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Iceland’s Upscale Hostel KEX to Bring Michelin-Star Swagger to Portland, Oregon

If the word “hostel” brings to mind prison-style rooms with a dozen bunk beds dimly lit beneath a single bare bulb and concrete floors echoing the sounds of strangers in various states of undress, it’s probably been a while since you took a proper backpacking trip. Sure, such hellish accommodations still exist, catering mostly to broke budget travelers. However, the latest generation of hostels has gone, dare we say, upscale. To that end, Iceland is exporting its wildly popular Hostel KEX to Portland, Oregon. If the brand’s first U.S. outpost looks anything like their Reykjavik flagship, the new location has the potential to be one of the world’s swankiest hostels.

The original KEX opened in a former Reykjavik biscuit factory (kex is Icelandic for “biscuit”) in 2008. Most visitors would call it a “hostel,” although the owners prefer “social hotel.” According to the brand’s marketing, the goal was to bring “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.”

The new hostel will be situated in Portland’s century-old Vivian Apartments building in the city’s Eastside Industrial district. The proposed design feels perfectly plucked from the Golden Era of travel. The rich wood furnishings, classic finishes like burnished metal and leather, and large, well-worn Middle Eastern-inspired area rugs are all surrounded by a muted, earth-tone color palette and distinctly angular architecture. It’ll be a warm decor designed to envelop guests in the same way as Europe’s coziest cafes. Rooms will feature the standard mix of hostel bedding: dorm rooms and communal bunks. Common amenities will include guest laundry, a public kitchen, a live music stage, and even a sauna (because Iceland).

However, the most exciting thing about KEX Portland has nothing to do with the hotel side of things. Most notable instead will be the ground-floor restaurant helmed by Ólafur Ágústsson. The famed Icelandic chef works the food & beverage scene at the original KEX Reykjavik location and also runs the kitchen at Dill, Iceland’s first-ever Michelin-starred restaurant. The New Nordic menu features clever and unusual food combinations like dung-smoked trout with butter and cabbage. The Portland menu has yet to be announced, but visitors can expect the same level of creative, world-class cuisine.

KEX Portland won’t open until late 2019, so final details for both the hotel and restaurant have yet to be ironed out. But, we’re pretty stoked to celebrate with a glass of Brennivín when it does.

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
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