Rain and Beer
The Pacific Northwest is a mystery to those coming out of the Midwest. Not that it should be. Today, we have the capability to take a stroll through nearly any major city in the world via Google Street View. But Portland has always been characterized as a city you have to visit to understand. And I was happy to oblige.
Portland was on an exclusive, admittedly pompous list I’ve concocted over the years of American cities I would be willing to pay airfare to visit, rather than wait for a work trip where all of my expenses would be covered, like Houston. (Sorry, fellas. Host me and prove me wrong!).
Prior to visiting, my knowledge of the city was limited to viewings of “Portlandia” and drinking healthy helpings of one of Portland’s all-star beers, Rogue Ales. My impression of Portland was a city of hipsters biking as if cars don’t exist, surrounded by street cars, pine trees and a constant, steady rain. I wasn’t too far off.
Long Live The Barista!
My first stop was at a Pacific Northwest staple — a café.
I parked just down the street from Blend Coffee Lounge on North Killingsworth Street in northern Portland. Unsurprisingly, it was raining. But unlike some Midwesterners who complain relentlessly over weather that could be considered even remotely inclement, I like the rain. Rain makes the world green, and tourism isn’t Ireland’s number one industry, because the rolling hills are starving for water.
The interior is small, but in a good way. I felt this odd, cozy feeling while sipping away on my chai tea latte that was decorated with a perfectly outlined leaf. Seriously, how do they do that? Long live the barista!
Portlanders of every stripe came and went during my half hour stay. They must all be regulars, because Blend doesn’t seem to have a website or any form of advertising other than Yelp reviews and write-ups in various Portland publications. That embarrassingly gooey feeling I described earlier must be a reflection of the neighborhood, because this was clearly a neighborhood establishment, thriving off the support of the local community.
My next stop was downtown Portland. I didn’t shop, nor was I interested in any of the sort. All I wanted to do was walk around and experience life as a temporary Portlander. Suffice it to say, me likey Portlander life.
Air Of Superiority
Streetcars. They’re freakin’ everywhere, and I loved it.
You see, I’m of the car-free variety. I try not to say that with the air of superiority that comes with it, but it’s inevitable. I get around (for the most part) without polluting our dying planet and turning into an obese blob, therefore, I am better than you. Deal with it.
(Hey, maybe I really am a Portlander!)
Besides the network of streetcrars, roads in downtown Portland are – for the most part – narrow, making it incredibly easy and enjoyable to walk around without feeling too lost. The streets were filled with an interesting mix of business professional Portlanders, and a handful of shabbily dressed individuals with bongo drums. I honestly couldn’t tell if these were the Portland hipsters I had heard about, Occupy Wall Street protestors, or the homeless.
Rain continued to bead down at a steady pace. Everyone except the aforementioned hipster-protestor-homeless crowd had an umbrella, which it seems Portlanders rarely leave home without. Even when it wasn’t raining, it was probably about to.
Interestingly, there were those who had an umbrella and simply didn’t use it, as if to say, “This isn’t real rain.” I joined that crowd on my way to Tugboat Brewing Company to partake in another Portland staple — beer. And then more beer.
Tugboat Brewing Company
Tugboat is hidden around the corner from Southwest Broadway Street on Southwest Ankeny Street. You’ll find it if you’re looking for it.
Inside is an entirely different world from your typical microbrew. The hole-in-the-wall brewery greets you with shelves of books and boardgames before making it to the bar. About five stools are gathered around the taps, or there are a handful of modestly sized tables and booths if you’re there to kick your friend’s ass in Operation.
I sat at the bar, as is generally my habit with breweries I’m visiting for the first time. Next to me was a guy about my age who noticed my Cleveland Indians hat. Turned out, he too was was visiting from Northeast Ohio, proving what I’ve long known to be true. We’re everywhere.
The beer itself was good. At least, I remember enjoying the beer, but haven’t the slightest recollection of what specifically I drank. Perhaps that simply means I was really enjoying it. Or maybe it was the rare instance where the atmosphere was more interesting than the beer I was drinking, and that’s not a knock on the beer by any means.
