For a taste of old-school jazz clubs to hot new restaurants and an easy location directly off the light rail that whisks people from the airport to points north, Columbia City takes the cake -- one that comes, presumably from the award-laden Columbia City Bakery. Though gentrification has taken a toll on the neighborhood’s many historic businesses and buildings, the few that remain are treasured by the community, which prides itself on being one of the country’s most diverse.
Where to stay: The grand irony of trying to stay in a place undergoing this specific type of gentrification, of course, is that the best (and only -- there are no hotels in the neighborhood) way to stay here is by renting an AirBnB or similar, and short-term rentals can push costs up and force out long-term rentals. That said, the neighborhood’s old houses mean plenty of converted out-buildings and mothers-in-law suites that work well for a weekend rental.
Things to do: Columbia City’s main attraction is its main drag, a shopping street filled with the kinds of small business that fuel healthy neighborhoods. Like the quintessential Main Street USA, it’s got a flower shop, butcher shop, toy store, and boutique-y clothing and jewelry stores, but it also has unique gems: Life Enrichment, or LEMS Bookstore, is the city’s only Black-owned bookstore, and Bike Works is a bike shop that’s actually a non-profit that empowers local youth through teaching bike repair skills. And no Main Street is complete without its own movie theater -- or, in this case, two: Ark Lodge Cinemas, a charmingly-retro renovated Masonic Lodge playing new films, and The Beacon, which plays second run movies and all sorts of film-nerd bait.
Restaurants to hit: While La Medusa’s Italian food has long been the star of Columbia City’s scene, a half-mile south of the heart of the neighborhood is Archipelago. Serving ticketed tasting menu dinners of Filipino flavors made from Northwest ingredients, chef Aaron Verzosa has captured national attention for his creativity. For more everyday eats, pop into the Comfort Zone, a counter housed inside The Royal Esquire Club, and serving soul food classics, dig into local favorite Hawaiian-themed brunch at Super Six, or try the Kenyan cuisine (and hot sauce) from Safari Njema Restaurant.
Best bets for bars and nightlife: Find drinks and dancing at the spacious Royal Room, where live music takes the stage pretty much every night -- sometimes twice a night. Next door, the Columbia City Theater also almost always has something going on, whether it’s local music, open mic, a short-run show, or national-level comedy acts like Cameron Esposito and Nicole Byer. For a more laid-back drink, head to Flying Lion Brewing or Lottie’s Lounge.