Discover Northwest Portland
Chances are, if you're young, don't know anyone, and are new to Portland, NW Portland is the district in which you'll first live because it's made up of model 20-minute neighborhoods that are just a stone's throw from the city center. Its historic walk-ups and high-rise condos make it a favorite of students, young professionals and families, which also make it one of the city's most densely populated districts. It's a popular destination for shopping and dining with historic and trendy neighborhoods like Chinatown and the Pearl District, and also includes Portland's industrial and shipping districts. And, at its most northern point lies one of the county's largest urban parks, Forest Park—a temperate rain forest that's a daytime destination for the city's hikers, bikers and casual strollers.
See and Do
Cinema 21 features primarily first runs of alternative and independent movies, and the rising cost of ticket prices at the major theaters has helped the theater gain in attendance, as has its reputation for landing high-profile local premieres. After showing movies continuously for 85 years, undergoing three name changes since 1926, Cinema 21 has established itself as Portland’s leading destination for art house and indie movies.
First Thursday Art Walk
More than 25 years ago, a group of Portland art dealers planted the seeds for what's become the Pearl District’s signature event: a First Thursday art walk where dozens of galleries launch new exhibits on the first Thursday of each month and open their doors to the public. With complimentary wine and nibbles often on hand, upwards of 10,000 people fill art spaces and spill onto the streets. During the warmer months, wander amid the raised loading docks of the brick warehouses along Historic 13th Avenue at the outdoor street gallery, and explore frequent pop-up shops, happy hour samplings, and other music and entertainment in the evening hours. With activities happening anywhere between 5 and 10 p.m., the popularity of First Thursday extends into the surrounding neighborhoods with events taking place in Downtown, Old Town and Nob Hill as well, but be sure to check individual gallery websites to see what’s happening where.
Founded by lifelong pinball and classic video game enthusiasts, Ground Kontrol “celebrates and preserves arcade gaming's ‘golden age’ by operating over 100 of the best video games and pinball machines from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s,” according to its website, as well as offering a full bar and snacks, which you can put away while seated at glowing tables. Bask in the warmth of buzzing, chiming machines and the luminescence of the retro-futuristic, TRON-inspired interior where white- and indigo-hued fiber-optic lighting and LEDs line the stairs and archways as DJs spin a fresh variety every night. The long-running Rock Band Tuesdays, dubbed “karaoke for gamers,” will allow you to pick up plastic instruments and rock out using pro gear (microphones, guitar and keyboard controllers, drum mod), lights and sound (PA system, audio monitors), but before you head home for the night, be sure to make your way to the restrooms to check out the floor mosaics—Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, respectively.
The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium
If you've yet to visit this off-the-beaten-path museum of oddities, you might be wondering what exactly is the Peculiarium? Well, what isn't it? It's home to an alien autopsy exhibit, a 10-foot Bigfoot, a working theremin, and an ice cream bar where you can get sundaes topped with freeze-dried mealworms and stingerless scorpions. And if you're looking for fun, gag candy, you'll not be disappointed—the Peculiarium carries everything from Pop Rocks to candied blood to something called "Genuine Aeromatic Granules of Unicorn," or, more simply, sugar. There’s even tequila-flavored candies (that include the worm) for grown-ups and candy cigarettes for the kids. And if you think eating chocolate-covered insects sounds like a walk in park (because those are sold at the Peculiarium as well), then you can challenge yourself by picking up a pack of Blazin Novas, which look like lemon drops but taste a little spicier—they've been dusted with ghost chili powder.
Lan Su Chinese Garden
An isolated piece of tranquility in the center of the hectic Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood, Lan Su Chinese Garden occupies an entire city block and houses hundreds of unique and unusual native Chinese plant species as well as the five elements of a Chinese garden—rocks, water, plants, architecture and literary inscriptions—harmoniously blended together inside its walls. Striving “to recreate an ideal landscape in miniature,” the garden is a peaceful place to wander or take tea while you ponder an ancient culture or just get lost in your own thoughts.
