Portland’s Westside, Part 2 – Downtown

Continued from
Portland’s Westside, Part 1 – The Pearl District

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img_4939Downtown Portland is heavily focused on catering to the parents of university kids (there are about a dozen schools in town), but that doesn’t mean you need to be an empty-nester to have a good time here.

Most of the popular hotels can be found downtown, as well as some great historical buildings, cozy restaurants, a unique art museum…

Okay, so maybe I’m not selling this to a twenty-something crowd. But by your 38th birthday?  A whole lot of fun.

On our first trip to Portland, we stayed at the then-brand-new Hotel Lucia, a modernica overhaul of the previously stalwart Hotel Mariah. The polished pop-art lobby is nothing short of swank, and the rooms are streamlined but plush with plenty of space, oatmeal-shade fabrics, and dark wood. (The soft bed and cushy robes were a great comfort as we long ago watched Kerry finally express some passion in his first major debate with Bush. Fat lot of good that did.) The Lucia is set squarely on Broadway in the city’s center, and nothing happening in Portland escapes the concierge.  If it’s your first trip to town, we’d highly recommend staying here to get your bearings.

Downtown dining for us has so far been about breakfast and lunch. You could probably have a great dinner in Lucia’s restaurant, but we’ve used our dinners, in the past, to explore the rest of the city.

Lunch at the window table at The Park Bistro is a cozy, organic affair, perfect on a blustery autumn day. By all means have soup — their house Green Soup is veggie paradise in a bowl –and Adam tells (poor, gluten-challenged) me that their warm, house-made bread is tremendous. He smiled all the way through his pesto panini, and I was equally comforted by their modern twist on paella. Don’t miss their bellini menu and do linger over an Italian coffee, watching the construction that’s constantly transforming the neighborhood. (Note: Sadly, since this writing, The Park Bistro has closed.)

On two trips we’ve made a beeline for breakfast at Mother’s Bistro & Bar. Pretty as a tea cozy with none of the flounce, this airy place has tall windows, a vintage tin ceiling,  an excellent tea menu, gorgeous Belgian waffles and a killer Greek omelette. Come early, wait less, and see fleecy Portland natives in the wild.

On this latest trip, we finally made it to breakfast at The Heathman Hotel. (Magazines like Condé Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure tout this hotel as pure Portland.) The Heathman restaurant’s spare, quiet decor is pure Mad Men – not our favorite era for design. Within six minutes, though, we’d been put at ease by a sweet, funny waitress and beautiful cups of local tea. A few minutes more and we were wowed by the food; the fluffy eggs and crispy potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had. Everyone was gracious and seemed proud of this place, which was built in the late ’20s, fell into disrepair in the late ’40s, was revived in the ’60s, and is slowly being renovated yet again. We left with a spring in our step.

Not far from the Heathman and set on South Park amidst 19th-century churches and university buildings, treat yourself to the Portland Art Museum. You can immerse yourself in the work of contemporary emerging artists, period painters from the 1930s, First Nations carvings and sculpture, and vintage photography. We discovered this jewel on our last day here in 2006, and had to forcibly pull ourselves away to make it to the airport in time; leave at least two hours to do it right.

On this latest trip, my friend Wes Younie took us by the new design-y Ace Hotel to take in all the quirky details (reading cubbies made from rolled-up Army tents, a metal “A” on a balustrade) and to sniff the ambrosial caffeine air at Portland’s local Stumptown Coffee Roasters. We’re loyal fans of California’s Peet’s Coffee & Tea, but I gotta say, having a roaster onsite does up the sexy just a scoche.

Across the street from the Ace, we discovered a little nightlife downtown (that doesn’t require waiting in line to get picked by a bouncer) at the Living Room Theaters. This is a glowy little jazz club and bar with a warren of small, pristine theaters showing small, independent movies; we saw the poignant and suspenseful documentary, Man on Wire, about a rebellious Frenchman’s 1974 wire-walk between the Twin Towers.

With our feet up on a cushy leather cube, all around us people brought in their wine from the bar to enjoy at their leisure. Sophisticated and mature, to be sure — but still pretty cool.

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Continued in
Portland’s Westside, Part 3 – Chinatown & Old Town

See related posts
Portland’s Westside, Part 1 – The Pearl District
Portland’s Westside, Part 4 – Northwest & Nob Hill
Portland’s Westside, Part 5 – Washington Park
Portland’s Southeast Side
Portland’s Northeast Side
Portland On Our Minds
Falling Into the North Willamette Valley
By the Seaside…Oregon
TWT Travel Binder: Oregon

 

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