Yesterday, Kex—an upscale “social hotel” born out of Reykjavík, Iceland, in 2012—opened its first US location in Portland (of all places)! After opening the first Kex in 2012, Kex Iceland founder Kristinn Vilbergsson searched for the Portland space for seven years, and finally bought the historic Vivian apartments building in 2018. Now that its doors are finally open, I can see why they took their sweet time. Last night I went to check out the sweet new spot, nestled right behind the wrathful Darth Vadar-looking building (and a bunch of other “new Portland” structures) on Northeast MLK.
Kex translates to “biscuit” in Icelandic, and the establishment is designed to be much more than just a hotel with a fabulous restaurant/bar. Branding itself as a place where “travelers feel like locals and locals feel like travelers,” the whole point of the Kex business model is to create a place where both travelers and locals feel at home and can hang out.
To say the building’s interior design is breathtaking would be a huge understatement; from the floor boards salvaged from a Fort Vancouver train station to the grey tiles in the lobby that are sourced from Egypt, nearly everything you see at KEX has a design focus, handmade quality, or a travel story behind it.
What intrigued me most about the new Kex PDX is its promise of multiple rooms that’ll be used as intimate music venues and art shows for both local and traveling artists. In addition to having intimate music sets in the lobby space, there’s a downstairs “Gym and Tonic” room where I’m told they plan to host regular art shows, music, listening parties and such for around 50 people.
There’s also a 12-person sauna and shared kitchen in the basement. And in the spring, KEX will open up the rooftop bar, another great place to host special intimate shows and things. Up there you can bask in unconventional-but-still-pretty views of Portland landmarks (and oooh! Birds!) from Kex’s rooftop bar, including a lit-up Moda Center, and an obstructed sliver of Big Pink.
Kex does have traditional queen and king size rooms—some with bathrooms en suite, some with access to a shared restroom down the hall—but the place uniquely offers shared rooms ideal for touring acts, families, and large friend groups. At a much more affordable rate, the shared rooms range from four- to 16-beds, and have a “fancy hostel” vibe.
I can’t say enough nice things about the aesthetic and vibe of the Kex building; it truly does have a global-but-also-local feel. One of my favorite parts was the quaint little garden patio next to the lobby, where it’ll be nice (come spring) to go out there and get fresh air, see the sky, and enjoy a wonderfully monstrous “Music Box” neon sign—while not missing out on whatever sounds are happening inside.
While giving me tour of the hotel/restaurant/multi-use space, program manager Rebekah Bellingham emphasized that the restaurant/bar in Kex’s lobby is open from 7 am until midnight, and they don’t just want to welcome potential hotel guests into their space, but also Portlanders who want to stop by for a cocktail/coffee/bite while they meet, socialize, or work remotely on their laptop.
Bellingham has already got an ample music calendar lined up for November, including a DJ set from English artist Kindness next week, Portland-based hip-hop/R&B artist Rich Hunter, as well as “Big Party Weekend” (Nov 22-23) featuring Summer Cannibals, Berndsen, Megan Diana, and others. Check out their show schedule online, or better yet, go check out the new Kex PDX for yourself.