Portland in 2015


Portland in 2015 is a city of charismatic pedants. And that’s not a bad thing. Everyone seems to be making something. And they want to tell you about it. Plus they’re really into it. They don’t make a lot of things, rather they make one thing and are trying to do it really well.

Maybe it’s ice cream and they’re doing almond brittle with salted ganache. You can have as many samples as you want because they want you to. And that’s why there’s a line up of 100 people at 10:30 at night.

Or it’s espresso. Actually, it’s coffee. Because they roast their own beans and they’re so confident of their beans that each can be used for espresso. After all, espresso is technically a style of preparation. If your beans are as good as theirs, you don’t need to roast a blend for espresso preparation.

Perhaps leather? The family’s been doing since before anyone was living in Oregon and handing it down to the kids with every generation. Why would you ever wear anything other than leather and how come you don’t need a saddle that’s so well made that you can give it to your grandkids?

Maybe you think that bamboo should be harvested in America and you want to build a $100 million plantation and factory? That’s just a vision right now but you’ve transported bamboo up from Louisiana and you’ve build a showroom that includes a bathroom where the floor, ceiling and walls are all bamboo. You even convinced some guys to open up a bamboo-theme coffee shop in your showroom. And it’s amazing

Like whiskey? Want to know why it’s called whiskey vs. whisky? Can you savor the difference? We can help. And we’ll send an old-timey-dressed-but-with-perfectly-coiffed-tasteful-facial-hair-20-something-male to your table to both explain and pour something for you. He’ll serve you from a cart because… Well, because that’s what you do when you’re a pedant: you don’t just tell, you show.




The hostess has high cheekbones and brown or black hair. It’s definitely not blonde and it’s definitely not flat; it’s got a braid or a twist or curls – but it has not been flattened. She’s wearing bright red lipstick that contrasts with her pale skin. A complex pattern that may or may not be organic and possibly even alive is navigating down her shoulder but stopping tastefully before her elbow. Her dress is flowing but neither long nor short; it is made out of something natural and has thin straps. Your hostess is part of a tribe that appears wherever busy restaurants exist at the confluence of young people, cheap urban rents and good public transportation.



Everyone in Portland seems to be making something. The charismatic pedantry referred to above is a form of charming hucksterism for what is being made. What’s interesting is that the making seems to be about rediscovering the old and taking the good from it. Portland recycles the best and razes the best.

You see this everywhere. Glass and steel are superimposed near brick. The new wraps around the old.


The family leathermaker uses Square to take payments. That incredible coffee is prepared by a guy who has graphs showing different roasting profiles. The local makerspace is doing things with wood that defy description. CNC milling machines grind out new designs from old materials.




And Portland is definitely not archaic. The evidence of old does not dictate an absence of new. In fact, it’s the opposite: the city is a juxtaposition of the best of the new style with the best of the old. The tension over which will ultimately win is what makes the city so fun to explore.



And Portland remains weird. It’s the sort of place where your Uber gets stopped by naked cyclists at 10pm on a Saturday. And no one’s angry about that, in fact, everyone’s kinda sortof proud that it’s happening. Because even if you don’t know one of those naked cyclists and would never join them, you’re happy to be in a place where people feel inclined to do so and act on it.



I’ll be back in 2016.




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.

Serious Eaters at Le Pigeon

Dude checking phone

Bearded Guy with Bike (Sound Grounds)

Bearded Guy at Sound Grounds

2. Booze

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:

Beer at Saturday Market

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):

Beer at Cascade Brewing Barrel House

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.

3. Coffee

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.


Stumptown Coffee


Note: also home to a delicious bacon cheddar biscuit.

Barista Coffee

Barista Coffee

Public Domain

Note: also home to an incredible sesame croissant – salty & savoury

Public Domain Coffee

Coffee at Public Domain Coffee

This coffee culture has also gone mobile. The weekend market features both pour overs and espresso service:

Coffee at Saturday Market

Espresso at Saturday Market

4. Bikes

And mobility in Portland means biking. This is the sign that greets you in the downtown core:

America's Bicycle Capital Sign

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.

5. Layers

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.

Layers of condos

Triangle Building

Buildings Juxtaposed

They layers extend to greenery as well. Many of the buildings are overgrown in part with vines, enhancing the layering effect:

Lan Su Chinese Gardens

Barista / Deck

PDX Airport with Green Wall

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:

Bud Clark House Balconies

Interesting condo

Condo with Windmills

Interesting Building/Condo (Emma?)

Interesting Condo

Scrim on Condo

7. Food

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):

Food Trucks

We gorged on pastrami at Kenny & Zuke’s…

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.

Le Pigeon

We went to Pok Pok to try the legendary Thai:

Food at Pok Pok

Food at Pok Pok

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.

8. Neighbourhoods

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:

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 8.30.58 PM.png

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:

Lan Su Chinese Gardens

Fallen camellia blossom

Camellia Blossom in Stream

10. Neon

Bright lights. Not so big city.

Voodoo Donuts

Portland Outdoors Neon Sign

Portland Neon Sign

Miller Paint Neon Sign

11. Craft

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.

Wooden Puzzles

Bow and Arrows

Flower shops

Art Piece

And finally, some random photos.

Tanner Springs Park

Portland Sign

Chevytown Sign

Light on old building

Old Bank Building Detial

Japanese Garden

Old Building Detail