Why Portland????

Why Portland?


When you say “going to Portland” in these parts, understandably Oregon doesn’t even enter the mindset. In other words, you’ve got some explaining to do. Why? Because for years going to Austin all we ever heard from people is “You gotta check out Portland, OR.” We dig the heck out of Austin and so do these folks, so that’s why Portland.


Why else? Craft beer seeing Portland arguably help start the whole movement. Food seeing various food lists and blogs have endless wonderfully flaming reviews of Portland food, not to mention it is a trailblazer in the cart movement. Music. A who’s who of bands originated there and I’m not going to name the obvious. Trust me on this one. Nature factor, namely mountains and coast. Being from the Northeast, I love to look at tall, snow-capped mountains when it’s not winter and Portland has the ultimate anomaly in Mt Hood (and views of Mt. St. Helens & Rainer on a good day). The coast is great in Rhode Island, but Oregon also has plenty, much of it spectacular looking, and just an hour and change drive from Portland, aka PDX.


So this is the intro to our 1st trip, long time coming, by the way, to Portland. As a side note, we were lucky to have an advance scout near and dear to the heart, namely son, who happened to make his 1st trip to PDX just a few weeks before us. He provided us with lengthy beer and food lists with fresh commentary, to boot.


Day 1

There’s something comforting about leaving Providence at 5:15 PM and arriving 3000 miles away at 9:30. That was the schedule, but it being summer and having to change planes in Chicago, we were dreaming. 10:30 PST wasn’t too off, but we sure were out of shape for the cross country flight. Larry Brown’s “Joe” kept me company while other half did her speed reading thing.

Late-ish arrival had me a little on edge as the one thing I had planned (i.e., brewpub across from where we were staying shut down at midnight). Portland has one big ass long concourse and luggage didn’t happen to quick. Perhaps underhanded rent-a-car dude switched us from Alamo to Dollar, but that’s another story. Anyway, we were in the car and on our way by 11:15 heading to SE Division. Portland is broken up into 5 quadrants (senseless to math & engineering types): NE, SE, SW, NW, & N. After a bit of time on the highway, we were in tree-lined neighborhoods most all of the way. I like it already. Found our destination which was the Bluebird Guesthouse at 3517 SE Division. Pushing the midnight hour and discovering the proximity of the guesthouse to the Hedge House (our 1st beery destination), we opted for the brewpub. Things were quiet in this house turned into no frills bar/outside eatery where wonderful Lompoc ales are served for all of $2.50 on Tuesdays. (We would never pay more than $4 for a pint the entire time in Portland. Take that(!), East coast.) A sip of the 1st IPA and we were in comfort land. Another one each before last call extended the comfort zone. A quick walk around this pretty regular neighborhood to check out the establishments and it was across the street to our abode for the next 5 days.

We’re new to guest houses, but its locale and no frills nature appealed, not to mention the neighborhood aspect. 7 guest rooms two of which have their own bathroom. Our 1st guesthouse experience, we went for one with a bathroom. (Note that we booked these a few months in advance.). Cipher lock at front door of this old craftsman style house with rooms all named after area artists. We had the Beverly Cleary room on the 2nd floor overlooking SE Division through all the foliage. Just like home was our 1st (and lasting impression). Â


Day 2

Despite the three hour time difference and late night before, we were up at the respectable hour of 9:30. Being Portland and its anti-car trend, we decided to walk the neighborhoods in and around SE Division with 1st stop somewhere to grab breakfast. By the way, the guesthouse has a community kitchen where they put out bagels, muffins, fruit and coffee. (Note, these are not daily fresh bagels, etc.) Wife took advantage of coffee while I wifi-ed on e-mail and places for eating and then off on our walk.