Eat and Drink
A lot of restaurateurs have appropriated the Spanish concept of tapas, but residents of NW Portland just got themselves a bona fide tapas restaurant to frequent, complete with a cozy bar and several long tables that seat up to 60. According to co-owner Cristina Báez, Ataula (pronounced ah-TAU-luh) is the Catalan word that, when shouted, calls everyone to the table. (In Spain, she says, no one ever misses a meal.) But, the star of the show is her husband Jose Chesa, an award-winning chef who honed his skills by exploring the cosmopolitan cooking styles found in his native Barcelona, and augmented them with the disparate ingredients and techniques he found during weekend visits with his grandfather in the north and grandmother in the south. Expect paella (meaty and vegan), as well as salt cod croquettes, squid ink tempura, housemade ice creams, a selection of cavas, bold Spanish reds, a housemade sangria (made with sous-vide fruit in brandy), and Sunday Spanish brunches. Báez says there's also a late-night bar menu to round out the true tapas experience.
Boke Bowl West
Brannon Riceci and Patrick Fleming’s second noodle shop is in many ways just like their original eastside shop. In fact, the food menu (ramen, rice bowls, steamed buns and homemade Twinkies) is identical. But this 60-seater is, in a lot of ways, different too. Its digs are modern (it’s located on the ground floor of The Addy directly on the streetcar line); its bar is a full one (capped off by bottled and carbonated signature gin fizz and Bee’s Knees mixers); it has outdoor seating (enough for another 40 sun-seekers); and come December, it’ll offer weekend dim sum brunches.
New York City-style bagels have landed in Old Town coming from an old family recipe that's been tweaked and extrapolated for mass production by owner and NYC native Michael Madigan (who, with his wife Lynn, also operates KitchenCru and Remedy Wine Bar). But to prove that they aren’t carpetbaggers—they’ve lived in Portland for decades—they've named their breakfast and lunch bagel sandwiches after historically prominent Old Towners (Benjamin Stark, John Fremont, Asa Lovejoy). Choose from among 14 bagel flavors and a dozen schmears (including two vegan versions), which you can pair with sides like kale chips and weekly rotating deli soups and salads. Then, wash it all down with Stumptown coffee, Hotlips soda or homemade lemonades. In fact, everything—save for Bowery’s pickles—is made in-house, and don’t forget to sample the Madigans’ MSG bagels (miso, soy and ginger), which are only available Friday through Sunday.
Cool Moon Ice Cream
In Northwest Portland, Cool Moon is the resident handmade ice cream shop with over 28 flavors to choose from, including four non-dairy options. Their long list of flavors brings about an air of international flair. Lychee sorbet sits alongside Thai iced tea ice and black sesame-flavored ice cream reminiscent of some trip to Asia. Their kulfi flavor is a nod to an Indian dessert made from pistachio and cardamom with a splash of rosewater. Saffron sunshine, Saigon cinnamon and spicy Thai chili (made with coconut, chili and hot peanut and hot chili—wow) will transport you to another land with every lick of your ice cream cone.
If you were to dream up the ideal model for a neighborhood drinkery, your mind would paint a picture that closely resembles Jeremy Campbell's M Bar. It's candlelit, it's got a carefully selected wine and beer list, and it's open till 2:30 a.m. every day of the year—making it a favorite spot for service industry vets. But, it's remained a neighborhood go-to mostly because, as bartender Anna Klement says, "Somebody will always need a drink." Yet more than anything, it's a great place to meet people (you'll find they're probably just neighbors you haven't met yet) in an environment that's safe and comforting. In fact, it would be uncommon not to be drawn into the room's conversation. The reserve wine list includes several bottles of very distinguished Champagnes, reds and whites, but if that weren't enough, M Bar's draft Guinness might be the best you've ever had. Klement explains that because the line that runs from the keg to the tap is the shortest—and therefore, the cleanest—in the city, M Bar pours a Guinness with a dark body and creamy head that’s probably the best in town.
Mediterranean Exploration Company
John and Renee Gorham’s highly anticipated, Mediterranean-inspired restaurant is now open in the Pearl District spot once home to the seafood restaurant Riffle NW. Expect the same quality of drinks and eats that have made their other restaurants (Toro Bravo, Tasty n Sons, Tasty n Alder) must-go destinations. Menu items include falafel, labneh, tomato fritters, fried anchovies, lamb gyros, Greek lamb chops, prawns, and grilled octopus served with piquillo peppers and dill. The signature cocktail list gets a Mediterranean twist too, with drinks like the Casablanca (three kinds of rum, lime, date sugar and rose water) and the Turkish Delight (vodka, Ceylon tea, lemon, orange bitters and orange blossom water). And the best news of all? Unlike the Gorham’s other spots, MEC takes reservations.
