Wen and I went to Portland over the weekend; loved it. Here are some notes about the town and (more than) a few pics as well.
1. Portland Man
Portland Man in 2013 is recognized by his hirsute nature. Every guy in Portland seems to sport a beard.
The breadth and depth of facial foliage is fascinating. There’s your typical I’ve-been-doing-this-for-two-weeks starter beard, the delicately trimmed bush beard and then the insanely overgrown fu manchu.
It’s a living hair lab, where instead of a thousand monkeys on typewriters there are ten thousand guys wiping away craft beer foam and bits of food with their sleeve.
And speaking of craft beer, Portland’s unofficial motto should be “that would be better with alcohol.”
I don’t think I’ve ever been to a North American city that loves its booze so much.
They’ve incorporated it into all aspects of life: you can pick up a growler at the airport before stepping on your plane or buy and consume at the weekend market under the Burnside bridge:
And the beer – all local, craft beer – is fantastic. It feels like there’s always a brewpub around the corner. And there’s a golden age of brewing “innovation” going on.
At the Cascade Brewing Barrel House – which specializes in sour beers (try finding that in your hometown) – you can sit on the patio and try an 11.5% beer that’s so sweet they call it “marshmallow” (cut it with an IPA):
At The Victory Bar I tried a hibiscus, pineapple and guava tripel style beer. I didn’t know that those words could even go together, let alone as a beer.
Portland’s other beverage of choice is coffee – and this city may have the best coffee culture I’ve ever seen.
I know those are fighting words, particularly when you live in Vancouver. However, I think Portland takes the prize.
There are cafes everywhere and the vast majority seem to be local independents (although make sure to try the local chains like Barista and Stumptown). What’s more, the coffee shop density holds in the further out neighbourhoods; you’ll repeatedly get coffee shops kiddie corner to one another along outer roads like Division or Belmont.
Note: also home to a delicious bacon cheddar biscuit.
Note: also home to an incredible sesame croissant – salty & savoury
This coffee culture has also gone mobile. The weekend market features both pour overs and espresso service:
And mobility in Portland means biking. This is the sign that greets you in the downtown core:
After the brewpubs and coffee shops, the next most common thing is a bike shop. And they’re not stocking your typical Huffy; $4,000 kid carrier custom bikes are found next to your entry level two wheeler.
Bike sheds are found at all suburban light rail stations and every street seems to have a bike corridor. It’s impressive how much emphasis is placed on bicycles for primary transport.
One of the things you notice walking around Portland is the diversity of architecture and how it layers so beautifully. There’s everything from cast iron construction in the 1800s to new glass and steel towers, but they all play well with one another.
They layers extend to greenery as well. Many of the buildings are overgrown in part with vines, enhancing the layering effect:
6. New Buildings
Portland deserves credit for increasing the density of the city without shedding character. As you roam the city you can see that lots of condos have gone in-particularly along main streets in the less dense outer areas-but they are interesting buildings.
Moreover, to a t, all of them have ground floor retail. In fact, almost every build we saw had an independent coffee shop or restaurant – and some of the busiest, most interesting-looking places we saw were inside newish condos. Not a goddamn townhouse to be seen.
Technically, not a condo (it’s low-cost housing) but still quite well done:
And, oh, those restaurants.
Portland is a foodie heaven.
You’ve likely heard about the Food Truck Revolution that’s going on. Equally as interesting as the food is the instant public spaces that have been reclaimed from parking lots (In PDX they line the outside of parking lots with food trucks):
We gorged on pastrami at Kenny & Zuke’s…
…while the beef cheek bourgignon at Le Pigeon is one of the 10 best (and rich) dishes I’ve ever eaten.
We went to Pok Pok to try the legendary Thai:
The food there was incredible. I’m just going to list what we ate as the descriptions pulled from the menu let you know everything:
- Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings – Half dozen fresh whole natural chicken wings marinated in fish sauce and sugar, deep fried, tossed in caramelized Phu Quoc fish sauce and garlic and served with Vietnamese table salad. Our signature dish. Based on our daytime cook Ike’s recipe from his home in Vietnam
- Muu Paa Kham Waan – Boar collar meat rubbed with garlic, coriander root and black pepper, glazed with soy and sugar, grilled over charcoal and served with chilled mustard greens and a spicy chill/lime/garlic sauce. Northern Thai drinking food
- Khao Soi – Northern Thai mild curry noodle soup made with our secret curry paste recipe and house-pressed fresh coconut milk. Served with house pickled mustard greens, shallots, crispy yellow noodles and roasted chill paste. Typically served as a one dish meal. Chiang Mai speciality with Chinese Muslim and/or Burmese origin, depending on who you talk to.
Portland is a city of neighbourhoods and a joy to explore. If you take the time to wander, you’re certain to find some hidden charms off the traditional tourist track. The downtown core is fine for 24 hours, but the eastern shores of the Willamette have a near endless array of things to see.
To give you a sense of this, here’s a screenshot of my map of places we visited; at least half of them are on the suburban-appearing eastern side of the Willamette:
As you walk along Belmont or Division or any of the other major streets, you find coffee shops and stores popping up amongst houses. Everyone in Portland has a local coffee shop and bar.
9. Beautiful Decay
Portland is both warm and lush and we happened to be there as the Camellia were blooming. As the blossoms fall, they create beautiful little scenes of decay:
Bright lights. Not so big city.
In addition to the craft beer, craft coffee and amazing food, there’s lots of other evidence that Portlandians like to make things.
Everywhere you go you see hand-crafted, carefully designed objects and collections; it’s a city of makers.
And finally, some random photos.