Kissing at The Sapphire Hotel isn’t required, but it is definitely encouraged. In fact, historically, the Sapphire is a place where kissing has long been expected. At the turn of the century, what is now The Sapphire Hotel Bar and Restaurant was the lobby of a brothel where travelers and sailors mingled with prostitutes, musicians, gypsies and mystics. For those who wanted to continue kissing and beyond, rooms were cheap and rented by the hour, night or week.

Although the motto is still “Eat, Drink, Kiss”, the Sapphire Hotel, no longer rents rooms, and has a far more sophisticated flair than its past brings to mind. The beautiful old lobby was re-designed and re-decorated by a Shelia Baraga, a woman who has a knack for creating truly beautiful spaces and great restaurants in Southeast Portland. The Sapphire’s Asian-Craftsman décor is both elegant and inviting, and it is a wonderful place to start a fun evening on SE Hawthorne Boulevard.

Daily happy hour offers basic appetizers like Artichoke Dip, Salmon Cakes or a Meze Platter. Or go for one of the Sapphire’s Specialty Cocktails such as the Welcome (vodka, grapefruit juice, Chambord, and champagne); The Lobby (A martini with lemon vodka, cranberry, mango and lime); Concierge (Cucumber infused gin with Pimms, lemonade and ginger brew) or maybe Room Service (the house specialty, a marionberry margarita). Also available, a carefully selected wine list, champagne cocktails, as well as local and imported beer.

If you decide to stay on, the dinner menu is as simple and elegant as the decor. The Sapphire uses as much local and organic produce as possible, and features items such as Pomegranate Glazed Hanger Steak served on sweet potato mash, or Sweet Corn and Black Bean Enchilada baked in a jalapeno Emmantaler sauce and topped with grilled peaches.

The Sapphire is known for live music and other events, but remember, the rest of the SE Hawthorne awaits you. Head down the newly blossoming “Upper Hawthorne” where the blend of historic and modern architecture, homes and new businesses is turning into a vibrant neighborhood. Restaurants and shops are filling in the spaces between the already established Common Grounds Coffee House and JaCiva’s Bakery.

Crossing SE 39th Avenue, you are now on lower Hawthorne and in the heart of Portland’s “hippie hangout”. While there are quite a few patchouli scented young people selling macramé jewelry on the sidewalk, there is a more sophisticated edge to the neighborhood as well- and if you look closely enough, you will see the wires of an ipod or cell phone earpieces tucked in among the dreadlocks. The paradoxes, diversity and uniqueness of the area make window-shopping and wandering the street an experience in its own right. Greg’s and Presents of Mind are two fun shops that are very hip and not hippy at all.

A treasured Hawthorne gem that shouldn’t be missed is the Bagdad Theater. This historic building was first opened in 1927 to much fanfare, and has since been renovated by the McMenamin Brothers. Using local artists and craftspeople, the brothers have revitalized a gorgeous movie theater that blends historic features like the red carpeted floor, ornate chandeliers and wall sconces with modern movies, beer, pizza and snacks.

The front of the Bagdad is a café and bar that opens right onto the Hawthorne scene. You can sit and drink the McMenamin’s microbrews and watch people come and go from Powell’s Books across the street. The Bridgeport Ale House, a half block to the west also has its own popular microbrews as well as a pub menu, and Mulligan’s Bar and Grill still another block to the west is another choice to relax and soak in the laid back atmosphere of SE Hawthorne.

End the evening at Pix Patisserie, a superb local pastry shop. Every desert and candy in the place is handcrafted and looks almost too beautiful to eat. Don’t let that stop you because the sweets are amazing. Try the Amelie (orange vanilla crème brûlée, glazed chocolate moss and caramelized hazelnuts, praline crisp and Cointreau genoise), which won the Patis France Chocolate Competition. Or the exquisite Pear Rosemary Tart (cashew cream and roasted pears covered with a milk chocolate-rosemary ganache). The St. Honore is another delicious choice (puff pastry, caramelized cream puffs, Grand Marnier pastry cream and vanilla bean crème Chantilly).

As if that isn’t enough, Pix doesn’t stop with just the deserts. It also offers a selection of wines and beers that are specifically chosen as desert pairings. The menu offers suggestions, as will the wait-people who are encouraged by the owner to sample the pairings during weekly employee tastings. The server I talked to said her favorite combination is the Jubilee (champagne mousse layered with strawberry compote, kirsch soaked pistachio sponge cake, topped with bruleed Italian meringue) with Cava, a Spanish sparking wine.

Between happy hour at the Sapphire, a movie at the Bagdad, dinner at one of the many local restaurants, and dessert at Pix, you will experience the full range of excellent offerings of Hawthorne.

Getting there from downtown: Trimet bus 14 goes directly to Hawthorne, get off at stop ID # 7658 for the Sapphire Hotel; Stop ID 2623 Eastbound or 2624 Westbound for The Bagdad, and Powell’s, or Stop ID # 2616 westbound or stop ID # 2615 eastbound
for the Hostel.)

What & Where:
The Sapphire Hotel (5008 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-232-6333)
Common Grounds Coffee House (4321 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-236-4835)
JaCivas Bakery (4733 SE Hawthorne Ave ; 503-234-8115)
Bagdad Theatre and Pub (3702 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-236-9234)
Powell’s On Hawthorne (3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-235-3802)
Bridgeport Ale House (3632 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-233-6540)
Mulligan’s Bar and Grill (3518 SE Hawthorne Blvd; 503-235-6390)
Pix Patisserie (3731 SE Hawthorne; 503-236-4760)