Portland, Oregon, united states
Portland may well be the most hipster city in the United States. Not that I've been everywhere but all signs so far point to 'yes'. And it is all the more loveable for it.
Descending the plane stairs directly into the open air, Portland felt positively balmy following on from the frigid chill of the Rocky Mountains. Sure, a coat was required clothing but the weather was quite mild for early winter. It all felt very familiar, like putting on well-worn shoes. Then came the light rail from the airport to Downtown, again so very comfortable and alighting at an open air mall, so uncanny. I don't usually compare a place directly to Melbourne, 'Melburnian' is a term I use to describe a standard of quality, but it turns out my home city has more than a sister out there in the world, Portland is a twin separated at birth. Add to the mix a dear friend who is a Melbournite-turned-New-Yorker and the next three days resulted in an immensely enjoyable romp; bouncing between cafes, bars, bookshops and delis. So, you know, normal life.
What intrigued me most about my short stay in Portland was that its culture writhes a layer beneath. It's not all out there flashing before your eyes as it is in New York or L.A. It appears when you emerge from a street of high rises onto an open square filled with bustling food trucks, or wander past some old billboards and suddenly the words 'I'm a fucking lady' leap out at you amongst the worn jumble. It's when you sit down to eat lunch and look out the window and realise you are staring at perhaps the most graceful mural you have ever seen. Shops like Made Here showcase the city's commitment to its uniqueness, to art and fashion and even chain stores like West Elm, Anthropologie and Made Well just blend right in with the local flavour.
Even more than its numerous bridges, Portland's attraction is its coffee and food culture. The birthplace of Stumptown, the city sits halfway on the spectrum between Melbourne's independent cafe style and the predominant US facsimile model. Supporting a strong community of third-wave, independent roasters, most cafes and eateries doing well in Portland you can find replicated in two or more locations. I loved the character of these venues and the coffee was spot on every time although I can't help but feel that each time a cafe is duplicated in another neighbourhood there is a little something that gets lost in translation.
Another example of Portland's brill dining scene, the Red Star Tavern was an easy venue for our last evening and a top recommendation from fellow instablogger @melbfoodstagram. For all our walking, talking and touring we went straight for the steak and chips. I paired it with some local craft brews on tap, a Double Mountain 'Vaporiser' and a Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen; and my friend with a nice drop of Soter Pinot Noir.
A slice of home! I heartily agree with Pacific Pie's philosophy: "Drink a pint, eat a pie and all is right with the world; Butter plus flour equals magic; Something delicious is always in season". A nice spot of anglo-Aussie meets US cuisine in North West Portland, the perfect place for ex-pats to satisfy a craving for a meat pie. Recommended by our fab Third Wave Coffee tour guide.
I am all on board with a city that can support a book store of this size. Taking up a full city block, Powell's is enormous and flatteringly frantic. Packed to the rafters with shoppers, I have to admire a town with such a love of books. Also for travellers, this is where you get your Portland souvenirs - and in hipster fashion they exude cool.
Third Wave Coffee Tours is an excellent way to explore the Oregonian coffee scene. We signed up for Thursday's Artisinal Donuts and Specialty Coffee tour and literally let owner Lora Woodruff lead us about by our noses. The tour gave fascinating insights into the local scene and gave us a stunning array of donuts to sample. We began at Coco Donuts and were offered two varieties of single origin drip coffee paired with our treats; at each donut stop our coffee was offered black and although I don't normally drink it that way I decided to get into the spirit and wasn't sorry. We walked from Coco to Local Roasting Co where we watched the magic at work, hearing the crack of the beans and smelling a freshly roasted batch. From there to Bluestar Donuts, who brewed an interesting, exclusive roast that Lora explained was designed to stand up to the strong flavours of the donuts - one being a sweet potato and sage number - you can't help but notice the perfect pairing. Our final stop on the tour was sampling a short macchiato from fine coffee purveyors, Barista, and we were lucky enough to take in a cupping session in progress. Wish I'd bought the He-Man tee - souvenir regrets!
My friend and I have a weakness for espresso martinis and I had Pépé's picked out well before I arrived in Portland. Owner Jeffrey Morgenthaler has quite the reputation as a mixologist magician and Pépé is consistently listed among the top cocktail spots in town. This little basement bar was like going down the rabbit hole; time seemed endless and everything fair shouted 'eat me! drink me!' Our espresso martinis were made with Stumptown, vodka and - unusually - a drop of lemon essence; so good it would have been rude to stop at just one. We gorged ourselves on the best bocadillos on the menu, including a Nutella and Jacobson's sea salt, can't wait to make that back home!
A retro arcade with alcohol, um how fast can I get there? A brilliant concept, Ground Kontrol features all the games you knew and loved as an 80s child at a quarter a game, serving a simple bar menu and some whacky nibbles your mother would never let you eat. Not a great place for conversation but with original Space Invaders, Pac-man and Tetris you only need to be able to say "in your face, I win!"
Another cafe that allows its customers to bathe in sunlight. It is a joy to sit in the window of Courier Coffee with a mason jar of caffe latte and while away the time chatting and people watching. Courier is a very smooth roast and the barista skilled in producing exactly the right ratio of milk so as not to overwhelm the flavour. Visit Joel's blog for an enjoyable read, he waxes poetic beautifully about all things coffee business: "Heating water is a science, but it can be an art as well if you are able to work with your senses. for us making coffee is part science, part art. we need some sort of scale, yet we also need to engage the senses that we have."
On a grey day in Portland, Kenny & Zuke's stands out like a ray of sunshine. The Deli is large and can seat quite a few but even when busy it still feels expansive. It is a casual, happy place committed to great pastrami. I was feeling a bit poorly and well on my way to a winter cold, so I indulged in the best chicken noodle soup I have ever tasted while my friend took on the aforementioned famous pastrami Reuben.