on the cheap

Portland's Hostels Bring Back Bunk Beds

Can luxe linens and rooftop bars make the shared-room model appeal to travelers beyond the backpacking set?

By Allison Williams January 24, 2023

A bunk room at Lolo Pass, on Portland’s East Burnside Street.

Once a traveler is old enough to sign for a rental car, their outlook on hostels turns into a veritable Lethal Weapon quote about “getting too old for this shit.” Inexplicably linked to the kind of European vacation starring a tattered backpack and bad weed, the hostel is usually about low prices. But it’s also about even lower barriers to socialization, to spending a vacation beyond the tourist bus. So it makes sense that Portland would be at the forefront of the hostel’s return—only this time it got fancy. 

Kex Portland

The name—the Icelandic word for “biscuit”—isn’t the only overseas influence on Burnside’s refurb-chic property; the first and only other Kex sits in downtown Reykjavík. But despite the property’s European partners, co-owner Jessica Silverman went for “not a scrappy hostel” vibe, even with four- and 16-bunk rooms. In true Nordic style there’s a sauna available for guest use, and the decor leans European vintage, like a wall of horse stall nameplates from a Belgian racetrack. With some private rooms and even private baths scattered throughout, one needn’t embrace the bunk bed life to hang in the lounges. Though it’s only been open since 2019, the in-house Nordic restaurant Dottir has already shuttered, replaced by the more casual Pacific Standard, a cocktail-minded dining hall launched by Clyde Common bartenders Jeffrey Morgenthaler and Benjamin Amberg.

Kex Portland lights up an already lively neighborhood.

Lolo Pass

Just a few blocks from Kex, the sunny Lolo actually has far more private rooms (62) than shared ones, though the four- and eight-bed dorms are key to the communal atmosphere cultivated by sisters Lauren and Lee Gonzalez. And it’s not just twentysomethings coming through the ultra-mod space; it hosts everything from school groups to retired-girlfriend trips to elder millennials who want to spend their money on experiences over turndown service. In hopes of promoting local talent, the hotel doesn’t charge artists commission to show at the gallery in the lobby, and the social calendar is packed with theme nights of all variety—comedy, movie, trivia—and salsa dancing. In summer, a rooftop deck invites strangers to meet around the firepit. Like Kex, Lolo Pass takes advantage of an eastside neighborhood whose cool factor has been on the rise.

Society Hotel

The two locations of the Society couldn’t be more different; Bingen, on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge near Hood River, reworked an old schoolhouse into a spa-style getaway, its soaking pools sitting in between minimalist new cabins while bunk rooms fill part of the historic structure. But the Portland location resides in busy Old Town Chinatown, an invitation to urban exploration of the neighborhood’s markets and gardens. Like most modern hostels, the bunk rooms at Society are no rickety Ikea setup; wooden ladders take guests to beds with privacy curtains, power outlets, lights, and storage. This Society opened in 2015 in a building more than 100 years old, constructed by the Seamen’s Friends Society for sailors who needed a safe place to crash. With a roof deck that opens right to Portland’s skyline, it’s basically still the same thing, if a little more posh.

Triple-stacked bunks at downtown Portland’s Society Hotel.

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