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New hipster hotel on East Burnside hopes to ride the reopening tiger with a combination of budget accommodations and appeal to locals

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The new hybrid hotel-hostel Lolo Pass on East Burnside Street aims to attract locals and budget travelers with decent food and a place to mix with art and plants instead of TV screens.Portland is hostel territory: Plenty of tourists want to do Portland on a shoestring, and hostels offer communal sleeping areas and no-frills self-catering.

But hostels are having to reinvent themselves. They must deal with the pandemic, which squashed tourism for a year, and they have to join the trend of luxurious minimalism that can be summed up as less clutter, more amenities.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The roof deck at Lolo Pass is fancier than your average hostel. The Lolo vibe is boutique hotel meets Airbnb spare bedroom. That's an interesting gamble as the hospitality industry seeks to come back in a new form after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lauren Gonzalez and her sister Lee opened their newest project Lolo Pass, at 1616 E. Burnside on May 27. The sisters owned operated and sold two hostels in Barcelona and still run one in New York's Long Island City, The Local. However, their Portland Lolo is the most ambitious yet. It's an 87-room hotel/hostel hybrid. The $20 million building was built from scratch. "We had an equity fundraise round in 2017 with mainly friends, family and former investors from our NYC project," she told the Business Tribune. "The additional capital was raised through a construction loan from Thrive Lending based in Austin, Texas."

(Image is Clickable Link) COURTESY PHOTO: JOSH CHANG - Lauren (left) and Lee Gonzalez in their latest hotel/hostel, Lolo Pass on East Burnside Street. The four-story space stands out on this stretch of East Burnside, on the lot next to the Little Baja pottery place. With its large-windowed lobby, coffee bar and art gallery, it looks like an apartment building at first glance. But this mixed hotel-hostel makes some significant advances on what backpackers and budget tourists are used to.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Storage is located outside the dorm rooms to avoid disturbing people trying to sleep. The owners owned two hostels in Barcelona, Spain, and are trying to make the no-frills concept fly in the U.S. One issue the Gonzalez sisters solved is how hard it is to get some rest. Dorms have people on different schedules trying to sleep while other guests come in talking, turn on lights and rustle around in bags at 4 a.m. The loud or boozy traveler is a fact of life in hostel travel, so the Gonzalezes made sure the dorm rooms have no distractions. There's no overhead lighting, just floor-evel LEDs and a reading lap and tiny shelf on every bunk.

"People can have privacy but still have the social experience of a hostel," Lauren Gonzalez said. PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - Storage is located outside the dorm rooms to avoid disturbing people trying to sleep. The owners owned two hostels in Barcelona, Spain, and are trying to make the no-frills concept fly in the U.S.
People store their bags in lockers in an antechamber, which also has sinks and toilets. The idea is to get the noisy stuff out of the way before turning in.

"We don't really want people hanging out in here either," she said of the antechamber on a recent tour. "We want them interacting in the lobby."

Other people's rooms

The state of hostels in Portland is up and down. They were expanding, until the pandemic clobbered communing with strangers.

The Icelandic-owned and -themed Kex Hotel has communal rooms with bunks and underfloor storage, but the pandemic closed them. They recently reopened as family rooms.

The Hawthorne Hostel, a classic converted old house on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard with a green roof, closed in 2020 after a 16-year run. The owner, Hosteling International-USA, sold the building.

Another victim, however, is Harlow Hotel owner Ganesh Sonpatki's plans for a hostel section in his boutique Pearl District hotel. The plan was to have three rooms each with four bunk beds, plus a shared bathroom area, charging around $40 room a night. Sonpatki nixed that plan with the pandemic.

The Portland Northwest Hostel at 479 N.W. 18th Ave. doubled in size five years ago and has survived the downturn.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The Lolo Pass lobby encorages people to sit and mingle. The locals are as much a part of the tourist experience as the rest of the city.

Frills

Back at the Lolo Pass, Gonzalez shows off more key amenities. As well as an all-day coffee bar for guests, the lobby has a restaurant that is open to the public. There's no room service, but there's a roof deck, where people can take their food as well as their skyline selfies.

Lolo Pass is named for the pass near Zigzag Oregon, not the one in the Rockies. Gonzalez says many guests come to Portland then spread out to explore Mount Hood and the Columbia River Gorge. "There are a lot of outdoor adventurers, people doing the Pacific Crest Trail and taking a break from it," Gonzalez says.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The Lolo Pass has an art gallery instead of a TV room. Owners Lauren and Lee Gonzalez hope travelers will want to keep it local when they are in town, as part of the Portland experience. The designers worked hard to maximize space and light. One room is so thin that its twin beds are end to end. There's a noticeable lack of large screens, since they kill conversation. "Our target demographic travel with their own devices anyway," says Gonzalez, 38. She adds that cable TV is expensive.

"They want more of an experience, not a cookie-cutter feeling you get in a hotel. They want to meet other people. There are a lot of graduates and students, young couples and the young at heart." She also sees a lot of digital nomads who need somewhere quiet to plug in and work.

Instead of a TV room, there's an art gallery of original local work, which is curated by Jailbreak Studios.

The restaurant is managed by someone from the Hyatt Centric, to make it competitive with the foodie strengths of the east side, which include Le Pigeon, Tusk, Canard and Flying Fish. The food is meant to attract the locals, which in turn makes the guests happy.

Just as the crowd at Timbers games is as much a part of the draw as the soccer team, so the city is having to reinvent itself by selling its best resource: People.

Gonzalez has figured out that in Portland, the locals are as much a part of the sightseeing as the monuments and rose gardens.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE  - The 87-room hotel/hostel hybrid Lolo Pass was built from scratch by Bremik Construction for $20 million. The owners hope the bar and restaurant will attract locals to mingle with the usual backpackers and adventurous travelers.

Inclusivelandia

Portland is trying to rebrand itself as not on fire, not at war and not one giant tent shanty town, returning to being a city of great food, greenery and entertainment. Part of that is saying Portland welcomes wealthy and thrifty travelers equally.

Marcus Hibdon, a spokesperson for Travel Portland, told the Business Tribune,

"Portland attracts visitors of all types and all budgets. It's why we can have an affordable lodging option like the Lolo Pass while a Ritz Carlton is under construction. The city has always had a wealth of lodging options from our large, trusted brands to our beautiful boutique properties and independent hotels. Lolo Pass offers another choice for visitors to the city and is certainly a welcome addition as Portland reopens to the world."

Lolo Pass

1616 E. Burnside St.

PHONE: 503-908-3074

WEB: HYPERLINK "https://www.lolopasspdx.com/" lolopasspdx.com

IG: @lolopasspdx


Joseph Gallivan
Reporter, The Business Tribune
971-204-7874
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