A trip to Portland, Oregon in early October of 2018 and a writing redeaux in June of 2021.
With bar back tile lifted from the subway beneath The Emerald City and stained glass skylight to match, the Multnomah Whiskey Library’s offshoot-slash-waiting room was a tribute to warmth and bankers green glass lampshades with brass pull-chain switches. Ozma’s emeralites and accountants’ visors, we imbibed below the chlorophyllic electric glow. Bitter bites of Sardinian myrtlewood liqueur paying interest on a big-cube under Old Grand-Dad Bonded and Fino sherry dividends.
“Feel it all Around” was on the stereo at The Green Room while I sipped, Lost in Translation. Crafted from MWL Elijah Craig, Kalani coconut, Tempus fugit cacao, and black walnut bitters, thoughts eddying about in a conundrum of truth. People in Portland were definitely allowed to see the show Portlandia, right?
We never were able to make it passed the vestibule in to the Whiskey Library, an ever-evolving celebration of the art of distillation. Two thousand bottles of spirits wait to haunt me until the next time I can make it out to Oregon. To be continued. The Green Room held us aloft as Washed Out waves serenaded us to bubbly prosecco and jokes and Chartreuse as green as the grass on the other side.
We dawdled toward the night, stopping briefly to curiously press our noses to the window of a Scientology center. Before the meandering could even commence we were sidestepped by a member, materializing from the shadows like John Rambo, pouncing from that mud wall in First Blood 2. But he didn’t have a thirteen-inch clip point sawtooth buck knife. This attack was under smiles and leaflets. We absconded to the city darkness under the flower moon.
We awoke in our tiny house of socio-architectural nuance, situated in a huddled group of four tiny homes and a communal deck. Slabtown was our neighborhood in Portland for a modest allotment of time. Perfection in representation. Once home to timber workers, now blending Pearl District, Nob Hill, and a vast industrial area, it was named originally after residents who, for warmth, would burn the cast-off slabs from the lumber mills. Sometimes they would even build their homes from them.
The Commissary Café at The Portland Film Exchange Building was just a few skips foreign. Gourmet pop tarts and scrambled eggs and Americano under an ethos of the Golden Age of film. The major movie studios availed the building in the decades past for cutting and distribution, as well as private screening. Noir, gangster pictures, and melodrama.
Deco design influences The Commissary as it pays tribute to vintage cinema in aesthetic subtlety. Touches of metallic with an overscaled mirror and pristine carpentry, which speaks geometry from reclaimed fir. MGM stamped film canisters – relics from the cellar, an era bygone on celluloid of horror. Lugosi and Karloff. Wire chairs and a mint green espresso machine every bit as sleek as a ’57 Chevelle.
Backpedal Brewing, purveyors of beer and both BrewCycle and BrewBarge – pedaled conveyances for a conglomerate of comrades coasting as a crew on cast aluminum. At five miles per hour, they resemble crawling or floating arachnids, slow moving transport, beer in hand, over sea or over land.
Backpedal is housed at the same intersection in Pearl District that also holds Ten Barrel Brewing Company – Anheuser-Busch’s much-bemoaned takeover, and once held Rogue Pearl Public House.
While I scribe this segment in tenses past, Pearl Public House is no more. It was the first Rogue location in Portland, taking over the existing Portland Brewing Company (started by the very same Oregon beer icon who started Cascade) in the year 2000.
Distillation of spirits and cooperage of oak staves to a char, ready to rest for an age. Luckily we got to spend some time there in 2018 because with a heavy heart, last call was during the 2020 pandemic. Twenty years in that location and they had to close up shop due to Covid-19 restrictions hitting hard, like so many of the fallen brewpubs, restraining income due to a lack of outdoor seating space.
With true la cocina Peruana moderna we dined poetic that starlit night on Peruvian tapas at Andina, a culinary celebration of hospitality and culture of the Andes. Basted anticuchos, steamed humitas, and a Cantonese bao bun or two or three, nestled in to our corner table we go to indulge. House-infused habanero vodka offset by passionfruit and cane sugar, my drink of drinks carried a story of Sacsayhuamán warmth from a spirit of Lima.
An oddball Uber to Old Town landed us at Voodoo Doughnuts, which streamed a line of people through the neon-glazed twightlight. Standing in place we bore patience for Maple Bacon Bars and hand cut, yeast raised, and ring dipped donuts fried to puffy exuberance.
Inside we found innovation and unconventional affair. Lots of colors. My senses merged to one as I helped myself to donut rolled into a long cut Philly blunt, angel dusted with cinnamon and rolled in a maduro jacket of maple frosting. Red sprinkle embers blazed the end as I ignored the smell of urine in the hole-in-the-wall pastry shop and partook in an offering of delight.
Aimlessly idling we found ourselves at Serra Dispensary a few blocks away. Chic and sleek, open and light-filled like an Apple store for cannabis. Feeling Cards filled out to ensure a feelings-based approach to strain selection. Relaxation, creation, relief, happiness, energy, and focus…the flowers displayed on blue tinted ceramic dishes under glass pyramids – tiny greenhouses, accentuated by bronze magnifying glasses allowing you to look closely at the plant and spy its lush trichomes. High-end growers, Woodblock Chocolate and coffee beans to cleanse the palate. From gumdrops to geodesic ombré pipes, up to that point I had never felt so comfortable around drug dealers.