We headed South down SE Division and came across the Detour Cafe where the board said “Fried tomato BLT & egg sandwich”. Being a sucker for fried greens and it looking like a comfy joint, we sat a spell. 45 minutes and two sandwiches and morning beverages later, we walked out entirely pleased and ready to, as Eddie Noack sang, walk ‘em off. Continued down SE Division getting our 1st visual taste of PDX and just loving the “neighborhood” vibe what with being so close to inner city. A clean, newish place called “Beer Monger” piqued my curiosity, but that’s for another day.

SE Hawthorne Ave is a main drag in PDX and at its central point is equivalent to the cool college street with shops, bars, food joints, etc, etc of a Providence, Cambridge, etc. We caught it at SE 7th and walked it up to SE 39th. Observations? Clothing resale (aka vintage???) is huge. Bars galore, not to mention plenty of coffee. For you music types, checked out Jackpot Records which is one of several PDX institutions. Nice selection and all, but didn’t blow me away. Beer-wise, we caught a glimpse of Bridgeport Brewing’s Ale House bar.

Alejandro Escovedo was in town that night playing a vintage theater (one of a bunch) and after our three hour walk, we headed further SE to check on tix. Located on SE Milwaukee, the Aladdin Theater had a classic marquee and plenty of tix available. We grabbed a couple and being happy hour time, made a return visit to the “neighborhood” for HH at Hedge House. More Lampoc ales ($3 a pop) and an excellent hummus plate satisfied us no end and was the appetizer to heading back to the Aladdin.

Do they not serve beer everywhere in PDX? (A few days later we learned if you sell beer, wine & liquor you need to serve food and I can’t tell you how many “bars” that had mac & cheese primed & ready to cook in their “kitchen”.)Â

Back to business, great beer at The Aladdin for $3.50 a pop. At PPAC, it’d be $5+. Like we said, PDX is heaven on the ale front. As for the show, Austin opener Amy Cook (whose new one is produced by Alejandro) was good. Place about half filled and mostly gray hair types (of which age-wise, I am one (minus the gray, but that’s another story), but spirit wise I deny any inclusion). AE was OK, but he has been plenty better in these parts at the Narrows and all.

Out of the theater and food cart time, namely Potato Champion on SE Hawthorne. Legendary in PDX food circles, we opted for the Poutine (gravy & fries with cheese curds). Pretty chilly night and damn we wish the stuff was hotter. Rating?  Just okay. From there to a bar I caught a vision of earlier in the day North of our place on Division called, North. Great ales and the focus Alaska, hence the North name. Great day #1 complete.


Day 3

Day 3 dawned around 9 and the plan was the Oregon coast. Grew up on Long Island in a town called Oceanside and as a kid was always intrigued at looking at other Oceanside’s on the map. One is in Oregon and that is our destination, but before that, time to check out another joint for late morning breakfast as recommended by son. Genie’s was the place located just down Division from our place at the corner of SE Division & SE 12th. Liz opted for a vegan eggs benedict concoction while I went for this potato, egg, & cornbeef hash pile topped lightly with the legendary & local Tillamook cheddar. Oh yeah, Sweety had herself a house Bloody Mary which made her vevy, vevy happy. My pile was bliss with the Tillamook the star ingredient. Bellies full, it was off to the coast. About 75-90 minutes away, we took 26 to 6 which took us through some beautiful backwoods and small mountains. Entry to the coast was Tillamook-Bay and the wind was blowing hard off the Pacific and temps just above 60. We took this little road out the ocean and were blown away when we laid eyes on it. There’s nothing like mountains into ocean and these incredible rock formations off the coast. We headed on a small loop South to Oceanside stopping at the Cape Meares Lighthouse on the way. Shame on the assholes that shot up the historic lighthouse, but the view was breathtaking. Onto Oceanside, a small seaside town with a large beach with great derelict rock formations in the water and water cold, cold, cold. Not a bad place to maybe stay a few nights some time. Oh yeah, childhood mission accomplished.

