In just a few days, I'm headed to my homeland of Portland, OR. The Northwest, I've come to find, is nothing like the Midwest so my trips home always feel like international flights instead of domestic ones. Planning my trip home is always tricky because I want to visit all my favorite haunts in addition to balancing my friends and family. In many cases, I create an Evite and broadcast a time and place to meet. I cross my fingers and hope everyone can make it.
A number of my friends have travelled to Portland for conferences, and before departing, they approach me about my own recommendations for things to do in the city. I generally give them the list of places I'd go if I were there. Most of my own hangouts are not the typical tourist destinations, given that I was an edgy city-dweller living in NoPo. I thought, for the benefit of not having to repeat myself for future conference goers, I would write them down here.
If I could pick just one restaurant that captures the granola-enviro-vegan-liberal spirit of Portland, it would be Old Wives' Tales. Almost everything on the menu has veggie alternatives, the salad bar is fresh and awesome, and the mushroom soup is great. They are on the east side, so parking is a breeze with their dedicated parking lot. Get a glass of soy milk to make for a complete experience.
Papa Haydn's is an upscale restaurant in NW Portland. I've gone for dinner once or twice. It's a nice meal, but rather expensive. For example they've got $10 burgers. Instead, I go for their beeeeeautiful desserts. The cakes, sitting perfect in their stands, are more art than food. It's a nice place for a little snack in the downtown foo-foo/shi-shi shopping district.
If you aren't interested in vegan food or snooty white people, head downtown for a pizza and a glass of bear. Set in spooky old town by the Skidmore Fountain, Old Town Pizza offers a variety of toppings and a number of cozy velvet couches to sit on.
The weird thing about Portland is the huge number of Thai restaurants. Walk into any Thai place, be it in a strip mall or a whole-in-the-wall, and you are almost guaranteed a perfect plate of Pad Thai. Among the best is Thai Orchid, with a number of locations in the city.
The major micro-brew in Portland is McMenamins. There are a number of establishments, but the more fun ones are the old dilapadated places that they've converted into bars; including a ballroom, a grade school, and even my old day care center. The food is mostly mediocre and a bit overpriced, but the beer is worth it. I do heartily recommend the Fish & Chips with a glass of Hammerhead at the Kennedy School. You can even take your glass of beer into the movie theatre and enjoy a show on the big screen. If you want to visit my old neigborhood, head to St. John's Tavern and watch some live Bluegrass music.
Aside from McMenamins, Portland offers a number of other eclectic drinking establishments. A smaller microbrew, Lucky Labrador, is the perfect place to take the dog on a sunny afternoon for a beer and a burger. Horse Brass may have the largest selection of beers on tap, with a laid-back atmosphere. Jimi Mak's is one of the best jazz clubs in the nation, the beer isn't great, but the Greek food is. Another brewery, Widmer, offers a Gasthaus complete with German food including a yummy chicken pot pie and beer cheese soup.
The latest phenomena that I've noticed in Portland is the "Community Studio." A co-op of folks buys an old warehouse, installs a dance floor, and offers activities including all-ages dancing, yoga, and crafts. One such place is Nocturnal and offers dancing on many days during the week. For a great calendar of events for swing dancing in Portland, go to swingout.net.
Portland's "First Thursday" takes place every first Thursday of the month. The art galleries open with their latest shows. Most galleries are open until 9 pm, are all within walking distance of each other in the Pearl District, and you can see the sites of Portland's local color, street performers, and DINKs. For details on gallery locations, check out: http://www.firstthursday.org/. To get to the Pearl District, take the
MAX west to downtown and catch the Street Car Trolley to the Pearl District.
If you want to do some thrift shopping, Portland is the place. Many movie companies come to Portland because it's so easy to get period clothing and period cars. Because the weather is so mild, cars don't
get rusted out, and you'll see many many more Karmen Gia's and Volvos there than you would ever see in the Midwest. Atomic Lily, offers a reasonably priced selection of cool jackets and kitchy t-shirts. Avalon is also good. It's more expensive, but the owners really know what they are doing, as the era of the item is often indicated on the price tag. If you are looking for music, Everyday Music is a good place, with a separate section for jazz and classical music.
Portland is a beautiful city. One of the best activities is to just go outside, as long as you have some rain gear. It rains, on average, every third day of the year. But the rain in the Portland is more like a thick fog, a day-long drizzling mist as opposed to the gushing 15 minute downpours of the Midwest. Mt. Tabor Park, located on an inactive volcano, provides a nice view of the whole city. Columbia Park, in North Portland, is in my old neighborhood and is the park where my dog and I walked twice a day for three years. Cathedral Park, located beneath the St. John's bridge, offers an interesting view of a well-design bridge. Washington Park, near the foo-foo/shi-shi shopping district, includes a rose garden and Japanese garden. You can even ride a little train to the Oregon Zoo.