Keep yourself weird, Portland

Keep yourself weird, Portland

Craft beer in one of America’s kookiest places
By:
Elliot Wilson
There’s nowhere quite like Portland. The largest city in the northwest state of Oregon is also one of America’s kookiest places, proud of the ‘Keep Portland Weird’ slogan slapped on bumper stickers and emblazoned on T-shirts. Its most famous political son, Bud Clark, is a colourful businessman who ran the city for ten years in the 1990s, despite his predilection for opening his raincoat and ‘flashing’ a bronze sculpture of the naked female form. Yet Clark balanced the city’s books, brought in cycle lanes and trams, and is still widely revered. 
 
You don’t come here by accident. Portland is off the beaten track, overlooked by people who’d rather visit Seattle to the north and San Francisco to the south. Its airport, regularly voted the best in the US, is poorly served by international airlines. 
 
But those that do come are guaranteed a real treat. This is a place for romantics seeking a getaway and families in search of a place to breathe life in, and get away from the crazy side of Trump’s America. Forest Park, etched by hiking and off-road cycling trails, is the country’s largest urban wilderness. To the east, at the foot of the snowy massif of Mount Hood, stands the eerie Timberline Lodge, better known as the Overlook Hotel in the film adaption of The Shining. From May through July, when the rains ease and the sun shines, it hosts one of the world’s great rose festivals. 
 
While America’s more iconic cities have lost some of their allure in recent years, having sold out to property developers and private equity - think of the sterile homogenisation and cultural vacuity killing off San Francisco and New York – Portland retains its 1960s vibe. You half expect the Grateful Dead to rise from the grave to launch a comeback tour. Pedestrians still walk the streets staring dully in to their smartphones, but they wander slowly, with a grin not a grimace on their face.
 
Moreover, this is a seriously fun city, filled with eccentric hotels, fabulous restaurants and arresting diversions. There are more breweries here than you can shake a stick at, serving food ranging from the good to the downright great. There are beer tours by foot, by bike, and even by boat and bike, thanks to the BrewBarge, a kind of floating spin class that serves pints as you float down the Willamette River. 
 
For the full skinny on the city’s burgeoning breweries, turn to Hop in the Saddle, a guide to Portland’s craft beer scene, available from Powell’s on W Burnside in the heart of downtown – supposedly the world’s largest independent bookstore. A good place to start is Deschutes Brewery, a stone’s throw from Powell’s on NW 11th Avenue, and the Rogue Distillery and Public House on NW Flanders Street. 
 
In Southwest Portland (the city is divided into grids and districts), try Bailey’s Taproom on SW Broadway, a seriously modern brewpub with dozens of beers ranging from light ales to highly hopped beasts likely to get you drunk before sundown. Clyde Common on SW Stark St, with its Euro-chic vibe, serves popcorn dusted with pimenton, and cavatelli with sausage and rabbit leg. 
 
Or actually hop in the saddle (or hail a taxi) and head east across the Willamette, to a host of wonderful destinations, including the Laurelwood Public House & Brewery on NE Sandy Boulevard, to Breakside Brewery on NE Dekum, to Burnside Brewing on E Burnside, with its burgers seared in goose fat, and its crispy pig’s ear salad. 
 
This part of the city is changing fast as people move into Portland, attracted by the laissez-faire way of life and relatively low rents (though prices are rising sharply). Lower Burnside (or ‘LoBu’, as some wags want it to be known) caters to all tastes. There’s Mt Tabor Brewing, an aircraft hangar sized brewpub on SE 11th Ave, and Hungry Tiger on SE 12th, with its organic restaurant selling vegan corndogs. Up on E Burnside, you can find Fire on the Mountain, home to some of the hottest and best buffalo wings west of the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, birthplace of the spicy hot wing.
 
Portland is indeed a weird place, as other stories in our series make clear. Is it a great city? Maybe not. But it’s remarkably great fun. And isn’t that just as important?