Sure, we love Mount Rainier, the ferries, the Space Needle and its George Jetson architecture. But everybody needs a change of scene. Our quick fix is...
PORTLAND — Sure, we love Mount Rainier, the ferries, the Space Needle and its George Jetson architecture. But everybody needs a change of scene. Our quick fix is three hours south, where Mount Hood is pointy instead of rounded, and water comes in many-bridged rivers rather than a big, salty Sound.
But if your Northwest consciousness needs a reboot, why visit the same old Portland you’ve seen before?
OK, there’s plenty worth revisiting — we’ll recap it as “The Portland You Know.” But my wife and I spent a few days ferreting out a few places we’re calling “Portland Worth Discovering.” Our finds:
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The Portland You Know: The Benson Hotel
Portland had its stuffy and proper past, and this is the hotel if you need to be properly spoiled — while surrounded by Italian marble floors, Austrian crystal chandeliers and Circassian walnut from the imperial forests of Russia. Bring your credit limit.
The Benson Hotel, 309 S.W. Broadway, 800-663-1144 or www.bensonhotel.com. (Tip: Try to snare a discounted room on Priceline.)
Portland Worth Discovering: McMenamins Crystal Hotel
Portland had its naughty past, a good share of which happened in the 100-year-old building housing the new Crystal Hotel, which opened in May at the edge of the hip and high-profile Pearl District. Over the decades, building tenants ranged from shady gambling den to hippie head shop to gay bathhouse.
In the Crystal’s new life, its fully renovated 51 guest rooms each commemorate a song or performance from the past century at the neighboring Crystal Ballroom, a legendary music venue also now part of the McMenamins’ Oregon-based eating, drinking and lodging empire.
Hand-painted song lyrics encircle the top of each hotel room. McMenamins’ trademark original artwork carries out the theme.
“We’ve got Jerry Garcia in our room, wailing away right on the headboard,” said Portlander Charlie Van Meter, 23, there for a friend’s bachelor party.
Other commemorated musicians range from Jefferson Airplane (“Somebody to Love,” Room 404) to The Shins (“Sleeping Lessons,” Room 305).
“It fits the Portland style,” said Chris Taal, 26, visiting from Anchorage.
And it’s the only hotel we’ve stayed in that provides a quart Mason jar in each room, for bringing beer up from the downstairs pub.
McMenamins Crystal Hotel, 303 S.W. 12th Ave.; $105/weekend nights in peak season, with shared bath; 855-205-3930 or www.mcmenamins.com/CrystalHotel.
A hopped-up town
The Portland You Know: BridgePort BrewPub
BridgePort bills itself as Oregon’s oldest craft brewer, in a state that is arguably the epicenter of the art. That claim to fame, plus the Pearl District location of this old redbrick brewery, means you’ll likely be hoisting your pint of their tasty “heritage beer,” Blue Heron, alongside a crowd of tourists from New Jersey.
BridgePort BrewPub, 1313 N.W. Marshall St., 503-241-3612 or www.bridgeportbrew.com.
Portland Worth Discovering: Lompoc’s 5th Quadrant brew pub
Looking for a new Portland? We found it, well away from downtown, on North Williams Avenue, a north-south thoroughfare that carries more than 3,000 bike commuters daily through a working-class neighborhood.
Some riders stop in for a refresher at the 5th Quadrant, or “5Q,” in a recently developed two-block strip that is home to six trendy local eateries, plus a yoga studio, Hipcooks cooking school, a European toy shop and a 1965 double-decker London bus housing a boutique selling retro cocktail dresses. Spandex jockeys even can jump on one of the stationary bikes outside Hopworks BikeBar and make pedal power that helps light the pub. Very Portlandish.
5Q, the fifth brew pub for Portland-based Lompoc, has a nice neighborhood feel. My pint of Kick Axe Dry Hopped Pale Ale washed down a Vietnamese banh mi with an Oregon accent: grilled steelhead ($9.50). My wife, Barbara, was thrilled and filled by her softball-sized Reuben burger ($10.50). “Yum, that’s like chocolate beer,” she said of a glass of Sockeye Cream Stout.
At a sidewalk picnic table, I talked beer with 5Q regulars Zach Christensen and Heidi Leibbrandt, who make their own brew and grow hops at their nearby home. Christensen, who’s “in telecom,” nursed a pint of Lompoc’s C-Note pale ale, brewed with seven hops that start with “C” (Crystal, Cluster, Cascade, Chinook, Centennial, Columbus and Challenger). It rates a chart-topping 100 International Bitterness Units, a measure of hop infusion, which Portland beer geeks bandy about the way wine snobs talk about grippy tannins.
“It’s crazy hoppy, which is the trend,” Christensen said. “I like what they do here, and at the Sidebar [a Lompoc bar next door], where they’re a little more experimental — they have a beer aged in pinot noir barrels.”
If you need edgier than that, there’s LSD on the menu. That’s for “Lompoc Special Draft.”
Lompoc’s 5th Quadrant brew pub, 3901 N. Williams Ave. (enter around the corner on Failing Street); 503-288-3996 orwww.newoldlompoc.com.
Gardens of earthly delight
The Portland You Know: The Rose Garden
Summer brings out the blooms, some as big as cabbages, with 550 varieties. Some are named for singers, such as Reba McEntire (brilliant red-orange) and Barbra Streisand (dusty pink). Don’t hyperventilate as you sniff.
