There are two Portland Brews in Nashville, much like the Frothy Monkeys and the Bongo Javas. Nashvillians tend to be local coffee shop snobs, but we do want to be able to access our one-of-a-kind shops in all the hip areas of town. So we're not opposed to chains if we keep it in the neighborhood. Hence the two Portland Brews, in two of the hippest parts of Nashville--East Nashville and 12th South. Today, we're reviewing the East Nashville one.
We want to say this is the original one, but we can't be sure, because they don't have a website, and that's usually where we find this sort of information. (Analog is cool and everything but in our professional coffee shoppers opinion, get a website, y'all. It's 2014.) All we know is this one is bigger, tends to be busier, and has been around quite some time.
Portland Brew East (Henceforth referred to as 'PBE' from here on out...because laziness) is located on Eastland Avenue, right down the street from Ugly Mugs (and Jeni's Ice Cream, and Rosepepper Cantina, and really all that is great about East Nashville).
PBE is known as a good place to study. They have music playing, and the doors were open when we were there, but the crowd is typically quiet and studious. They were very focused. Or good actors. From the looks of them, some were working on homework, some on fan fiction, some on music business, and we're pretty sure one took Elizabeth's picture. (Though really, who are we to judge? #shamelessiphonephotographers #nottourists)
The shop is open and airy, with two floors -- the upstairs being more of a loft looking over the first level, perfect for people-watching. The downstairs has typical restaurant seating: some two- and four-tops and some booths. The tables all have the Portland Brew emblem, which we appreciate. The chairs -- surprisingly -- all match. Upstairs is for the extra-serious worker. There are several two-tops, some couch and armchair seating in a few groups (all flea market post-modern style -- read: gold velvet), a larger four- to six-top, and, most importantly, plenty of outlets (we think there's actually one at each table -- and in the floors). Several of the tables offer views of the outdoors.
The walls are cement blocks, unpainted, and with the exposed ducts and wood beams, it's very industrial in nature (not to be confused with our technical term "fancy industrial"). The floors are some sort of imitation-wood linoleum. Not sure why we felt the need to cover that, but there you go. The art is most definitely "East Nashville." Meaning, we don't really get it, but we get that you get it, and that's what makes it art. To describe it in totally professional artistic terms, it looked very Native-American-tapestry meets Andy Warhol.
There are also a few tables outside. They're basically on the sidewalk, though, so they're more for chatting than productivity (see: upstairs). [E: Girl who may have taken my picture just LOCKED EYES WITH ME. WHAT DO I DO NOW?]
PBE also seems very big on community. They have a TON of flyers at the front door, a table full of business cards and more flyers by the staircase:
Don't worry, they're doing their part for testicular cancer awareness. Sorry we just said "testicular" on our coffee shop blog. We know you weren't prepared for that.
There are also a few games and some 1000 piece puzzles on a shelf upstairs. Y'know. In case you run out of things to work on quietly.
They have an ACTUAL menu hanging above the counter. We don't know that we've seen anything like it in our coffee shopping thus far. They didn't even try to pretend that it's on chalkboard. It was clearly manufactured at a real live sign shop. Profesh.
There's also a cat face silently judging you while you stare at said menu, just in case you aren't feeling enough pressure to choose something quickly:
PBE has lots of coffees, including specials like the Honey Child, which we assume is a relative of Coffee, Lunch.'s Honey Child, and which we've already warned you should not be confused with the Honey Boo Boo Child (we assume this is Cheeto flavor). They also have several tea options, along with a Caramel Creme and Hot Chocolate. They use High Garden Teas for their hot drinks, but we're not sure what's used for the iced teas.
E: I got the iced sweet tea because the menu said it was voted best in Nashville, and it was past 2pm, so I was wary of the chai for caffeine reasons.
Tea Taste Rating: 9.
The tea is really good. I can't decide exactly what's different about it. It tastes rounder? Is that a thing? It should be a thing.
L: I got an iced vanilla latte. It was delish. Good ratio of sweet-to-coffee. Perfect for a spring afternoon. It did not come with a smile, though.
Coffee Taste Rating: 9
The baristas at PBE are known for being a little rude, we hear, but they have never been outright rude to either of us. They also have not been outright friendly. They're doing their job and that's very clear. Minimal communication, though. Allow us to transcribe it:
Long-haired barista: *stands from sitting on a stool* *blank stare*
L: Um, can I get an iced vanilla latte?
Long-haired barista: what size?
L: Um...[looks around for cup sizes for iced drinks, sees none] medium, I guess
Long-haired barista: 16 ounces or 24 ounces?
Long-haired barista: four thirty one.
L: [gives card] here you go.
Long-haired barista: *swipes card* do you want a copy of your receipt?
L: Yes, please.
Long-haired barista: *shoves receipt toward L, turns around and walks away*
We both got iced drinks, so the presentation wasn't anything to blog about. Sorry.
Said barista started cleaning around us 30 minutes before the shop closed -- which is 6:30 p.m., lest any of you think this is understandable. We get they want to get on with their Tuesday nights, but it was a little weird and ruined any other pictures we may have wanted to take (Chairs on top of tables don't do much in the way of aesthetics. Even for amateur iPhone photographers). Also, someone mopping AROUND you like you're just performance art or something is super awkward. We felt rude just for tracking dirt on the freshly-mopped stairs when we left (at 6:48).
Ratings Round Up
Disheveled hair count: 2
Level of uncomfortableness walking in: It was very quiet when Laura walked in. Must've been in between vinyl records or something. Literally no one was talking. The aforementioned short interaction with barista earns PBE a combined score of 8. You won't feel weird due to the patrons [unless one is taking your picture] or an unusual setup, but you may suddenly feel the need to whisper.
Giant headphones count: 1
Pin-Up-Style Hipster count: 1
Level of pretentiousness: 7. It was a little judgey, but nothing to prevent us from going back. E felt like she was in a movie at one point, as each individual around her looked like a specific character. The lack of average joe here kicks up the pretension a notch. Also the cat.
Parking: 7. Street parking was available when we went after work, and since it is only open until 7pm, we assume daytime parking wouldn't be too difficult, either. There is a parking lot behind the building, but it also belongs to the apartments, so we're not sure what the rules are there. Look for signs before you park. We're not here to get towed.
Overall, we would definitely recommend PBE for a good place to study or work. It's one of our favorite places to go to get things done. The coffee and tea were good, and the airy, quiet atmosphere gives it a relaxed, yet studious feel.
Have you ever been to PBE? Did you feel judged by the cat face?