Photos by NashCo

Drifters: The Society Hotel

by | Dec 23, 2015

Located in the heart of Portland’s Old Town, The Society Hotel is a welcome respite from the bustle of busy bars and nightclubs that surround it. Described by its owners as a blend of a boutique hotel and upscale hostel, it offers stylish, affordable lodgings for travelers in a neighborhood that—unlike many in Portland—can easily serve as a home base from which discover the city on foot.

The building itself is an architectural relic. Built in 1881 by the Portland Seamen’s Friend Society and called the Mariners Building, it was intended as a sailor’s refuge from readily-available alcohol and drugs that accompanied the crushing crowds swarming the busy port.

Today, the building’s gracious façade remains largely intact. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, it served as a community center for Portland’s Chinese community. Parts of the hotel appeared in the 1990 movie “Come See the Paradise,” starring Dennis Quaid.

But when the Society Hotel’s four owners—Jessie Burke, Jonathan Cohen, Matt Siegel and Gabe Genauer—acquired the building, they discovered that the upper floors were virtually untouched since 1945, rendering it a virtual time capsule from a time of war. Past inhabitants left souvenirs like roller skates, newspapers and even an unopened jug of wine; some of these are currently on display in the hotel as artifacts.

Staying in The Society Hotel today, it’s easy to imagine yourself as one of those past inhabitants. If you arrive in the morning, start with a croissant in the hotel’s polished, black-and-white café. Upstairs, the hotel’s offering range from $35 for a bunk bed in a shared room with a shared bathroom, to a private king bed and bathroom for $135 a night.

The rooms themselves do not offer much in the way of amenities—no television, no chair, no phone or even a closet—but that only drives their residents to drop off their bags and mingle in the city. The hotel is conveniently located next to the Max line and within walking distance of popular city attractions like the waterfront and Voodoo Doughnuts.

The ideal place to ponder the day’s agenda would be the hotel’s glorious rooftop deck, lined with wooden benches and plants. It’s a fantastic perch from which to sip your Ristretto Roasters coffee and admire the Willamette River, the far-off silhouettes of the Cascades, and Portland’s own ever-changing skyline.


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