A Taste Of Peru In The Pearl
The rest of my time was spent mostly in Portland’s Pearl neighborhood, still on the west side of the Willamette River that bisects the city. In fact, my next two stops were around the corner from one another, Rogue Public House and Andina Restaurant.
Chronologically speaking, I visited Rogue first, but we’ll visit Andina first so I don’t come off completely like an alcoholic.
Andina on Northwest Gilsan Street off Northwest 13th Avenue serves Peruvian cuisine and the catchy slogan, “A taste of Peru in the Pearl.” You win, marketing. You win.
This being my first taste of Peruvian eats and being equipped with only a mild understanding of Spanish, I hadn’t a clue of what to order. But I was hungry and willing to eat anything they dropped in front of my fangs. Luckily whatever the Hell I ordered was delicious. And it’s always a good thing when I walk away with a pleasantly full stomach and am completely disinterested in the bill.
Dinner was with some lifelong Portlanders and transplants. Nearly all of them lived in Pearl. It was a chance to get a sense of what life in Portland really is like, beyond the stereotypes I’ve heard thousands of miles away, and the assumptions I was creating during my short time there. Turns out, Portland isn’t perfect.
People in Cleveland often characterized just about any other city as inherently better, without ever having visited. In fact, I’d bet a majority of folks in the Greater Cleveland area would dub Portland a better city.
But Portland isn’t without the problems every other city experiences. What I found most interesting talking with these locals is that they very easily could have been talking about Cleveland when describing life in Portland. One gentleman described a shooting that recently took place in the middle of the day around the corner from where we were eating. Walking to Andina’s, I noticed a more than a handful of abandoned and boarded up buildings, covered in graffiti along broke sidewalks.
This certainly isn’t anything to celebrate, and that’s not to say they didn’t have plenty of great things to say about Portland. They did. But folks in so-called “fly-over” country too often develop fictional ideas of what life is like in the coasts. Portland isn’t Utopia. There’s crime, poverty, and people who struggle on a daily basis, just as there are in every other city in the country. And they don’t pretend otherwise, like New Yorkers who ceaselessly beat their “Greatest city in the world!” drum. Portlanders are authentic.
Besides. Portland hasn’t wanted to be Utopia ever since “Animal Farm” made it cool.
Rogue Public House
Our last stop is the one place I knew I’d find as soon as I found out I was going to Portland. Rogue Distillery and Public House.
Rogue and I have a special bond. She (we’re calling her she) was with me the night I turned 21 — that holiest of ages where you no longer have to tell your mother you feel miserable because of too much apple juice last night.
Sitting on the corner of Northwest Flanders Street and Northwest 14th Avenue, Rogue is easy to find. The off-white exterior and burnt red roof are part of what seems to be some sort of classy western design. I imagine this is the type of building Davey Crockett and company would have defended near the Alamo. Hell, I’d defend it. Their beer is, after all, pretty damn tasty.
38 taps are on hand, but I knew exactly what I was getting — Dead Guy, a German Maibock brew that was with me the night I made the secular leap into manhood.
They say Guinness tastes better in Ireland. I don’t know if I was simply overexcited to be in Portland, drinking one of my favorite beers, or if it was all in my head. But that Dead Guy in Oregon was one of the most delicious, completely satisfying, (and a whole slew of exaggeratedly descriptive words) beers I’ve ever had the pleasure of drinking. That beer alone might have been worth the 2,500 mile trip and ungodly expensive airfare. Suffice it to say, I went home happy.
It’s funny how Portland’s “negative” stereotypes are actually positive. I can’t imagine calling someone “environmentally conscious” during an argument. And as far as the weather goes, I liked it. People will bitch and moan about the rain all they want. Bottom line, you can’t have beautiful green surroundings without some rainy days. It’s worth being forced to constantly carry an umbrella. Or you can just be like some Portlanders and become one with the rain. Either way, I’ll certainly to be back to visit the umpteen breweries I missed this time around, and to explore more of the city by streetcar.