“Hmmm. What a lovely room of death,” I thought upon walking into a most unusual store stocked with all manner of taxidermied, mummified, and otherwise deceased creatures. I would be exaggerating if I said that that the variety of unusual articles offered by the shop was downright terrifying, but the vibe erred well onto the side of spooky. Despite my misgivings about the overwhelming presence of dead animals, the store’s singularity and the pleasant nonchalance of its staff made my visit memorable, to say the least. Where does one find such a store? Why, in Portland, Oregon, of course.
A mere 6 hour drive southwest of Spokane lies fabled Portland, a Mecca for beer lovers and connoisseurs of the charmingly peculiar. Prior to my most recent trip, I hadn’t visited the Beaver State for several years, nor had I made brewery-hopping an objective of my visit. A number of sources informed me that there was far more to Portland than the obvious draws, like Powell’s City of Books, Hopworks Urban Brewery, and Voodoo Doughnuts, though, heaven knows, I couldn’t help but check them out (again), anyway. This trip, I resolved to jump off of my previously beaten path so that the question wouldn’t be what was I going to do, but what wasn’t I going to do?
I ate tofu at a small neighborhood restaurants I’d never heard of with signature cocktails served in (what else?) wide-mouthed Mason jars. I satiated a spontaneous fit of curiosity by popping into a comic book store that just happened to catch my eye. I was utterly enamored by the outrageous combination of pear-blue cheese and IPA-upside down cake ice creams served up in a homemade waffle cone (totally worth the twenty minute wait). I proved to my cousin that perfect strangers regularly walk up to me and ask me questions about the store/brewery/park we’re in for reasons largely unbeknownst to me. I watched the most magnificent group of nerds reenact a classic Star Trek episode (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) at a packed outdoor amphitheater. I drank a beautiful golden British ale whose flavor elicited a delightful slew of childhood memories. I bought more books than I honestly need or have the time to read, and I escaped from a doughnut shop without being accosted by maple-bacon-loving passersby. I had a packed, exhausting, and completely fantastic weekend in P-town.
The quarter-day drive home allowed me to plenty of time to reflect on the weekend that was, and I realized that the unfamiliar wasn’t quite as foreign as I’d feared it may have been. I already knew full-well that Mason jars make for excellent glasses and that it’s never a bad idea to drop into a new bookstore. I knew that a fresh beer in the sun with a good friend is one of life’s simplest and greatest pleasures and that seemingly bizarre flavor combinations will often surprise you in a very good way. Truthfully, though some of the content differed, the feel and presentation of the places I visited in Portland were not too unlike those found in my own hometown of Spokane.
Spokane has its own local book haven (Auntie’s), an eccentric doughnut shop that sells its goods in eye-catching pink boxes (Dawn of the Donut), and a slew of top-notch breweries (No-Li, Iron Goat, 12 String, etc.). Brain Freeze Creamery has been known to produce a few off-centered flavors (cinnamon ice cream with lentils, anyone?), and Manito Park frequently plays host to outdoor concerts throughout the warmer months. The idyllic South Perry neighborhood, even without a shop full of dead animals, could fit right in to the quietly lively retail strips that dot the ‘burbs of PDX.
I love to excurse out of town whenever I can; there are far too many places to visit and experiences to try to be content sitting at home every weekend. Nevertheless, most of my weekends are, indeed, spent in here, in my hometown. I absolutely adored Portland, and I’d jump at an opportunity to spend more time there. However, since that is not the case at present, I’m glad that I’ve taken the time to ponder what it was I really enjoyed the most about the City of Roses, for that reflection has allowed me to see a little bit of it in the Lilac City. I don’t need to travel across the state and over a river to recreate some of the best parts of such a unique city. My own little slice of Portland has been hiding here, in plain sight, all along.