Before the construction of Interstate 5, Mississippi Avenue was the heart of Portland’s African-American community. Once the neighborhood’s backyards and porches were replaced with a freeway, however, the area began a multi-decade slide into crime and financial hardship. Thanks to forward-thinking city planning, long-time neighborhood residents, and astute business owners, North Mississippi Avenue began its journey on the road to recovery in the late 1990’s.
Now, after a steady influx of one-of-a-kind shops, eateries, and businesses, the area is one of Portland’s destination neighborhoods. It is diverse, eclectic, and inclusive. A bar patron I met one evening described the transition to me as a refreshing revitalization and not a gentrification; an important distinction for locals.
The Equinox Restaurant and Bar mirrors the soul and the spirit of the Mississippi movement. One of the original businesses to establish roots during the revitalization, Equinox is intent on handling every aspect of the business with the community’s needs in mind. The building was furnished with materials from another community cornerstone, the Rebuilding Center. It is not uncommon for the owners of Equinox, Michele Stultz and Tara George, to borrow supplies from other Avenue businesses when they run out, and vice versa. It’s also not all that rare for folks in need, to work the occasional odd job at Equinox in exchange for food or money.
Being rich with community-minded good intentions does not, however, assure you a thriving business. That’s where good food and drink come in. And on this particular sojourn into the neighborhood, it was all about the drink. My friend (and assistant for the day) Kassidy and I where met by owners Tara and Michele, who were kind enough to answer a quick set of questions before heading behind the bar themselves to assemble a series of drinks. A gorgeous set of drinks I might add.
First out was an Applewood Smoked Vodka Bloody Mary that was so chock full o’ delicious that every Bloody Mary over the next 2 months will be bitterly disappointing.
To balance that out, our next beverage was the EQ Café Espanol. What their Bloody Mary did to me, their Spanish Coffee did to Kassidy. 151 rum, Stumptown Coffee liqueur, Cointreau, coriander tincture, coffee, and whipped cream.
To finish everything off, Michele whipped up an off the menu gem that was essentially a Lemon Drop Martini made with lilac simple syrup, and garnished with lilac trimmings from the garden. And just to make sure we didn’t leave on an empty stomach they provided us with a plate of crispy wontons stuffed with mushrooms, Danish bleu cheese, and chives, served with a sweet chile-lemon dip; their Wild Mushroom Bites.
Big thanks to Michele, Tara, and the attentive and patient staff of Equinox. Kassidy and I have plans to attend brunch there this month so we can try out the food (and another Bloody Mary or three).