Mi Mero Mole West
If you like the tacos, burritos and meaty, stewed guisados found on Mi Mero Mole’s east side menu, then a trip to owner Nick Zukin’s Old Town digs won’t disappoint. The thing is, Mi Mero Mole West offers a lot more things than you can get across the river—a whole lot more. To wit: The space is open for both lunch and dinner six days a week. There’s a fully stocked bar with 60 different kinds of tequila and mezcal that you can use to flavor as many as seven signature margaritas, as well as 10 taps including a pair reserved for cider and another that pours a locally brewed, gluten-free IPA. There’s a bar menu with discounted items—think nachos, flautas and duros for $5 a pop—and daily specials such as a burrito, shot and beer for just $10. And finally, there are a pair of big-screen TVs tuned to Timbers and Blazers games for those interested in a longer, lingering dining (and drinking) experience.
Even after going through several name changes during its first few years (and an equally long spell without even a sign to mark it), the Paymaster Lounge has quickly become a Slabtown anchor. It could be the fact that the bar is cool, but not too cool for school. It could be because of the pinball and Ms. Pac-Man machines, or the patio pool table, or the 80-seat covered and heated patio itself (which is also home to Sunday night bingo matches). It could be the casual but quality eats (especially the cheeseburgers), or the fact that the owners know that you dig cocktails made with freshly squeezed juices and infused liquors. It probably has something to do with the countless old-school domestic beer signs and lamps that line the walls, or the black-and-white vintage photo booth, or the oddly charming vending machine that’s stuffed with obscure DVDs and pregnancy tests. But if you’ve been here, you already know that all of these customs and quirks are just a few of your favorite Paymaster things, which is why you come here (often) in the first place.
Remedy Wine Bar
First, there was Michael and Lynn Madigan’s startup food lab, KitchenCru, followed in 2011 by theirs and Dan Beekley's neighboring wineshop, CorksCru. Now, enter the Madigans’ stylish 44-seat wine bar that’s literally located around the corner. Michael Madigan says the wine list is comprised mainly of old world reds, whites and sparklings (although a quarter of the stock is produced in the Pacific Northwest), and is augmented by bottles and cans of Oregon beers and "lowtails," or low-alcohol cocktails (think liqueurs, vermouths and bitters). Also available is a seasonal, substantial and weekly changing food menu designed by chef Ingrid Chen, as well as cheese plates authored by cheesemonger Norine Mulry, whom the Madigans consider to be one of our city’s best.
You may not realize it, but every aspect of Daniel Shoemaker's popular cocktail lounge was carefully designed to make sure your afternoon or evening out is a singular experience—the subtleties are quietly celebrated in the details. The island bar was designed to allow you to comfortably communicate with companions three stools down or with new friends across the room. The street-side windows are opened when it's warm, linking the outdoors with the in. And then there are the drinks. Shoemaker estimates the lounge's cocktail Rolodex is comprised of nearly 400 original, classic and interpretative drinks (gleaned from friends in the industry) made with fresh fruits, (often) obscure ingredients, and handcrafted bitter tinctures that give the bartenders a lot of space in which to play. But don't let that intimidate you. Shoemaker's staff is there not just to serve you, but to understand what you like and learn what you may like. A good bartender, he says, is more than just the sum of knowledge and technique—he or she is, above all, a welcoming host.
Betsy & Iya
Betsy & Iya has made a name for itself nationally with its popular jewelry selection. The Portland-based company's central location in Northwest offers many of its signature jewelry pieces along with a selection of clothes and other accessories. Will Cervarich, husband of Betsy Cross, who designs the jewelry, says that the shop is a reflection of his wife’s stylistic tastes. “She has hand-selected everything in the shop, so it all stems from her sense of fashion and what’s beautiful or striking in some way,” he says. As for the jewelry, which is made in the NW Thurman location, Cevarich describes Betsy & Iya’s wares as “fashion forward, affordable… It’s a play of perpendicularity, so all of the jewelry is bold, but you might find intricate or smaller pieces to it.”
