OPEN: When we feel like being here. CLOSED: When we’re somewhere else.

That antique sign, hanging next to the front door, pretty much sums up the atmosphere at the Fireside Coffee Lodge, a recent addition to Portland, Oregon’s currently scarce late night coffee establishments. Located on 12th and Powell (not far from 6th and Powell and the always open Hotcake House), this 24 hour coffee shop opened on April 15th, 2002 – yes that’s right: Tax Day. In honour of this often dreaded yearly occasion (and of course, the shop’s grand opening), the Lodge offered free coffee for any and all procrastinators who wished to stay for a while and get their “homework” done. They even employed free runners to Portland’s primary post office branch, delivering customers’ tax forms until 11:15pm.

That day also marked my first visit (of many, many visits) to the Lodge, one of the two Portland-area 24 hour coffee joints. (well, currently the hours are from 7pm Sunday through late Friday night. Closed Saturdays.) It is challenging to find a decent mocha in Portland at night, a city that seems to want to shut down at 9pm, aside from the bars and adult shops (yes, our fair city has more adult places of business per capita than any other city in the nation. Yay, us!) The only other place serving decent* cups of joe to night owls through the wee hours of the morning? Starbucks in Portland’s little sister city/suburb, Beaverton. Unfortunately, that particular "Whorebucks" (as it has been deemed) has become the hustling and bustling hangout for Beaverton’s “rich bitch” and/or “popular” high school crowd. And then there’s the trendy Coffee Time on NW 21st, open until 3am, but I argue that the mochas aren’t as good and the atmosphere isn’t quite as welcoming. Then again, Coffee Time is still an excellent place to discuss philosophies of life over a game of highly competitive chess, and complete yesterday's physics homework.

So, naturally, when I heard about the opening of the Fireside Coffee Lodge, a fellow late night comrade and I were among the first to check it out, and we were quite impressed. Fireside's interior decoration offers a unique, pleasant mountain cabin atmosphere. With winter woodland and North American wildlife murals painted on the walls (one hand-painted scene offers a glimpse of bears chilling in a snow-covered forest; painted on another wall is a moose standing dignified outside a window, with an image of a steaming cup of coffee on the window ledge), clever eBay-bought hunter antiquities decorating the walls, wooden log tables and chairs, and a psuedo-fire in the fireplace (learn how you can make your own.) Unlike sit-down places like Shari’s and Denny’s who tend to kick you out if you don’t buy anything for a while, here you are encouraged to stay, chat, play board games, cards, and puzzles. Some of the best Scrabble games of my life have taken place there. Want some seclusion? Take a seat in the small, adjoining room with the sign over it stating, “Fish Tales Told Here.” Hook up your laptop to their high speed internet service, or use their in-house computer for free (assuming a coffee purchase.)

I guess that brings us to the actual quality of the coffee. Simply stated, it tastes pretty damn good. Featuring Portland Roasting Company’s beans (catchphrase: “The contents of this cup are hot. Try to avoid spilling them into your lap.”), I've only tried a few of their selections. I found the Caramel Fudge Mocha a bit rich for my tastes. The White Chocolate Mocha was superb, but the highlight of the menu for mocha lovers is definitely the Mexican Mocha, a perfect blend of espresso and rich chocolate, with the added benefits of cinnamon and whipped cream. Boo-yah! I dare someone to find a better mocha in town. Also, if you’re not so much about coffee, be sure and check out the Italian cream sodas. The blackberry flavor is delightful, and an Oregon favorite. Plus, it’s good for you. During the daytime, soup and sandwiches are available as well. Or so I hear tale. I haven't actually been there during the day.

There's the Black Forest, a mocha base with a hint of cherry. If you're in college, near broke, and need something to keep your ass awake for those rapidly approaching midterms, check out the Italian Roast... it's cheap, and you can bet it'll keep you up all night.

And there you have it, my fellow Portlanders. The next time you need that caffeine fix, check out this coffeehouse, located at the foot of the Ross Island Bridge, and get away from the city without actually leaving town.

*well, it depends on who you talk to, I guess.