From there we circled back to Tillamook and got onto Highway 101 North which abuts the Oregon coast. Breathtaking the entire way and we stopped a few times for overlooks and short hikes. We turned back to Portland at Cannon Beach with our minds intent on spending time here again down the road.

Heading into Portland looking East and the views of Mt. Hoot and Mt. St. Helens were spectacular. Made us mighty thirsty and having seen the place the day before, we headed to Beer Mongers located on where, but SE Division just a bit before Genies. While generic appearance wise, this is a great place. It’s a beer store with a micro bar with about 4 or 5 drafts. We opted for a couple of pints of Rogue Ales at $3/pop. One cool thing is you can buy a 6 or bomber and crack one open right there. The selection, BTW, was incredible. Â

Left there to check out another beer bar recommended by the boy, namely Roots Organic and Green Dragon. Sad to say that Roots Organic had closed shop several weeks before. Green Dragon, located on SE 9th, was pretty cool. It featured a Quonset hut on the grounds, outdoor beer garden and a big pub room decked out with picnic tables. Some sort of function was happening, so the place was pretty mobbed. We grabbed a couple of pints of local goodness and headed back to our guesthouse to get our bearings and make a place.

Freshened and with our bearings, noticed a tiny ad in the Willamette Week (sort of our Providence Phoenix) for a place called Victory Bar located crawling distance from our guest house. We did the tiny stroll and dark and cool was all over this place. Basically a beer/drink bar, but one of those that prides themselves in a small, but interesting menu stocked with local ingredients. Beer wise, Belgium is in abundance. Sweety opted for some tasty drinks while I went with a Belgium. We had a perfect view to the tiny kitchen. Decide to split some things – tasty salad, cured meat & cheese plate, lamb sausage sandwich, etc. All of it was off the scale keeping the impressiveness of Portland food at or near a 10.Â

Decided to close the night with music and Duff’s Garage located on SE 7th was the destination. Let’s loosely call it a potential Continental Club of Portland. Decked out in car culture style, on this night we were treated to a local band playing some pretty decent country covers followed by an L.A. based twang instrumental outfit called Merle Jagger. Pretty impressive and no doubt a band that keeps to the West.


Day 4

Love, but hate the numbered streets in Portland. It’s a grid, but not-thru streets can bug the heck out of you, especially when you’re out for a run in unfamiliar territory. The morning run ended up being 60 versus 30 minutes because of such not-thru streets. Whatever.

Anyway, son had recommended a biscuit joint on SE Belmont just a few blocks or so over. He recommended a sandwich called a Reggie Deluxe which had serious coronary potential. Pine State Biscuits is the joint and when we got there people were all over the street with their biscuit meals to go. The scene is a small joint and the line was out the door when we arrived just after 11. The Reggie? Fried chicken, gravy, bacon & cheese on a fluffy as a pillow biscuit. The Deluxe? Throw an egg on it. The inside is pretty tight on seating, but we garnered a spot for our two Reggie’s. (We sidestepped the Deluxe.) Ordered a couple of ice teas and these folks get it on ice tea. Huge Mason jars full of ice & tea. About the best packaged ice tea I’ve ever had. The sandwiches? Complete bliss and not in any sort of coronary sort of way. So thumbs up my thumb can’t even reach that high.

Looking to work off our Reggie’s, we walked the SE Belmont neighborhood and like Division & Hawthorne, full of interesting storefronts, etc.

Hopped in the car with the destination the St. John’s Bridge which son had said we had to check out. By the way, Portland is dubbed “Bridge City” and not a one of them the same. Cool structures all. St. John’s is way up North and it’s high and green like aged copper. It landed us right in the Northern neighborhood of St. John’s which while interesting for its neon and bars, had some mighty worked up people on it streets. Get your fists ready.

