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Susan’s American Adventures: Having Dessert with a Dead Composer

Susan’s Favourite Article of 2021.


There was always something interesting afoot in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood on the east side. Strange comings and goings in a classic Portland home. Where patrons would walk in somber then come out giddy and full of life – as if they were hopped up on sugar and caffeine…

Portland tends to make you do curious things, like have coffee in a haunted house on a Sunday night.

Everyone knows someone who has an eccentric family member. And in Portland, she happens to live in Rimsky Korsakcoffee. This eclectic family member also likes to decorate her house with white string lights arranged in foreboding Roman numerals in the tacky-wall-papered dining room. Turns out this is actually a widely popular coffeehouse, and its curious name hails from one of the more famous Russian classical composers.


This house in Portland is actually 1902 craftsman-style residence-turned-after-hours powerhouse that has become an institution in the City of Roses. As you ascend the stairs and enter the dimly-lit foyer, you half expect the lady of the house to mysteriously materialize (dead or alive) to greet you. Instead, you find a very helpful hostess who will see you to your table. Either that or a whimsical chalkboard will instruct you to pick up a menu and seat yourself. Depends on the night.

If you are lucky, a local musician will be in a far-off corner of the room with the grand piano, tinkling the ivories. For what self-respecting dessert house named after a composer shouldn’t have some live classical music happening? After all, it lends heavily to the amazing ambiance of the place.

Rimsky-Korsakoffee House is the oldest running coffeehouse in Portland. Since 1980, owner Goody Cable (how’s that for a name?) has been offering the best homemade desserts to delight the taste buds of locals and curious tourists alike for over 40 years. During the pandemic, they came very close to shutting their doors forever. But the good people of Portland absolutely refused to let that happen, with donations and orders for home baked goods flooded in.


Prior to the coffeehouse opening all those years ago, Cable hosted classic music events in her home, and naturally she started serving light refreshments to go along with. Over time, her desserts became more popular that then music itself, and so the coffeehouse was born. After all, one of her other passions was baking. She is a true Portland resident, all the way down to her dedication to eco-friendly products. Because of this, she has refused to use precious resources to put up a sign in front of the house. She also does not have a website – rather a Facebook page or word of mouth – which is where people find her.

It has worked for her all these years (even before Facebook).

And wouldn’t you know it? The place is haunted! There are urban legends of certain tables in the establishment that will vibrate of their own volition. Imagine tucking into your gluten-free chocolate lava cake, only to have your table shake a bit, then mysteriously rise up a few inches. More than one patron has given their account of such happenings.


And each table is named after a classical composer. I myself have indulged my sweet tooth at the Chopin table. However, no levitating tables took place on the evening we were there. The menu is handwritten on laminate menus. And the prices are very reasonable, with noting much over ten US dollars. Items such as mocha fudge cake, banana split, blueberry cobbler, and espressos and teas are on offer. They always have rotating specials, so there is something new every time you visit.

A few quirky things about this place. Being a dessert house, it doesn’t open until about 8 pm most nights, but stays open late for the bar crowd past midnight. They also only take cash as payment, so leave your credit card at home. Also, be sure to nip upstairs and visit their bathroom, this apparently is where more magic happens (and hauntings!)