The conservative girls shop 23rd Avenue in flashy, shiny spandex pants, mostly black, paired with some sexy stiletto heels. Their buns, for good or bad, are on full display. It’s as if some fabric initially meant for world-class sprinters accidentally leaked from the Nike R&D department, and mysteriously found its way to those designers who sell their wares to the high-end shops in Portland’s Pearl District.
Blocks away, yuppie mom’s that might typically wear Versace in a city like New York or Los Angeles, escort their young fledglings around downtown Portland looking like sexy versions of Pippy Longstocking: bright orange and/or aqua colored hair; dark eye shadow, some red lipstick; a tank top that exposes a tattoo or two; short and black leather skirt; some horizontally striped leggings to match the hair; and of course, some combat boots.
In Portland, this look is haute couture. In fact, to be dressed any other way seems abnormal, or pedestrian. If my wife and I lived in Portland, she might find herself wanting a pair of shiny, spandex maternity pants and stiletto heels, while I might desire to be seen in a black CBGB t-shirt and a pair of jeans, skateboard under my arm, and an eyebrow piercing.
Portland’s sense of fashion is deceiving to the point that it forces one to drop their judgment of appearances as that punk-rocker sitting next to you on the trolley might own a nicer house than you, drive a nicer car and possess a better education. In doing some online research prior to heading for Portland, I stumbled on an interview from 2006 in the Portland Mercury featuring chef/author Anthony Bourdain, of which he had this to say.
“I was struck by the preponderance of heavily tattooed, outwardly slacker-looking chefs and cooks here who I found to be unusually motivated, knowledgeable, ambitious, and very focused on specific areas of cuisine,”
Bourdain elaborated . “It’s not simply a case in Portland of, ‘I want to cook, man, sounds cool.’ These people all have very specific areas in mind, either types of food or an even tighter focus, such as wanting to make the best pizza in town, or the best croissant, or doughnut.”
And speaking of donuts, during our most recent visit, my wife and I waded through soaked and sleeping bums just to wait in a block-long line for a world-famous Voodoo Donut. The interior of Voodoo Donut is a late night, greasy and gothic paradise, as ‘donuts on steroids’ gleam and burst from behind a bright, twirling glass case in the corner of the small shop.
Ever wanted a grape-frosted donut covered in Lucky Charms? How about a raspberry jelly-filled donut slathered in a smurf-colored blue frosting? Or how about a cake donut covered with pink, bubble-gum flavored frosting and a piece of Double-Bubble in the middle for good measure? How about some bacon on that Maple Bar?
The brainchild of Kenneth “Cat Daddy” Pogson and Tres Shannon, Voodoo Donuts is open from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. every day except Sunday and is typically at its busiest when the bar flies emerge in Portland’s Old Town, an area typically known as ‘the crotch’.
“Sometimes there are more people in Voodoo than in Dante’s or Berbati’s,” said Shannon, referring to Voodoo’s surrounding bars and clubs, which is hard to believe, considering Berbati’s Pan offers a near-perfect party setting, where local bands rock the back room, pool tables and a sports-bar scene fills the middle of the block-long building, and a dance floor with DJ populates the front of the house.
Dante’s is a live music lover’s dream, especially when considering the building’s history, having once housed a brothel, a flop-house and an early 1980s punk rock venue.
And both offer killer pizza, starting with Barbati’s killer Greek pita pizza, and ending with the traditional New York-style pizza at Dante’s, best served alongside a local micro-brew. Many cities in the Western US like to lay claim to being the ‘capital of the micro brewery’ – places like Fort Collins, Colorado, Seattle, and Portland. Portland, by far takes the cake as the true capital of micro-brews. It seemed like each bar, restaurant, burrito stand and convenience store featured a treasure of un-heard of and tasty-sounding brews.
After waiting a half hour for a Maple/Bacon bar, which I no longer wanted and knew my wife would eagerly eat for me, we slipped across the street, where I was treated to some of the best halibut fish tacos in history, served from a street side vendor, cooking out of a trailer!
And keep in mind, I’ve sampled fish tacos in cities all across the world, the previous best being a lobster taco at a beachside restaurant in Puerto Vallarta. The fish taco is one of the few things I feel qualified to judge.
I must have floated across the street, nose first, like Barney Rubble, because the cook manning the grill said, “you are just in time! I just grilled up some beautiful halibut, bro. And I’ve got homebrew back here.”
While noshing down those buttery tacos, which were smartly served with sautéed cabbage, cheese and some hot pico de gallo, I was treated to a local, homebrewed Cherry-Stout, which easily ranks as one of the most delicious beers I’ve ever tasted. That’s saying something too, considering I graduated from Colorado State University and currently live in Seattle, and have been a faithful beer-drinker for over 20 years.
To stumble on a trailer in Portland’s ‘crotch’, serving two members of the foodie family that I am actually qualified to review seemed like a miracle, but to find two ‘life-time’ favorites at that same trailer seemed like divine intervention. Based on a series of wonderful life events following this occurrence, I have no doubt that divine forces were at work that night, which brings me to the Hotel Lucia.
The Hotel Lucia sits in the midst of the action on Broadway, right in the heart of downtown Portland. A block one way takes you shopping, while a block the other way takes you to the all-nude review. In-between it all the Lucia sits like an oasis in a desert storm of action, an artsy boutique hotel that possesses a sweet, serene energy inside its walls.
Upon entering the foyer guests are greeted by local artist David Hume Kennerly’s amazing black and white photography, a theme that exists on every floor of the Hotel Lucia. In all there are over 680 of Kennerly’s photos displayed in the Lucia’s public spaces, and guest-rooms. The black and white medium, combined with the photos subjects, which are typically old-school politicians, almost takes you back in time, when the pace of life was slow and connections more intimate.
Outside of our stately room, the wind howled, the rain slapped against the windows, fire trucks roared by, and people partied on the streets below. Inside, my wife and I snuggled in a huge, fluffy bed – happy, content, and eager to unknowingly take a bit of Portland home with us.
The Hotel Lucia is currently offering a few cool specials, the coolest of which is the Weekend Parking Package. There’s no sense driving around Portland. The city is totally walk-able, and there are trolley cars and cabs for those with sore feet. Simply drive up to the Lucia’s front door, have them park your car, and leave it there for the weekend. And then go for a walk.
Don’t forget to check out the out-of-print Portland’s Little Red Book of Stairs at the Multnomah County Central Library. Within its pages lay the keys to adventurous hikes, on the old, steep and intricate staircases that wind through some of Portland’s nicest neighborhoods. If forced to pick just one set of stairs to tackle, go for the sublime view of Mt. Hood on the stairs that cut through the terraced gardens at SW Champlain Drive, located in Arlington Heights.
Portland is a eclectic, punk rock town full of hidden pockets of haute culture. It serves as a great example of the Wild West spirit, or what’s left of it. People in Portland are still exploring, with their food, their fashion, their art, their music, and with their architecture.
Those who are lucky enough visit Portland, provided they seek out and explore some of the city’s hidden gems, are typically better for it.