Lonely Planet Writer

Ultra-chic Icelandic hostel Kex to open in Portland

Have you been struggling to decide whether to visit Portland, Oregon, or Reykjavík, Iceland? Both cities are travel hot spots; it would be hard to choose. Luckily, you’ll soon be able to experience both at the same time – sort of.

Check-in desk at KEX. Image courtesy of KEX

Ultra-chic Icelandic hostel KEX (the Icelandic word for “biscuit”) will open its second location (first in the US) in Portland in late 2019. The owners of the boutique Reykjavík hostel, which calls itself a “social hotel,” have teamed up with Portland restaurant group ChefStable and a local development firm to buy the century-old Vivian Apartments, a 1911 building near the east end of the Burnside Bridge in Portland’s vibrant Industrial Eastside neighborhood.

The original KEX opened in 2008 in a former biscuit factory. Its aim is to combine “the best elements of a boutique hotel together with the energy of a hostel, acting as a community gathering place, creative hub, and destination for travelers from all over the world,” press materials state.

A little bit of Iceland comes to Portland, Oregon. Rendering of the bar at KEX. Image courtesy of KEX

The new location in Portland will include a ground-floor restaurant and bar plus a rooftop patio. The hostel will have a mix of private rooms and communal bunks or dorm rooms.  There will be standard hostel features such as a guest kitchen and laundry, plus a live-music space and of course – it’s Icelandic, after all – a sauna. Local architects are working with KEX’s Icelandic designer, Hálfdan Pedersen, to transform the building into a space that includes elements of Scandinavian design but with a Pacific Northwest feel.

The new hoste will feature a library area. Image courtesy of KEX

The restaurant and bar will be run by Icelandic chef Ólafur Ágústsson, who directs food and beverage operations at the original KEX location and runs the kitchen at New Nordic restaurant Dill – which happens to be the only restaurant in Iceland with a Michelin star. It won’t be Ágústsson’s first time in Portland – the chef was here in 2015 to run a pop-up restaurant at hip-hop pizza joint P.R.E.A.M. It’s a bit early yet to predict the Portland KEX menu, but given Ágústsson’s pedigree, guests can look forward to sustainably raised, locally sourced ingredients like seafood, foraged vegetables and lamb presented in simple but unusual combinations (the Dill menu, for example, includes dung-smoked trout with cabbage and butter).

By Becky Ohlsen