Whether you know his name or not, Portlanders are familiar with local artist Mike Bennett. Driving down Northeast Portland streets, Bennett’s cutouts of cartoon sloths and snails hold signs that read “slow down.” Popping by the Mid City Smashed Burger cart, Bennett’s cheeseburger illustration points finger guns at those ordering fries and sandwiches. This month, Bennett is diving into the restaurant world himself: Wonderwood Springs, a medieval-themed cafe and its neighboring tie-in immersive experience Wonderwood opened on October 15 in the St. Johns neighborhood.
Bennett is perhaps best-known for his limited-engagement museums Crypto-Zoo and Dinolandia, in addition to his pandemic-era A to Zoo exhibit on his front lawn. But his latest immersive concept is sticking around: Wonderwood Springs and Wonderwood have both opened in a permanent capacity, with new experiences and menus expected to rotate on a seasonal basis. Wonderwood’s first chapter, “the Scourge of Castle Maplehold,” will be on display through December 1, and its second chapter is set to unfold in spring 2023.
“I can cover most of the senses,” Bennett says. “We can do sight and sound—maybe someday we’ll have smell in the immersive space, but taste, taste feels like something people don’t want to have in an immersive space other than restaurants, so I just think [the cafe] adds so much to it.”
The cafe was previously home to See See Motor Coffee; Portland’s own Coffee Business has given Bennett free rein of the space and collaborated with him on his vision. Once the backdrop of motorcycle paraphernalia, the cafe now features life-size wood cutouts of medieval-themed scenery and characters. Behind the bar, a show-stopping gallery wall holds over 400 hand-cut and hand-painted props, along with tchotchkes donated from Bennett’s social media followers.
When Bennett put out a call for items two months ago, the community responded with enthusiasm. “There’s folks who have early onset Alzheimer’s who own a farm who let us pick through their barn and take things and give them a new life,” Bennett says. “I just think it’s such a special place because I know that the people who gave these things are going to be able to come visit their treasures on the wall forever.”
The mystical vibe of the space also applies to the coffee menu, from the “Wonderwood Spiced Latte,” made with pureed sweet potato and spiced syrup, to the “Butter Brew Latte,” with house-made butter toffee sauce. Bennett worked with Matt Miletto of Water Avenue Coffee to create two house blends, the Up All Knight dark roast and Mellow Mage decaf, which are used in the coffee drinks and will be available for purchase. Coffee-free beverages include things like mushroom hot chocolate and ciders, while the food menu offers sandwiches and Sparrow Bakery pastries.
Throughout the holiday season, Wonderwood Springs plans to offer pop-up food specials and events — think: live music and themed trivia nights.
Wonderwood Springs is located at 8811 N Lombard Street and is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; Wonderwood is located at 7410 N Chicago Street and is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.