Modern Times PDX, also known as The Belmont Fermentorium is an enchanted fortress and a mythological utopia geared toward 1980s nostalgia and culinary wizardry.
Enormous and shimmering like a staggering cumulus glitter cloud, a Macho Man Randy Savage piñata hovered above the bar as a permutation of god’s halo. An 8-bit mosaic of 3.5-inch floppy discs was the mural at which we luxuriated whilst imbibing recipes cobbled by an industrial sorcerer. A piece by a mysterious maven hangs in the hall – a Donkey Kong freeze frame, seconds before an infamous kill screen, made from some sort of string or thread.
We found Pacific Northwest enlightenment that evening in different mash-up beer styles in complex elixirs, clearly and profoundly driven by aroma. Experimental one-off batches of Buckman neighborhood decadence I’ve merely witnessed on beer-Instagram up until that point.
Fortunate Islands stranded me on some sort of hoppy tropical dreamscape with my pals Citra and Amarillo. Raising a glass to the Randy Savage piñata, I would never again hold a regret in this life.
Their single-origin coffee program has gone berserk over time, spawning an uprising, sparked from just like one guy, in the beginning, and the Burgertorium is one for the ages.
At Hunnymilk, a former pop-up and prominent standout on the PDX brunchmap, we fulfilled the tradition of coloring with crayons and playing with vintage toys while waiting for magical sausage eggs. On a hovering cast iron saucer we received a Dutch baby pancake with caramelized pears and crème brulee scoops, along with cheezy herb biscuit holes under chorizo gravy – Mama Lil’s peppers, scallions, and spicy maple syrup.
When a venue is so committed to brunch that it only subsists during brunch hours, its imperative that one might understand the significance of that meal.
Just down the path, Powell’s City of Books is the largest book vendor of new stories of old and reused publication christened to scroll, ever to grace the planet. It occupies an entire Pearl District city block with one million features of literature texted in hard to find hardbound and paperback.
We rode a rainbow from room to color coded room between thirty-five hundred catalogued sections: Green to gold to blue to Pearl to orange to rose to purple to coffee to red, all the way to the Rare Book Room containing autographed first editions. Thinkers and writers and volumes of tinkerers. Science and art – bibliographies one of a kind to browse and admire in the happiest place on earth.
We did some hiking through both urban and thistle. Walking with stick in hand we reached Purrington’s Cat Lounge, a neighborhood café in Northeast Portland.
Adoptable and adorable, the cats roam freely in the lounge and welcomed our visit.
Bears. Beers. Bigfoots and Brushdogs. Just past Salt & Straw, nestled among the Timberbeasts and the sweater-wearing corgi, lying cozily between Pine State Biscuits and Sip Juice Cart is Great Notion Brewing in Alberta Arts District.
I’m here to talk about the Key Lime Pie Gose. Brewed with key limes and vanilla beans it was everything I would have hoped it to be. On deck I had the Juice Box Double IPA, with a blueberry muffin sour in the hole. Batting cleanup was an 11% imperial breakfast stout called Double Stack. Aged on whole bean Sumatra from Clutch Coffee, it bullied my palate like an anthropomorphic tower of buttered flapjacks bathing in a basin of barrel aged maple syrup.
Great is the Notion of a twisted confectionary run by mad, ginger-bearded bread men. Peppermint stick hatchets chopping relentless and reckless, through giant red strawberries, and brilliantly tart, bulbous blueberries. Summer Oregon peaches capturing the subtleties of that particular year’s growing season. Like Pac Man I chomped through cherries and bananas, as I got lost in a maze of haze and orbs.
At Cascade Brewing, in a former produce warehouse hidden around the bend at SE Belmont Street and named after the actively volcanic Cascade Range, we joined the sour revolution. There, at the House of Sour, beers are tapped and flow directly to your chalice from casks in the form of puncheons, foedres and hogsheads.
We drank in the spirit of the Cascadian gurus, hailed as the pioneers of aging and blending in the City of Roses. House strain Lactobacillus-fermented northwest sour ales like Kriek, Apricot, and Cuvee du Jongleur in seven-fifty milliliter green bottles – corked and caged and ready to god damn go.
Primordial Noir 2017 was the beer of choice that autumn afternoon. A blend of imperial red ales aged in bourbon and red wine barrels for two years with one hundred and fifty pounds per barrel of Oregon-grown Bing and sour pie cherries. Robust bourbon and cherry presence with notes of roasted malt, molasses and baking spices, flavors derived from acid and residual nuance.
At a rather chaotic Enterprise it became increasingly evident that not only did they not have any normal-sized cars left to borrow, but also what remained were giant vans and humungous pickup trucks. So, in direct, stark contrast to our tiny house, we borrowed a giant Dodge Ram with mega cab and nothing less than maximum torque. That tank turned out to be a good vehicle for a stormy day drive west through the coniferous Tillamook Rainforest.
