A weekend getaway to the City of Roses - or, shall we say, the City of Beer - is a great way to erase the mid-November blahs.
After 50 hours in downtown Portland, using the historic Benson Hotel as home base, I came away with a greater appreciation for what the city has to offer a visitor from the north side of the Columbia River, including samplings from four of the city’s 30 microbreweries.
Here’s how the action-packed weekend unfolded:
We drove the 100 miles south from Olympia in a driving rain, but made it safely to the doorway to the grand old Benson. There, the bellhop whisked us through the elegant lobby featuring Italian marble floors, Austrian crystal chandeliers and rich dark walnut paneling from Russia and into our sixth-floor room.
Turns out that my mother and father spent their honeymoon night at The Benson Hotel nearly 62 years ago.
“You might have been conceived there,” my dad said with a chuckle after hearing where we stayed on our trip.
Back outside, we went for a brisk walk through the Pearl District, a neighborhood of old warehouses and light-industrial buildings now home to boutiques, bistros, brew pubs, bakeries and other beacons of urban renewal.
We ate lunch at BridgePort Brewery, which was founded in a former rope factory in 1984 and is Oregon’s oldest craft brewery. With lunch, we had their seasonal Ebenezer Ale, a mahogany-colored winter warmer with a creamy head and full-bodied flavor. It ranked as my favorite beer of the weekend.
Then we hoofed it to Powell’s City of Books on Burnside Street, a must-visit store for anyone who loves books. This 68,000-square-foot maze of rooms – color-coded by topic – takes up an entire city block with a commingling of 1 million used and new books, making Powell’s the largest independent bookseller in the world.
I browsed for two hours, bought five books and spent less than $60, which is less time, fewer books and less money than during my previous visits.
On Friday night we crossed the Willamette River to the Hawthorne neighborhood in southeast Portland for some more pub crawling. This neighborhood has a weathered, counterculture feel to it, typified by the Lucky Labrador brew pub housed in an old roofing and sheet metal warehouse. The pub fare – spicy peanut curry over chicken, rice and vegetables – was savory, and the Dog Day IPA was hoppy enough for my taste.
The walls were adorned with hundreds of photographs of dogs, mostly black and yellow Labradors. My thoughts turned to the dog I left at home – Jake, my Lab-retriever mix. He’d like the patio outside, where dogs are welcome.
The second and final stop of the night in the Hawthorne district was at Roots Organic Brewing, a Hawaiian-themed brew pub where the server forgot us for 30 minutes and the red ale was forgettable.
Midmorning Saturday we walked a few blocks east of the hotel to the Portland Saturday Market under the west end of the Burnside Bridge, one of the many bridges that span the Willamette River in downtown Portland.
The market is a colorful collection of arts and crafts booths and ethnic food stands. The market stroll included some “it’s a small world” moments, including conversations with two vendors with Tumwater connections and a chance encounter with Intercity Transit marketing director Meg Kester and her husband, Greg.
They, too, were in the midst of a Portland getaway weekend.
Portland had the good planning sense 35 years ago to replace a riverside freeway with a 22-block-long waterfront park named after Tom McCall, the Oregon governor from 1967-75. Near the north end of the park, next to the market, sits the Japanese American Historical Plaza dedicated to the some 110,000 Japanese Americans deported from their homes and farms in Washington, Oregon and California to internment camps during World War II.
The plaza features cherry trees, a grassy expanse and rock sculptures inscribed with haiku and other poems. This one, in particular, caught my eye:
Through the car window
A glimpse of pines.
My heart beats faster
Next was a visit to the Portland Japanese Garden, nestled in the scenic hills west of downtown in Washington Park. Peace and tranquility await the visitors as they wind through more than 5 acres on stone paths and bridges past ponds, trees, shrubs, ferns, and a sand and stone garden typical of a Zen monastery.
The spectacular view of Mount Hood from outside the garden pavilion was shielded by clouds, but the flanks of the volcano were partly visible, adding to the allure of the garden.
I’ll bet my blood pressure and pulse rate dropped measurably during our garden visit.
We capped the afternoon with a visit to the Laurelwood Public House in Portland’s Nob Hill neighborhood. The historic Victorian houses mirrored the San Francisco neighborhood of the same name.
The Benson Hotel’s location paid dividends again when it turned out to be a short walking distance to dinner at Jake’s Famous Crawfish, a top-notch seafood restaurant that has been a fixture in downtown Portland since 1892.
I had the Columbia River sturgeon, a meaty white fish that had a subtle aftertaste akin to its deep-river habitat. Accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots, it was Pacific Northwest cuisine at its beast.
On Sunday morning we climbed into the car for the two-hour trip back to Olympia, loaded with fond Portland memories and already looking forward to a return trip.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444