Weirdness, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder, so this account of my first visit to Portland, Ore., focuses on the weird, the funky and the charmingly unique.
We ate our way through Portland, consuming everything from the sublime (Veritable Quandary, a Portland gem whether inside or out on the flower-filled patio; Three Degrees Waterfront Bar & Grill, riverside dining in the RiverPlace Hotel; Mother’s Bistro & Bar, with a fabulous full bar and crunchy French toast or wild salmon hash for brunch; Screen Door for Southern comfort; Kells Brew Pub, family friendly and acclaimed as Portland’s best brew pub; Tasty 'n' Sons, a neighborhood delight; and Petite Provence, another neighborhood treasure for sidewalk seating and mouth-watering croissants) to the likeable ridiculous (Brunch Box for a Monte Cristo with a hamburger inside; Old Town Pizza, an award-winning pizzeria and brewery, where ghosts trapped below in the Shanghai tunnels reside; Salt & Straw for tomato water olive oil sherbet or almond brittle and salted ganache ice cream, surprisingly delicious; Waffle Window for a Darkest Desire Waffle, one of many quaint food trucks; and Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, one of the city’s oldest coffee houses with “haunted tables” — check out the upstairs bathroom, if you dare.)
For a dash of Hollywood glamour, check into Hotel deLuxe, or for spectacular downtown views of the Willamette River, there’s the RiverPlace Kimpton Hotel. For old-fashioned quirkiness, go back to school and enroll at McMenamins Kennedy School, an old schoolhouse renovated in 1997 and boasting 35 guestrooms, formerly the school’s classrooms. Original artwork in the former library, auditorium and hallways transport you back to a kinder, gentler time, when chalkboards and erasers predated laptops. Don’t miss this delightful renovation.
Must-sees: Powell’s City of Books, an entire city block and book lover’s paradise; Portland Saturday Market, the nation’s largest open-air arts market; Aerial Tram, for city views 500 feet above Portland; The Real Mother Goose, showcase of fine American Craft; the Pittock Mansion, historical home celebrating 100 years of history; the Oregon Zoo, an innovative zoo in a beautiful setting; Finnegan’s Toys for the young and young at heart; Japanese Garden, five acres of tranquil beauty; and the Rose Quarter and Moda Center, home of the Portland Trail Blazers.
OK, now for the "weirdness quotient," keeping in mind it’s only in the eyes of the beholder — and I do want to return to Portland someday soon!
Let’s start with the fact that it’s a law that dishes must drip dry. It’s against the law to pump your own gas, and nobody could quite tell me why. Wall art is everywhere. Car art, too, which sometimes involves wrapping the entire car in duct tape.
In downtown’s Ira Keller Fountain, swimming is not only allowed, it’s encouraged on the occasional hot day. There are elegant and scary mannequins popping up in odd places. There’s a vacuum cleaner museum. Beer snobs everywhere arguing over which organic brew is better. Birkenstocks with white socks. Androgynous dressing in the style of dreary gray rain clouds.
Which brings me to my what-to-pack tips: cargo pants and a fleece jacket. I think my favorite local take on weirdness sits in front of the Standard Oil Insurance Center, a white marble sculpture called “Quest,” designed by Count Alexander von Svoboda and depicting nude figures. Locals wittily refer to it as “Three Groins in a Fountain.”
Begun as a boost for small local businesses, “Keep Portland Weird” is embraced by many but not all Portlandians. I don’t usually write two articles on one city, but Portland has so much intrinsic and natural beauty, I’ll be back soon to chronicle this aspect of the endearingly quirky city.