After moving to Portland from Sonoma County—where she owned clothing and interior design shops—Patricia Zanger found herself in a mild quandary once the leaves fell and the rains began: She was cold and needed a hat, but after searching the city, couldn't find one she liked. So, she went about finding that hat and then opened a new shop so that others could find theirs too. At present, Zanger's shop carries about 500 hats in 600 different styles—beanies, caps, fedoras, cloches and slouchies—meant for everyday use. If you visit her shop and still can't find what you're looking for, you can help Zanger design your own one-of-a-kind hat, which you can then accessorize with Bonnet's many scarves, umbrellas, mittens and fingerless gloves.
Child’s Play has been your one-stop toy shop for newborns to early teens since 1979—and since 1995, it’s been owned and operated by Pat and Dale Fiedler. Not only will you find board games, puzzles, blocks, dollhouses, Legos and tea party sets, but you’ll also encounter, on certain days, activities like crafting sessions, puppet shows, and each November, Star Wars Day—an annual fundraiser for Chapman Elementary where your kiddos can meet costumed heroes and antiheroes. The shop is such a neighborhood fixture that the men and women who played there as kids are now buying their own kids toys at Child’s Play.
John Connor’s long known that Portland is crawling with talented makers, but if you wanted to check out their goods, you either had to surf the web or visit dozens of random shops around town. So, he enlisted the help of Bob Davis (Lizard Lounge) and folks from the Sterrins Group to put all of these makers’ disparate products together under one roof. The result looks a lot like a cross between a museum and its gift shop in a big space directly across the street from the heavily foot-trafficked Powell’s City of Books. Looking for an axe? Made Here carries the refurbished ones Trust Co. makes. How about those other axes (the acoustic and electric types)? Made Here carries those, too, by Pledger and RBG guitars, respectively. You can find messenger bags (Blaqpaks), Mason jar French presses (Bucket), French roast beans (Extracto, Ristretto Roasters, Sauvie Island Coffee Company), leather goods (Walnut Studiolo, Orox, One Man Made), scarves and ties (Kiriko), sweaters and letterman jackets (Dehen), technical outdoor gear (NW Alpine), chocolates (Pitch Dark Chocolate), cocktail syrups (RAFT Syrups), drinking vinegars (Pok Pok Som), hand-cut rock and mineral jewelry (Alison Jean Cole), table linens, pillows and clutches (Anna Joyce Design), and, of course, bowties (Harding & Wilson). In all, the shop’s filled with goods by more than 60 local makers, including some by Nial McGaughey, who not only builds custom guitar amplifiers, but who also put together the shop’s motorcycle using parts from 30 different bikes sourced from all over the world. And yes, it runs, and yes, it’s for sale.
Oblation Papers & Press
Jennifer Rich compares her wholesale and retail urban paper mill, which she owns with her husband, Ron, to a Paris flea market, "because you never know what you're going to find,” she explains. The shop carries a wide selection of letterpress and locally designed greeting cards, pencil cases, wrapping paper, paper weights, and business card cases. And lately, Oblation has even begun carrying vintage typewriters and fountain pens. The Riches also offer gift wrapping services for a small fee, which is waived if the gift comes from the shop. Of course, their true expertise lies in their letterpress printing services, which provide Portlanders with wedding and party invitations as well as graduation and birth announcements on a variety of handmade and recycled papers. And every October, they give back to their community by halving the paper and printing costs of personalized stationery and business cards.
A Portland landmark since the ‘70s, it’s not called the City of Books for nothing. The mother of all independent bookstores occupies an entire city block (and then some, with the adjacent Bldg. 2 housing technical books) and carries “more than a million new, used and out-of-print books.” Proudly calling itself “the largest independent bookstore in the world”—a crown we’ll gladly concede—the massive tome-filled floors (covering 68,000 square feet) may be loaded with every imaginable literary genre (technically, “122 major subject areas and more than 3,500 subsections”), but it’s also a hub of activity and socializing with some 3,000 people purchasing books every day and “another 3,000 people just browsing and drinking coffee.” Consistently named one of America's best bookstores, it’s all too easy to spend hours perusing the shelves unorthodoxly mixed with new and used titles. Powell’s hosts frequent book signings, readings, art showings, and a weekly kids storytime, plus ambitious, enterprising types can attempt to make some extra scratch by selling your own books—but fair warning, you may be hard pressed to make it out of the store with that cash intact.