Passionate PDX artist’s cafe perplexes, delights

Wandering the streets of Portland, you may have noticed animated cut-out creatures poking out of yards and framed in shop windows. As the work of Mike Bennett, they are delightful, simple and colorful designs that share a distinct, cartoon-style cuteness.As a self-described “public joy creator,” Bennett sells a line of yard signs — snails, turtles and sloths who remind you to drive slowly, as well as families of goats and possums that caution drivers to consider kids at play — which Bennett playfully calls “buddies.” 

These buddies have made countless Portland yards their home, but their origin is even more whimsical. At Wonderwood Springs in Portland’s St. John’s neighborhood, Bennett’s creatures inhabit the bespoke world of a coffee shop and an adjoining miniature golf course. Each detail of the interior is deliberately world-building and uniquely crafted to create an immersive art experience. Cut-outs of cheerfully hand-drawn beakers and boba cups crowd thick, uneven wooden shelves behind the bar. Heavy antique tables and sturdy chairs host families and small groups chatting and enjoying some of the many board games available for play. Along the wall opposite, a bench stretches the length of the room, delicately covered in faux-wooden planks crawling with moss — all drawn in Bennett’s distinctive style. 

True to the experience, Wonderwood Springs is described as an immersive fantasy cafe. Fairy Popcorn, a treat advertised by a caped, bulbous character named Prince Popcorn, combines fresh-popped popcorn with chocolate-covered potato chips, Heath toffee bits, mini M&Ms and roasted peanuts. A gingerbread cookie butter latte and butterbeer latte bring a fantastical touch to the coffee menu. Soft serve ice cream is always available, as it is in any child’s dream. You can order that soft serve plain or swirled into a ‘Whizzard,’ Wonderwood’s take on candy-filled milkshakes. Snacks and simple sandwiches fill out the rest of their refreshment offerings. Though the cafe is exceedingly kid-friendly, the uncomplicated entree choices and wonderfully elaborate treats evoke nostalgic comforts for any adult. 

Wonderwood is the kind of place that feels new and different while deeply familiar. Though its doors only opened recently, its worn furniture and warm lighting lend the cafe a comfortable, cozy feeling and the comically optimistic fairytale elements of Bennett’s art-turned-decor can make you feel transported into a beloved novel. 

Bennett’s artistic vision for the immersive space is acutely well-executed. Walking into Wonderwood Springs, his goal is immediately obvious. From the portable lantern-like lights to the rope-based chandelier, from the shape of the mugs to the popcorn containers, each decision is intentionally made. The result is a space that sparks awe. The sheer attention to detail is impressive, but the childlike joy that exudes through each piece of art and each artistic decision is what makes the space truly remarkable. Watching guests enter the cafe, the space’s charm is evident. 

Bennett started dreaming about an immersive art space in 2020 during the pandemic. While at home in lockdown, Bennett created elaborate life-sized dioramas of sea creature scenes in his front yard — hoping to put his creative skills to work and boost his neighbors’ spirits. Wonderwood Springs extends these early displays with narrative elements and, of course, edible imaginings. 

These narrative elements come to life through Wonderwood Springs’ miniature golf course, located next door to the cafe. Bennett designed the course to guide players through a plot. Each hole advances a story that entangles his signature whimsical characters with the golfers. The nine-hole course features over 750 hand-painted creatures and scenic elements. Art-driven golf course experiences have risen in popularity in the last few years. Bennett offers a unique twist on this trend by focusing on mini-golf as a way to move through a story, rather than focusing solely on the game. The result is an enveloping experience that raises the stakes of every putt and generates gleeful memories — whether you win or lose. 

St. John’s is a fittingly charming neighborhood to find such an exquisitely animated space. Crossing the bridge into Cathedral Park, you will begin to feel the delight take hold. Let it guide you to Wonderwood Springs. On a gloomy day, there is no better place to hunker down with a board game and a tasty treat. If you are feeling antsy, get on your feet and mosey through nine holes of fantasy adventure at the miniature golf course. 

Wonderwood Springs is located in the St. John’s neighborhood of Northeast Portland at 7410 N Chicago Ave. The cafe is open Wed. – Thurs. from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Fri. – Sun. from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. The miniature golf course is open Mon. – Thurs. from 1 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Fri. – Sun. from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

Subscribe to the Mossy Log Newsletter

Stay up to date with the goings-on at Lewis & Clark! Get the top stories or your favorite section delivered to your inbox whenever we release a new issue. 

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

AlphaOmega Captcha Classica  –  Enter Security Code