The Whiteaker neighborhood in Eugene, Ore., is attracting a new mix of eco-friendly businesses that include a brewery, winery, restaurants and food carts.
Marshmallows toast on a grill anchored to the back of a bicycle parked outside the Redoux Parlour where a few minutes of browsing turns up a secondhand silk bathrobe and a dress made from a shower curtain.
Someone grabs graham crackers, fills them with the marshmallows and chocolate, and passes out S’mores paired with cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Forget the wine and cheese. This is the Last Friday Artwalk in Eugene, Oregon’s Whiteaker district. The snacks are as eclectic as the neighborhood.
A mile west of downtown, Whiteaker is literally on the fringes of Eugene, a city best known for the leafy University of Oregon campus and its famous graduate, Nike co-founder Phil Knight.
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Cheap rents and dilapidated houses have long attracted a transient population that caused many to avoid the neighborhood. That’s changing now that 20-something artists and young entrepreneurs have begun investing in a mix of eco-friendly new businesses.
“The district has had different reputations,” says Mic Hines, owner of the Eugene Whiteaker International Hostels.
“Fifteen years ago, it was an anarchist hot spot. It’s sort of evolved from there,” mostly shedding a reputation for drugs and alcohol, and attracting “a lot of artists and people coming to settle in Oregon and looking for a nice, informal place to be.”
Spread out around an area north and south of the railroad tracks a few blocks from the Willamette River, the neighborhood has a distinctive core business area that stretches along Blair Boulevard and surrounding streets, roughly between Third and Seventh Avenues.
A longtime local landmark is the onion dome atop St. John the Wonderworker Serbian Orthodox church at 304 Blair Blvd.
“We’ve got houses that are kept up pretty well, and some that seem like they’re not that well groomed,” says Hines, “but they’re still filled with interesting people.”
Best time to visit is the last Friday of the month, when 25 venues open from 6-9 p.m. for the self-guided art walk.
A few don’t-miss stops:
• Ninkasi Brewing Co., 272 Van Buren St., a local brewery and tasting room in an old plumbing-company building with a large outdoor courtyard that draws a lively after-work crowd.
Best times to visit are toward the end of the week when mobile food vendors show up, offering wood-fired pizzas and tofu chili to wash down the $4 pints on tap. Local bands provide music. Kids welcome until 8 p.m. www.ninkasibrewing.com
• Eddo Burger, in an Airstream trailer in the parking lot next to the Tiny Tavern at 394 Blair. Burgers made from black beans, quinoa and brown rice are $5. Try the chips made from Japanese sweet potatoes, and served with agave mustard.
• Pizza Research Institute, 530 Blair. Consult the “Periodic Table of the Toppings” for a vegan or vegetarian pizza ($5 a slice) baked with combos such as pears, vegan pesto and potatoes. Indie craft market and music in the parking lot during the art walk. www.pizzaresearchinstitute.com
• Redoux Parlor, 780 Blair, resale clothing store and workshop staffed by five young seamstress/designers. Dresses made from recycled materials, earrings fashioned from Nicaraguan and Ecuadorean postage stamps, and more.
• Sweet Life Patisserie, 755 Monroe. Lines out the door for Kahlua espresso cupcakes, peanut-butter sandwich cookies, cream pies and cheesecakes. www.sweetlifedesserts.com
• Drumrong Thai, 904 W. Sixth Ave., Thai street food cooked by the Drumrong family in a converted camper van. Outdoor seating at tables in a traffic circle decorated with colored lights. All dishes $6.50-$7.50.
• Territorial Vineyards and Wine, 907 W. Third Ave. Tasting room and winery inside the former Boyds Coffee warehouse. Cozy neighborhood spot. Live music on Thursday nights. www.territorialvineyards.com
A smattering of galleries are worth a look, but more fun is a stroll through the residential streets for a glimpse at the yard art — everything from a bicycle-powered “push” lawn mower to a large portrait of Lenin tacked above a doorway.
Nailed to a tree outside one house is a sign that says “Dance Hall.” Another points to the “Bar” upstairs and a giant clock set to 1 a.m. Next door, three beauty-parlor chairs, hair dryers still attached, are arranged in a circle on the parking strip.
My favorite is a house with copper Jell-O molds tacked to a fence and a planter made from a metal bed frame. White lights twinkle above the porch.
“It’s entertainment,” the owner laughed, stepping out in her robe. “Only in this neighborhood could you get away with this, and have people not thinking you’re a little eccentric.”
Carol Pucci: email@example.com