International Rose Test Garden, Washington Park, free admission; free tours at 1 p.m. daily through Sept. 21; www.portlandonline.com/parks.
Portland Worth Discovering: Lan Su Chinese Garden
There isn’t much there behind the Chinatown gate since many Asian businesses shuffled off to 82nd Avenue in East Portland. But at the district’s heart is this full-block treasure, opened in 2000, which gives hope to the neighborhood.
A monument to Portland’s sister-city of Suzhou, China, the garden is a place of beauty and peace but with lots going on: concerts, lectures, games such as go and table tennis. But don’t miss the real prize: a blissful afternoon in the Tower of Cosmic Reflections Teahouse.
There we perched on narrow benches at a rustic wooden table and partook of a ceremonial Gongfu-style tea service while a member of the Portland Orchids and Bamboo Chinese Ensemble played lilting notes on a guzheng, a sort of Chinese zither. If a sunrise were music, this would be it.
From the menu of 53 teas, we sipped Pu-er Velour, from Yunnan, with an earthy aroma that hostess Evonne Tang aptly described as “like walking through a forest.”
Cool air from open floor-to-ceiling windows carried the garden’s scents — jasmine and gardenia — as we looked out at rain dimpling a waterlily pond just beyond a graceful weeping katsura tree. Mandi Atkinson, who leads plant tours of the garden, told us, “When the leaves change color in the fall, they smell like burnt cinnamon — like gingerbread.”
That’s when we’re coming back.
Lan Su Chinese Garden, Northwest Everett Street and Third Avenue, $6.50-$8.50; 503-228-8131 or www.portlandchinesegarden.org.
The Portland You Know: Powell’s bookstore
What travel guide to the Rose City doesn’t mention Powell’s in the second sentence? It’s one of the largest independent bookstores in the United States. You’ll find thousands of titles and many bargains. And you’ll do it in a crowd.
Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, 503-228-4651 or www.powells.com.
Portland Worth Discovering: Murder By the Book and New Renaissance Bookshop
If a bookstore can’t be as big as Powell’s, niche marketing can be a survival secret.
The friendly ladies who run Murder By the Book, a Hawthorne-district haunt since 1983, know how to slice and dice their subgenres. All over the shop, signs point to categories such as The Butler Did It (classics from mystery’s Golden Age), Tall, Dark & Deadly (romantic suspense), Once Upon a Crime (historical mysteries) and many more.
They passed my wife’s test. Powell’s didn’t have any titles in the obscure 13th-century mystery series she devours. MBTB did, and manager Jean May had even read one of the Fools’ Guild mysteries by Alan Gordon.
“I really believe there’s a mystery out there for everyone!” May said.
They strive to stock all books in a series, and know the personal touch counts.
“I trust their opinions. They call you by name. This is a mystery store, and they know everything about it,” said a regular, Portlander John Tucker.
Across town in the Northwest district, New Renaissance Bookshop competes, like Powell’s, for largest in the nation, but in a single genre: New Age.
Filling a colorfully painted old house are titles such as “Inventing the Rest of Our Lives: Women in Second Adulthood” and “Your Dog is Your Mirror: The Emotional Capacity of Our Dogs and Ourselves.” There are shelves jammed with crystals, whole carousels of yoga DVDs, more lavender and bergamot aromatherapy products than you can sneeze at, and a CD rack with six consecutive bins labeled “Chanting.”
Murder By the Book, 3210 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. (take the Route 14 TriMet bus from downtown), 503-232-9995 or www.mbtb.com. New Renaissance Bookshop, 1338 N.W. 23rd Ave. (take the Portland Streetcar from downtown), 503-224-4929 or www.newrenbooks.com.
Noshes and nibbles
The Portland You Know: The food carts
You’d have to live in a cave to have missed hearing about the food carts that have brought fast food of every ethnicity to the streets of downtown Portland and many neighborhoods. On one downtown block, we found Thai, Vietnamese, Mexican, Polish, Cuban, Korean, German, Hawaiian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Ethiopian, Scottish and Indian — before we stopped counting. Favorite names: “Thai Me Up” and “The Frying Scotsman” (fish and chips). Most dishes under $8, and tasty.
Downtown food carts, on block bordered by Southwest Ninth and 10th avenues and Alder and Washington streets, plus other locations. www.foodcartsportland.com.
Portland Worth Discovering: Byways Café and Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen
If you stay at the Crystal, it’s an easy walk to the food carts (and easy waddle home), but keep these nearby places in mind for breakfast or lunch.
Byways, in the heart of the Pearl District, is the hip neighborhood’s refreshing antithesis: homey, old-fashioned comfort food (but with style) in an atmosphere to match.
Beneath cases of travel souvenirs, from kitschy snow globes to Amish Country tea plates, you’ll sit in a booth with sparkly red upholstery and chow down on giant omelets or blue-corn pancakes for breakfast, or lunch lavishly on a Multnomah Melt — twice-grilled challah topped with baked turkey, avocado, ham, red onion and havarti ($10.25, with sides).
If you love New York and yours is broken because you can’t get decent pastrami, you might find your fix at Kenny & Zuke’s, just a dill pickle’s throw down Stark Street from the Crystal. The capers and pickled onions that came with my Everything bagel and Nova lox were a tangy counterpoint to the rich salmon and chewy (boiled before baked) dough ($11.95).
Perfect Jewish deli food? This isn’t the Portland I know. But that was the point, wasn’t it?
Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or email@example.com