We passed through Hillsboro and entered Tillamook State Forest, a hub for commercial logging, and moss harvesting. Dominated by gargantuan, towering Douglas Firs among a mountainous backdrop with literal, active volcanoes, the drive was gorgeous and intimidating all at once. Oregon pine, dense and lush, three-hundred feet tall if they were a foot, buried us in a wall of evergreen conifer as we outran liquid hot magma like Mario in the lava level.
Taking my eyes off the wet road to glance to the side, in a blurry second of pareidolia, I noticed a Sasquatch in the rain, peacefully mushroom hunting and gathering berries for her cubs. The hairy creature of American folklore and legend, bellowed out to me in an echo of deep bluster as we passed. I lost her in my rearview as we barreled on through woods.
Our enormous pearl white truck gripping the road through the temperate rainforest, we swept past the 1933 Tillamook Burn and a continuum of pinaceae, aromas of pinecones and needles and Christmas trees of youth infiltrated.
Just north of Castle Rock we exited the foliage and entered the foggy ocean coast of Pacific City. Adorned with Chief Kiwanda, a large haystack rock, it did nothing but beckon Sloth, Chunk, and Mama Fratelli. After frolicking to and fro on the cold grey sand among surfer boys and the girls who love them, adjacent to Cape Kiwanda trail, I held my token aloft. Squinting through one eye I saw it: the lighthouse, the rock and the restaurant all fit the doubloon. That must mean…that the rich stuff is near the restaurant.
With the cold October waves crashing toward us and Porcelina of the Vast Oceans calling from beneath Medellia of the Grey Skies, we tried to capture the seemingly endless sea to the curvature of the earth.
We sat at Pelican Brewpub watching the Pacific Ocean waves crash in away from the pink lemonade sunset. Keeping One-Eye out for Willy’s pirate ship, snacking on calamari and sipping a pale ale as gold as a pirate’s treasure chest.
Back in the Mississippi District of North Portland, the following morning found us for breakfast at Sweedeedee. Look, located next door to Mississippi Records this place is what I would confirm and verify as just about as Portland as it gets.
Your average Karen would not understand why people show up and wait in line for ninety minutes just to get in. Seats are scarce at Sweedeedee. People show up in bathrobes, walking dogs. I’ve read that Japanese tour groups arrive sometimes by the van full.
With Eno and Bowie on the turntable and a full on shelving unit full of cassette tapes, the home-y setting is not unlike what an extremely cool friend’s house might have to offer. Needless to say, for us the breakfast there was well worth the wait.
Gallivanting through Washington Park in the West Hills, we skipped about, whistling a tune, until we came across ten thousand rose bushes of six hundred and fifty varieties. The International Rose Test Garden, we came to find, takes in new rose cultivars from all over the planet in evaluation efforts on a spectrum from disease resistance, bloom formation, aroma, and color.
The fragrance of petals blended in greenery and filtered through cool, foggy Northwest air was a humidifying and relieving intoxicant to breath.
At Portland Japanese Garden which is also located in Washington Park, we followed the creek under a moon bridge where the upper and lower pond, that of neon orange koi, connected in front of Heavenly Falls.
The Entry Garden with cascading ponds welcomes travelers and continues in a zig along zags, via walk-up terraced stone pathways between firs and cedars illustrious along the hillside. Tiny vignette gardens in a Tsubo-Niwa Japanese garden style incorporate elements of warm stone and trickling water as one might meander through.
A one hundred year old, five-tier pagoda lantern greeted us, a gift from Sapporo, sister city to Portland. Ferns and mosses and bonsai did abound. The Sand and Stone Garden reveals raking patterns of karesansui tranquility, and the Tea Garden houses an authentic chashitsu, built in Japan and assembled on site in the 1960s.
We got lost in Marquam Hill trying to locate the Aerial Tramway. The electronic map on my phone lead us as a blue dot, over passeralle to dead end alley. U-turning on foot and after forty-five minutes of searching, finally ascending to a vacant parking lot on top of an Oregon Health and Science building. At last, we discovered the skybridge connecting the building to the 140-foot tall entrance tower housing a tramway counterweight.
The platform to the glorious bi-cable system toted twin vintage Airstream campers, designed in Switzerland to look like metallic bubbles floating through the sky. We were so tired we paid the toll, boarded the tram, and just had a nice sit.
As the pulley system rolled in to propulsion we sat back to the views of eastern metropolitan Portland, the Cascade Mountain Range, and Mount Saint Helens. The floating neo-futuristic cloud pod bobbed with the current of the breeze and birds chirps within the vroom of a hovercraft.
After gliding through the Mists of Avalon, the Sky Captain from the World of Tomorrow kicked the Aerial Tram spaceship in to dreamwave phase and drifted away into the clouds.
We coasted ever higher to the heavenly stratosphere above the molten igneous rock. Never to return and never to look back. Never to shed a tear, our celestial chrome chariot was the conveyance to the fifth point of the compass. We swished on through the vapor and we soaked through the cirrus. Directly in to a foggy eternity we sailed away, careless.