Being early afternoon and obviously too early for happy hours, etc, we set our tracks on the Portland Art Museum and an R. Crumb exhibit focusing on his latest graphic about the illustrated book of Genesis. Love Crumb, but this exhibit amounted to reading the entire graphic novel. It was grueling. Â

Our next stop had me most excited, the N. Mississippi neighborhood, home of Mississippi Records who puts out these cool thick vinyl records of old blues, among other things. Lots of cool shops and a gritty, but obviously gentrification-in-progress, neighborhood. MS Records was a great record store and almost completely vinyl. Dug the turntable to sample 45s, etc. and bought a mess of 7-inch reissues of R&B and blues. Great store. (Interesting side note: All through Crumb exhibit we moved in and out of a few people looking at each page, etc. Turns out the dude was the Mississippi Records store owner.) Being Portland and being about 4:30, next stop was Amnesia Brewing, at the corner of NE Beach & Mississippi. With temps just above 60, felt like autumn and the outdoor beer garden was perfect. $3 homemade IPAs were pretty tasty, too. It was the perfect happy hour before our next stop, Mississippi Studios, just up the street, to see Chuck Prophet. An ideal joint to see music, few that I’ve been to can touch the immediacy of Mississippi Studios. The 7 pm start time was sure nice, too. Prophet, with his full band, played to the hilt in what to these ears & eyes was one of the best things I saw this year. Oh yeah, they sell pretty healthy local brew at MS Studios, too. With a show ending by 9, plenty of night ahead and it was back to our SE Division neighborhood to do dinner at Pok Pok. A renowned Thai restaurant (and not the corner variety), the wait was 90 minutes-plus. We killed time at a bar across the street called Matchbox. Kind of an artsy joint, they too had an interesting, but small, menu and great drinks and brew. We indulged and only 30 minutes into it, we got a call and the table was ready. Pok Pok is well worth the stop, particularly for the Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings. An absolutely incredible meal.Â

Day 5

Damn comfortable at the Bluebird. Up by 9 with breakfast on our mind, son had recommended a joint called Junior’s and while a healthy walk down SE Division, we set out. Getting people in and out does not appear to be a forte’ of Jrs, but after a late morning 90 minute wait, we were seated. Shabby but sheik inside, I opted for a maple glaze ham sandwich and it was excellent.  Despite the molasses service, big thumbs up.

When nature calls in Portland, find a bowling alley.

Walked back to the Bluebird via the parallel street to SE Division, that being Clinton. Nowhere near as commercial as Division, more cool houses and smaller scale neighborhood joints.

Are you a gal looking for a stylish bathing suit? Funny that Portland is bathing suit central. Check out Popina. Classy and cool suits, as my wife tells me. Â

They tell me street fairs are popular in Portland and the Alberta Arts District put on a big one on this beautiful Saturday. Running about 20 blocks or so over the course of NE Alberta, it was a mix of crafts, food, and of course all the shops, galleries, restaurants and bars. Live music was happening at spots stops along the trek. Browsing and people watching prevailed. Another area in the process of gentrification, this neighborhood reminded of a bit of East Austin with a side of Wickenden. Plenty of really cool houses and people doing cool things to them. Par for the course in Portland, we found a brew pub just off NE Alberta and decide to quench the thirst. Mash Tun Brew Pub was the place and we sampled the Cluster IPA. Thumbs up.Â

From NE Alberta, it was back to SE Division and a new pub that supposedly favored honky tonk music, The Landmark Saloon. Only 5 pm, things were pretty quiet, but the place was well adorned in Western-ish motif. The tunes? While there Paycheck, Robbins, Hank, E.T. You get the idea. The beer? Many of the usual Oregon suspects on tap. Opted for a TG IPA. (TG is for Terminal Gravity out of Enterprise, OR.) The wife went for the TG ESG. Both were excellent. With a mini pub crawl apparently in progress, the next stop (and both of these recommended by son) was Roadside Attraction on SE 12th. Dark with an excellent (and free) jukebox and cool folk art on the walls, it was easily one of the coolest bars we’d been in. A tasty Centennial IPA each and it was next door to The Basement. Another cool joint with a decent juke and a massive fish tank one of its centerpieces, we went with the Ninkasi Total Domination IPA. It did dominate. Feeling a bit famished after the IPA varieties, we headed back to the neighborhood to catch some dinner. We had a few drinks at The Matchbox Lounge while waiting for a table at Pok Pok across the street. Decided to check out the dinner there what with it just a walk down SE Division from our place. Not a large menu, but I went with the Portland Cheesesteak while Sweety took on the Wild Boar Gumbo accompanied by a cocktail for Sweety and another TG IPA. Both were decent and closed the day on a satisfying note.


