The Irvington neighborhood of NE Portland, known for its leafy-tree-lined streets and historic PDX homes, has a new-ish cafe that fits right in. Cartola, which opened in 2009, is housed in one side of a long, narrow brick building on NE 7th and Knott. With a wider-than-usual sidewalk in front that doubles as a patio with tables and chairs, the little cafe, like its Irvington neighbors, has charming curb appeal. Yet it’s what’s behind the cute little facade that is as unexpected as walking into the estate sale of an old lady from the neighborhood. High ceilings, marble tables, dark wood, red-velvet seats. Patrons add cream and sugar to their coffee on a heavy, marble-plated piece of furniture with a huge mirror.

My Euro hubby said Cartola reminded him a little bit of old-fashioned cafes back home. I paused and remembered parlor-like coffeehouses where old people drank black coffee and ate cake on velvet-covered chairs. But Cartola’s Old World decor mixes it up with funny, and surprising, touches like antique photos of serious-looking people hanging among the antlers, all on thick wallpaper.

Notes on Cartola…

Where: Cartola is nestled into a small retail complex at 2723 NE 7th and open from 7 am to 5 pm during the week and a little longer on weekends.

Coffee: Cartola is a Stumptown shop and does a beautiful job of merchandising Stumptown’s signature bags of beans around a fresh bouquet of flowers. Another blog post published shortly after Cartola opened reported the owners were looking for friendly baristas, and I have to say, they scored in that regard. Cartola baristas are nice and knowledgeable about their craft. My last visit to Cartola found one of my shots of Espresso perfectly hitting an ice cube in such a way that it cascaded out of the cup and onto the counter. The barista quickly pulled another to complete my drink and made a big deal of picking the very best Pearl Bakery cookie out of the tray for my kid. The coffee is strong and good.

Cool stuff: Cartola may be the new kid on the block, but its neighbors are long-established businesses such as a hair salon (in a long, narrow space that mirrors Cartola’s footprint), the Love Tabernacle and Knott Street Grocery. Like the quiet, stately houses of the neighborhood, Cartola has a quiet, stately ambience where coffee drinkers come to read, work on laptops or just drink coffee. The back of the house opens to yet another surprise: an enclosed wooden deck with corrugated metal roofing for outdoor seating and alcohol.

Not so cool: The antiquey feel and quiet nature of Cartola, while soothing to adults looking to dive into a good book with their favorite drink, is not super kid friendly. Even getting the best cookie out of the batch wasn’t enough to coax my little one to hang out and whisper on the velvet couch.

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