Secret Gardens & Merry Misfits at the Yakuza Lounge & Kuza Garden Cabin
It had been years since I visited Portland. Being gluten-free, free range friendly, and having a preference for bike traveling, I have considered moving there often. I was in for a magical experience that would keep me yearning to return. It is wonderful to encounter a project that keeps building unto itself. And refreshing to meet Dayna McErlean, an artist, entrepreneur and developer who keeps the ideas and creativity evolving and merging and constantly developing. Sustainable architecture that blends & extends outside into interior, remodels built from natural materials, outdoor showers with adjacent cold dipping pools, these are a few of my favorite things.
When I visited the Yakuza Lounge website, I knew I was in for something a little bit different. Non-conformist is a comfortable theme on these premises. Breaking rules and blending boundaries yields an experience of fresh and new. Nature is creeping inside at every turn. She takes form in the light filtering in through the vines and the street trees and the breezes entering through wide open doors, in the unusual fresh summer ingredients, and in the details like a mural of Japanese spring blossoms or precious hanging gardens.
Dinner at the bar was artful and colorful as well. My bartender Julie shook up a Snap Pea Cocktail that tasted healthful. The portions are small but each bite is loaded in large fresh flavors. To compliment my vibrant green cocktail, I chose the Snap Pea Salad with sweet pea slices, red beet slivers, layers of thickly sliced perfectly ripe zucchini, sesame seeds, and nori. Perhaps it is my love of nature, or color or the smells of summer, but nothing makes me happier than food decorated with edible flowers. The pink slices of Hamachi were accented with dark blue berries, reds, yellows, and orange geranium petals, and a sprinkle of green sorrel. The Black Cod arrived on a bed of sweet potato strewn with pretty purple scallion blossoms and a little top hat of green parsley. To view a gallery of images of a variety of Yakuza edible sculptures go here.
The restaurant interior is influenced by both Japanese and Mexican architecture. I was partial to the way the light bounced off the wooden soffits and concrete floors giving the room an ethereal glow. There are plenty of long tables for large parties and intimate seating options as well. The lighting is kept low and the space is simple, earthy and elegant. The back room offers privacy and access to the patio and gardens for special events.
The uniqueness of Yakuza Restaurant & Garden Cabin can be found in the vibrant array of functions that take place uniting the spaces for some and exemplifying their individual purpose for others. Because Dayna has a 5 year old of her own, she understands how hard it is for couples to have a night out on the town. I am especially impressed with how many functions give back to the community, for instance once a year a night out with dinner & drinks benefits p:ear, a mentoring program for homeless youth. I asked Dayna to describe some of the events hosted here:
DM: We like to take advantage of the different indoor and outdoor spaces at Yakuza to host really unique events. We do private birthday, holiday, bachelor and bachelorette parties that might start inside at the bar and end with late night soaks in the outdoor hot tub or a game of poker in the guest cottage. We also host special events for calendar holidays like Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve with special prix fix menus. On Mother’s Day we offer a special 3 course menu with hand-crafted cocktail and a 20 minute chair massage plus childcare all for a great price. For Father’s Day we build the menu around our famous Yakuza Burger and turn the guest cottage into a barbershop offering straight edge shaves for the guys. Because I’m a mom and because a lot of our customers are families, we try to offer childcare and art projects in the space next door for special events so parents can really enjoy their night out. On a similar note, we have Yakuza Kids’ Happy Hour 3 times a week on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays with a special kids menu.This year we extended Kid’s Happy Hour on Easter Sunday to include an Easter egg hunt in the back garden. Our biggest event of the year is probably the Yakuza anniversary block party held each September. We partner with most of the restaurants and businesses on the block to offer free food plus live music and a great time for everyone. This year’s block party is planned for September 10, 2012.
The entrance to the Garden Cabin is through a custom metal gate. This little section of the Alberta Arts District is inviting and pedestrian friendly with colorful buildings, street trees, potted plants and vines enveloping the man-made with natural. The path to the Cabin is lined with bikes parked temporarily by employees, cabin guests, and the owner.
Dayna and her son Bishop live above the restaurant in the building she transformed from a run down eyesore into the modern thriving business and home it is now. Dayna worked with a team of artists, craftsman, builders & sculptors to create her dream. A few sections of the existing roof and walls were incorporated into the new structure but most of the finishes are new or salvage materials re-purposed with creative twists. Walking past the outdoor patio seating the entry door to the cabin can be found amidst the vines covering the original 1920’s shed. In the far corner of the gardens across from the cabin is the bathing/soaking area complete with outdoor shower, hot tub, and a cold soaking pool. The hot tub is a re-purposed septic cistern and the cold plunge is a coffin vault lined with river rocks.
The 350 sq ft Cabin is comfortable and cozy blending old with new finishes. The walls, roof, concrete floor, and carriage door are original. The birch plywood built-ins, built-up plywood floor in the kitchen and bedroom, concrete counters, and tile work in the bathroom is all new. Though small in size the Cabin felt luxurious and complete with spacious lounge, desk for writing, nooks and rods for clothes hanging, bathrobes for visits to the soaking tub, flowers next to fluffy white pillows and bed covers, and a bottle of champagne chilling.
If you find yourself in Portland, don’t miss this gem of an experience. Visit here to book a night in the cabin, take advantage of a ‘Bed & Dinner’ package or stop in for a fresh cocktail at the Yakuza Bar. I have September 10, 2012 marked on my calendar for the block party. I’ll see you there!Add a comment