Since it was invented on Bainbridge Island in 1965, pickleball has sought membership within the elite clique of what we consider common recreational sports. However, it wasn't until 2020 that pickleball finally moved beyond its lesser known contemporaries, like squash and curling, to join the company of good time tablemates, tennis and ping pong. If real-life activities can go viral, pickleball hit peak virality during the pandemic. Suddenly everyone was grabbing a paddle and a perforated ball and hitting the court.

According to the Association of Pickleball Players, more than 36 million people in the US played pickleball in 2023. As pickleball courts flourish across the city, it's no real surprise that someone in this rainy town thought: What if we let people play pickleball indoors?

The People’s Courts is a sprawling 48,000-square-foot recreation center, which used to be home to 82nd Avenue's finest indoor BMX track. It opened in August of last year, thanks to developers Dave Schrott, Dave Sacks, and his dad, Robert Sacks. The massive building fills not only the apparently insatiable desire for more pickleball courts, but also a city-wide need for active social space that is, you know, inside. (Sure, the weather was nice last week, but this week we got back to spring.) Also–not to kick off the Soho House debate again—but at the People’s Courts there’s no membership required, making it truly a place for the people. 

Photo by Sean Bascom

It’s clear the People's Courts fills a need. Visit on any given weeknight (particularly drizzly ones) and the place is packed with players swatting balls back and forth. The facility features five doubles courts indoors and six more outside. It also has two courts for singles, which are rare in the city.

This spot isn’t just for pickleball enthusiasts, though. The cavernous courts boast bocce ball, cornhole, ping pong, and indoor disc golf. There’s even an arcade with Skee Ball and air hockey. Within the space's schedule you can see a kind of life cycle: league play, wedding rentals, and then summer camps to pass down the art of pickleball to the next generation.

Take that into compliment with the soft-serve ice cream, cocktails and mocktails, beer and wine, and two restaurants co-created with Portland dining royalty—specifically Nate Tilden of Olympia Provisions and Brian Spangler from Apizza Scholls—and the city's gotten itself quite a hang out spot.

Clockwise from top: Nola Chicken Sando, Pickle Burger, and Pretzel Brat. Photo by Sean Bascom

Neither Tilden nor Spangler is involved in an ongoing capacity, but Tilden designed the Kitchen's original menu, which specializes in gussied-up bowling alley classics. In true Portland fashion, most items name check locally-beloved food purveyors (Dos Hermanos bread! Lil Mama’s peppers! Olympia Provisions!). 

The Portland Dog was unwieldy to handle and large enough to make a nutritionist weep. It came topped with sticky bacon jam, fried garlic, and finely minced kimchi, all served on a Dos Hermanos bun (which is the best). There’s also a Chicago-style dog, made of Vienna beef and topped with tomatoes, sport peppers, and celery salt—as well as a plain, foot-long version for the hot dog purists among us. The menu's stand out is the Pretzel Brat, with an Olympia Provisions (natch) bratwurst, whole grain mustard, and sauerkraut all on one of Dos Hermanos’ soft pretzel rolls. The smashburgers arrives with zucchini pickles, caramelized onions, and special sauce, with or without bacon. It pairs well with a pitcher of beer and salty tater tots.

In addition to burgers and dogs, the Kitchen offers big salads, a take on a chopped cheese (try the one at Dos Hermanos’ spot instead, yes this is a Dos Hermanos fan account), a Philly cheesesteak, a chicken sandwich sticky with hot honey and slaw, and grilled cheese with tomatoes and more of those Mama Lil’s Peppers.

Being the Pacific Northwest (and seemingly unable to help themselves) there’s also steelhead salmon, either as a sandwich or featured in a bowl, but unless you’re a Plaid Pantry sushi fan, seafood at a sports facility may be just a little too far. 

The Madison South from the Parlor. Photo by Sean Bascom

The Parlor tapped the expertise of the aforementioned Apizza Scholls co-owner Brian Spangler to create its wafer-thin pies, which come with classic toppings on either a pesto or tomato base. Spangler knows what he’s doing when it comes to pizza, and this recipe is unique from what you'll find in his restaurant—a great option for folks who don’t want to wait in line at his Hawthorne pizzeria.

To top it all off, there's soft-serve for dessert. Chocolate, vanilla, and swirl options topped with favorites like hot fudge and marshmallow fluff sure to get your racket sticky enough to possibly count as cheating.

With its wide array of sports and games and food options, the People’s Courts truly has something for everyone—except the Parlor doesn’t offer any vegan or gluten-free options (that doesn’t seem very Portland-like). The Kitchen has one vegan entree (a portobello mushroom on a bun topped with vegan swiss and zucchini pickles), but it’s the only option.

M.A.S.H. Bowl (grilled gochujang steelhead salmon, sesame oil, spicy mayo, napa kimchee, cucumber, ginger). Photo by Sean Bascom

In theory some of the bowls could be modified, but the staff deeply discouraged DIY-ing it. A bean-and-rice Homage Bowl ordered without dairy, seemed to stump the kitchen. After a long discussion, they delivered an expansive bowl of dry lime rice, sparingly sprinkled with black beans, a few olives, and a handful of cilantro—no sauce, no avocado, no tofu. It was a good lesson in listening to the kitchen. It’s unclear why avocado and tofu weren’t considered vegan friendly, but as New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells once wrote, it’s not every restaurant that gives you something to think about on your way home. 

Even as we tout the top shelf snacks, the focus should remain on the fun—and there is a lot of fun to be had at the People's Courts. So bring everyone and anyone who loves pickleball (or bocce or ping pong or Skee Ball), but maybe tell your vegan friend to eat first. 

The People's Courts, 2700 NE 82nd Ave,