Day 6

Sad day as we had to check out of the Bluebird and eventually onto lodging joint #2. Put simply, the Bluebird is a very unassuming and superbly located joint. If you want frills and service, it’s not for you. If you like a place where you’re on your own and can meet and greet on your own terms, it’s great. Â

Being 11-ish, we went in search of food. Headed deeper Southeast into the Woodstock neighborhood to check out what’s there. We zeroed in on the Delta Cafe, a Southern comfort food/bar joint. Shabby & cool look trying for the Southern distressed look. Not seeing a lot of people in there, was a little on the fence but we went in for brunch. First off, boy was it dark. We went for a couple of the breakfast specialties. Had the Southern Scramble which if it wasn’t for the andoullie, would’ve been pretty bland. Sweety’s was about the same. Not our most favorite meal by any means.

Left and walked the neighborhood and came upon Otto’s Sausage. Damn!!!! Butcher/deli/food joint where you pick your sausage, they cook it, and you eat it in or out. Big bathtub of cold beer and soda for your picking. We blew it!

Only noon and check-in 3 hours away, seemed like perfect time for record store searching. Heard Music Millennium on East Burnside was a store worth checking. Talk about store that makes use of every inch, the vast MM carried it all and is obviously the Newbury Comics of Portland, though, prices nowhere as friendly as Newbury’s. My least favorite of all the store so far. Â

Drove around some and finally made our way to destination number located in Northeast Portland, The Kennedy School. Owned by the renowned McMenamins franchise who make a Northwest habit of renovating beleaguered properties into coolness, The Kennedy School has to be one of their most incredible reclamations. From 1915 to 1975, it was an elementary school when school officials closed it declaring it too old and crumbling to repair. With demolition looming after years of lights out, a coalition of neighbors, former students, past PTA presidents and the Portland Development Commission fought successfully to save the building. Along came the McMenamins brothers with one of many proposals to save the relic. 1997 saw the school open as a hotel. Classrooms turned into lodging rooms (with blackboard in tact), boiler rooms & closets turned into barrooms, original artwork thematically based on the history of the school and incorporating artifacts from the school’s history (and much of it donated by former students, teachers, etc), it is near jaw-dropping what this place has become. With a wife who’s also a teacher, the look on her face walking the halls of this place says it all. She poured over every detail of the place and believe, there is detail in spades. By hotel standards, it was not even too pricey and definitely worth a visit, even if only for a one-nighter.

It only being early-mid afternoon and free music beckoning at the pretty well known Doug Fir Lounge, I had to pry the other half out of school. Back to East Burnside for an afternoon of tunes at the Doug Fir, one of Portland’s best live music venues. With temps a bit cool and sprinkles here and there, outdoor music could be hit or miss, but Sallie Ford & Sound Outside shined a bit of sun on folks with her off kilter pop-a-billy rockers. Keep a lookout. Oh yeah, managed to put down a few IPAs while Sweety opted for some lemonade drink. Unfortunately, the Doug Fir was largely closed off, so did not get a chance to soak in its surroundings. Hungry for a burger, headed to a recommended brew pub/restaurant up E. Burnside and onto NE Sandy Blvd. Â

Laurelwood Public House Brewery was the joint and it was packed. With beers brewed on the premises, we opted for the Free Range Red Ale which was mighty tasty. Opted for this big burger and it was good. Frankly, a little too family/soccer mom of a place for my tastes. It’s obviously the tame place to drink homemade beer and eat.

