Portland’s Old Town-Chinatown presents a dizzying array of shopping, sights, eats and events as well as characters and characteristics, from serenely traditional to outlandishly artistic to rambunctiously drunken. Historically home to significant emigrant populations of Chinese and Japanese, today’s Asian influence is mostly surface only as just a handful of gift shops, importers and restaurants remain in the neighborhood.

Yet, the impressive Chinatown Gate over Fourth Avenue still welcomes visitors to NW Portland with two imposing bronze lions sitting on their haunches. Iconic red lamp posts line the streets north of Burnside and the re-erected Hung Far Low sign endures just two blocks past the gate.

Amongst all the activity and weekend merrymaking, there’s a seedier side—strip clubs and an adult theater—and a blunt reality to the area where a significant homeless population lives and human services abound.

Nevertheless, a few things are guaranteed every night of the week: The echo of live music always hangs in the air as does the aroma of deep-fried dough and crystallized sugar, each welcoming you to your destination even before it’s in sight.

See and Do

  • Darcelle XV Showplace

    208 NW Third Ave.
    Portland OR 97209

    An Old Town institution run by a living Portland legend, Darcelle (aka Walter Cole) has run her Las Vegas-style cabaret revues of “Glitz, Glamour and Comedy” since 1967, earning the title of “the nation’s longest consecutively running drag cabaret.” With the eye makeup liberally applied and the fake lashes affixed, settle down with a stiff drink as the drag queens take over Darcelle XV’s stage for lip-synched dance routines. Leave your earmuffs at home as the octogenarian Darcelle provides the crass humor herself. So, unwind and let the feather boas tickle your funny bone... er, just enjoy yourself.

  • Ground Kontrol

    511 NW Couch Street
    Portland OR 97209

    Founded by lifelong pinball and classic video game enthusiasts, Ground Kontrol “celebrates and preserves arcade gaming's ‘golden age’ by operating over 100 of the best video games and pinball machines from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s,” according to its website, as well as offering a full bar and snacks, which you can put away while seated at glowing tables. Bask in the warmth of buzzing, chiming machines and the luminescence of the retro-futuristic, TRON-inspired interior where white- and indigo-hued fiber-optic lighting and LEDs line the stairs and archways as DJs spin a fresh variety every night. The long-running Rock Band Tuesdays, dubbed “karaoke for gamers,” will allow you to pick up plastic instruments and rock out using pro gear (microphones, guitar and keyboard controllers, drum mod), lights and sound (PA system, audio monitors), but before you head home for the night, be sure to make your way to the restrooms to check out the floor mosaics—Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, respectively.

  • Lan Su Chinese Garden

    239 Northwest Everett Street
    Portland OR 97209

    An isolated piece of tranquility in the center of the hectic Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood, Lan Su Chinese Garden occupies an entire city block and houses hundreds of unique and unusual native Chinese plant species as well as the five elements of a Chinese garden—rocks, water, plants, architecture and literary inscriptions—harmoniously blended together inside its walls. Striving “to recreate an ideal landscape in miniature,” the garden is a peaceful place to wander or take tea while you ponder an ancient culture or just get lost in your own thoughts.

  • Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center

    121 NW 2nd Avenue
    Portland OR 97209

    For a bit of art, culture and history, visit the Japanese American History Museum at the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center, which houses exhibits and archives as well as hosts classes and events, all aimed at preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Japanese American community. And in case you’re wondering, Nikkei here does not refer to the Japanese stock market but rather the Japanese diaspora, including emigrants and their descendants that now live abroad.

  • Portland Saturday Market

    108 W Burnside St.
    Portland OR 97209

    Every Saturday and Sunday from March through December, the Portland Saturday Market sets up shop in its modern annex in Waterfront Park along the Willamette River and across Naito Parkway in the old Ankeny Square. “The largest continually operating outdoor arts and crafts market in the nation,” according to its website, there are innumerable vendors selling locally handcrafted goods, art of every imaginable medium, and a variety of food, including a Rogue Ales booth. When you need a break from the handicrafts, take a stroll along the Willamette enjoying views of the east side or venture up SW Ankeny Street to the historic Skidmore Fountain as well as the arches and ornamental, white colonnades of the New Market Block where the MAX line runs along the cobblestones.

