that I should know about?

Aaron Draplin
Martin OntiverosScrappers
Mary Kate McDevittOMFG
Aaron Draplin Where you’ve seen him: Sasquatch, Sizzle Pie, Field Notes, thick lines, TED talks!
Martin Ontiveros Where you’ve seen him: Rawk Posters, band merch, beer labels, local galleries.
Mary Kate McDevitt Where you’ve seen her: Any book or magazine with gorgeously hand-drawn type.
Scrappers Where you’ve seen him: Portland Mercury, Stay Wild Magazine, Potato Champion food truck!
OMFG Where you’ve seen them: Branding for Ace Hotel, Stumptown Coffee, Olympic Provisions.

And where would they hang out if they were in OTCT?

(Something to keep in mind: Once you hit the 7:00 pm hour, your work is done here, and OTCT turns into a pumpkin. Roam at your own risk!)

EASY COMPANY VALENTINE’S DAVIS ST. TAVERN
New, well-branded joint with top-notch cocktails and food from Lardo. No signage, just secrets. Started by an artist and a punk rocker who sold his record collection to build it, new owners maintain cozy, happening, secret vibe amidst Portland’s French Quarter. Always wanted to dine at a roomy Pottery Barn? Exposed beams, Steak Frites, large drink selection. Bring a client with an expense account.
EAST TUBE OLD TOWN PIZZA
Designed by Skylab, this lounge is gorgeous inside. Best bathrooms in Chinatown. Decent menu, heavy on the DJs. Designed by Colab, this place has changed hands many times, but always has vegan bar food, snotty staff, loud djs, a pickup flavor. Cavernous, grubby beer hall allegedly haunted (probably by ghosts that love pretzel knots).
Want to know more about the creative alchemy in Old Town | China Town? Come to my Design Week Portland event: I will be your guide through a walking loop of some of these spaces. Peppered with personal anecdotes and followed by Design Trivia at eROI, be prepared to see OTCT in a new light.
Free Swag: See something rad that you want to remember now or later? Write it down in your MODseries notebook! eROI has designed a notebook corresponding to each of our 6 design week events. When you attend an event, poof!; you get a cool notebook emblazoned with a bitchen skull that reflects the event. Collect them all! If you attend all 6 events, you’ll get the limited edition 7th notebook printed with the design of our contest winner. What contest you ask? The one where you draw a cool skull and we maybe choose it for the 7th notebook. (Go to the contest.)

See you in the wild!

*Thanks for the inspiration, Aaron!
Watch the Field Notes story.

Robin Clark
Robin Clark, Visual Designer at eROI.