With belly full, it was time to climb a volcano. Portland has one and it’s called Mount Tabor located in SE PDX. It’s actually extinct, but Mt. Tabor when it’s nice offers 360-degree views. On this night where skies cleared and with dusk quickly approaching, we did the small climb for a gorgeous view of downtown Portland. The view the other way to Mt. Hood was non-existent, but this was all about the burn.

With darkness upon us, it was back to school and Sweety unable to take her eyes off any and all of the incredible artwork. I wasn’t kidding about the boiler room turned barroom. Words can’t describe the transformation and by the way, McMenamins brews their own beer and there pretty decent. The Boiler Room Bar was exactly that before its transformation. A pretty amazing room that incorporates old radiators into the decor, among other things. Our nite cap was an IPA and Irish coffee and it was back to the classroom for some shut-eye.


Day 7

Last day and the first waking up to clear blue skies. Seeing the game plan was to check out the Columbia River Gorge, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. Not a far ride out to the gorge from Portland and we hooked onto the historic Columbia River Highway which is historic, as far as roads go.

Nice stuff and all within three hours. What with our last day, we were already jouncing to get back to Portland and made a b-line as we were starving. No clue where to do lunch, but our eventual choice was a lunch to die for. Bunk Sandwiches is the name and you can find it way deep on SE Morrison just before crossing into downtown PDX. Talk about perfection in a sandwich. We went for a Cuban variation along with a pork belly creation. Panini-like grilled sandwiches and they come with homemade chips almost kettle-like in their makeup. About one of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had.

Out of Bunk and off to check some of the many neighborhoods of Portland. We checked out Sellwood and Brooklyn. Both were kind of boring and we decided to get back into the thick of things. Back downtown, Rejuvenation Hardware caught our eyes. Always been fans so in we went. Pretty amazing some of the stuff these folks reclaim. We own an old, old house and wish this place was nearby. Then again…

Being about 4 and sun bearing down, thirst was hitting us hard. We heard Produce Row Cafe located down by the river between the Morrison & Burnside bridges on what was (& still is) industrial looking quarters was a place to quaff a brew, et al. Great courtyard and the usual great beer. IPAs, again. We did not eat, but the menu looked real, real good.

A beer apiece and we decided to head back closer to “home” and check out the NE Alberta District sans art festival. A gorgeous, late August afternoon, we found ourselves at the Bye & Bye for happy hour. Outdoor patio and very cool art inside. Doesn’t quite fit in the artsy neighborhood, but then again it has its own style/stamp. Liz opted for this drink called Stockholm and I stuck once again, boringly, with the local IPAs (Terminal Gavity). Imbibingly fun, but made us way hungry.

The Pok Pok Thai experience had us thinking Asian, namely Thai, and our target was The Siam Society just down the street.

Housed in a converted power substation with a large patio out back and the sun setting on a beautiful, clear sky day, we opted for the outdoor eating experience. And it was an experience. Plaa Taut, a seasonal fish fried whole and served with your choice of sauce. We selected a Panang Curry sauce which was off the scale, as was the fish. Vegetarian spring rolls for an appetizer were equally excellent as was the imaginative cocktails (Liz went with the Ginger Lime Cosmopolitan Infusion). What with darkness upon us, it started to get chilly on the patio. Siam Society has that covered, too, what with heat lamps and offering lap blankets to put over your back. The wife opted for a blanket which did the trick. Next thing you know, we look at all the other people at tables on the patio and at least half had blankets draped around their backs. In all, a terrific dining experience at a joint that comes highly recommended.

A long day was coming to an end. We headed back to “school” (i.e., The Kennedy School) for a nite cap in the “boiler room” and to pack up for next morning’s flight.

Cannot wait to return.<...