Eat and Drink

  • Alexis Restaurant

    215 W Burnside St.
    Portland OR 97209

    Completely nondescript from the exterior, the cavernous, family-owned Alexis Restaurant is Old Town-Chinatown’s beloved providers of traditional Greek cuisine and culture in its whitewashed taverna. You’ll likely be greeted warmly by Alexis’ host Gerasimos “Gerry” Tsirimiagos upon entering, and a shared sampling of an Alexis Platter (hummus, tzatziki, lamb souvlaki, octopus, dolmathes, spanakopita, feta cheese, olives and more—also available individually) is recommended while sipping on a glass of ouzo or Greek wine. In addition to serving you at your table, the restaurant’s namesake, Alexis Bakouros, also runs a wholesale food importing and distribution business, which notably includes many of the Greek specialties found on the menu, made daily and available in other eateries and grocery stores around town, like New Seasons.

Shop

  • Core77 Hand-Eye Supply

    23 NW 4th Avenue
    Portland OR 97209

    Is it any surprise that the venerable design web site Core77 chose the epicenter of the handmade, DIY, artisan, locavore movement (aka, Portland) to open their first store? Not really. And we’re not complaining! Calling it a “workstyle” shop, the Old Town-Chinatown store is a playground for crafters, designers and those who want to be. There are books and sketch pads for the relaxed; riveters, saws, coveralls and respirator masks for the hardcore; and everything in between. Whether you’re a professional ceramicist, bike builder, jewelry maker or a weekend project warrior, this place will inspire the heck out of you. 

  • Floating World Comics

    400 NW Couch St.
    Portland OR 97209

    Beyond the walls and bookcases filled with a curated selection of comics as well as art books and magazines that span the topics of graphic design, illustration, animation, music and film, Floating World Comics has become a collaborative space focused on providing readers and artists with quality publications and inspirational discoveries. To this end, FWC shares the space with Landfill Rescue Unit, purveyors of new and rare punk, metal, psych, funk, soul, and rap on vinyl, and Grass Hut, a collective of artists that run a gallery/shop/studio selling art, crafts, indie zines, clothing, and “random other stuff.” Enjoy the generous discharge of fluorescent paint commonly adorning the canvases, which are often cartoonish, plastic toys.

  • Michelle DeCourcy

    431 NW Flanders St., Ste. 202
    Portland OR 97209

    Michelle DeCourcy spent much of her professional life in finance. She liked it, but with a desire to pursue more creative endeavors, she decided she liked designing dresses more. She started her fashion business in 1999, literally at her kitchen table. Before long, she was showcasing her work at parties and boutiques around town. Her new, by-appointment-only studio-showroom features ready-to-wear women's pieces, but DeCourcy's emphasis is creating and tailoring new pieces for you based on her existing lines. So, what's it all look like? DeCourcy says she favors the "less is more approach." She likes clean lines, but she thinks a dress, or bridal gown, should be sexy too. Her personal aesthetic, she says, can be described as "luxe boho meets rocker chic." In other words, whether you're channeling your inner Studio 54-era Bianca Jagger or paying tribute to Audrey Hepburn's elegant glamor, you'll feel equally at home in a DeCourcy dress. 

  • Orox Leather Co.

    450 NW Couch St.
    Portland OR 97209

    When José Martínez was a little boy living in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, he desperately wanted a pair of Converse shoes. His father, a shoemaker, said if he really wanted them, he should make them himself. So he did, and he's been making them ever since. Now, he's opened a new shop and studio where, with his sons, Martín, Levi and Kevin, he manufactures shoes, sandals, belts, and classically designed waxed canvas and leather bags. Everything they use to construct their goods comes from suppliers in the U.S., Martín explains, and each item is made, the way a pair of good jeans are, to become your own over time. "The more you wear [our things], the more you use them, the more they become your own,” he says. Plus, he adds, they'll even make you custom-fit shoes—it may take six months for your shoes to be built, but they'll be built to fit the idiosyncratic contours of your feet.

Important Links

Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association
Coalition Office: NWNW
Old Town Chinatown Business Association
Neighborhood Map
Capital Improvement Projects
Crime Stats
Parks
Schools
Zoning Designations