A quick girls’ getaway to Portland: A concert in Vancouver, vintage clothes shopping, books, brunch, a creepy cafe, a horror theme bar, and some fabulous food.
I love Portland. It seems that I never run out of things to see and do there. It is a mecca for food, craft beer, vintage clothing stores, doughnuts, and strip clubs. This is the second of several posts you will see probably see on Portland, because it really never gets old. This weekend was a quick girls trip to Vancouver and Portland, and we got to explore a little more of downtown and the Buckman neighborhood in Southeast Portland.
One major drawback about heading down to Portland from Seattle on Friday is the traffic. My friends Brooke and Cass and I left Seattle at noon, and arrived at our Vancouver hotel just north of the Oregon border at 4:30. On Friday, the rush hour traffic is the worst, and you hit Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, and Vancouver’s traffic on I-5 on the way there.
There isn’t much to see in Vancouver, it is kind of a suburb city in Washington just outside of Portland. We were there to see the Courtney Love and Lana Del Rey show at the Sleep Country Amphitheater. We stayed at the Quality Inn and Suites nearby, which was nice and affordable at $89 a night.
We arrived hungry and tired of being in the car. Billygan’s Roadhouse was right across the street from our hotel, so we went over there for a bite to eat before the show. Paddy and I have eaten breakfast there twice on the way home from Portland, and their breakfast was good.
Billygan’s is one of those places that gives you free peanuts and you throw your shells on the floor. Always a good time.
The food is your standard American diner/pub fare, and it’s pretty good. Cass and Brooke each had the baked potato and salad deal, and I had the teriyaki chicken burger with a side salad. Billygan’s is a pretty solid road trip stop-off, signs for it are posted on the freeway.
This was our first show at the Sleep Country Amphitheater. We had chosen the cheapest assigned seats in the back. There was a lawn area behind us with even cheaper admission, but we were glad we didn’t go for the lawn. The view looked bad, you had to fight for a spot (and keep it saved), and there was no cover for rain. The assigned seats are worth it.
Beer, wine, and snacks are served all over the courtyard outside the amphitheater, and you have to get a wristband for adult beverages from one of the little wristband kiosks walking in.
The amphitheater was quite the teen summer fashion parade. The shorts are very short this year, and the waistbands are high. There were so many girls with fake flower crowns on that I kept looking at the merch booths to see if they were selling them but they weren’t.
After a 45 minute diva-like late start, Courtney Love took the stage. We were surprised that her show was actually not bad, with some old Hole covers and a few new (albeit not so great) songs. She gave the audience shit about the plethora of flower crowns throughout the whole show. She was pretty entertaining, but I don’t think there were that many Hole fans in the audience. Most of the audience looked like they hadn’t even been born until the mid to late 90’s.
Lana Del Rey put on a great show, with an elaborate set. Her dress made me think of Alice in Wonderland.
After the show, it took us an entire hour to get out of the parking lot, and there were still a ton of cars behind us–who knows how long it took them to get out. Fortunately we were staying nearby, but it was a pain in the ass. Everything else was efficient and easy about the amphitheater, but the traffic back to I-5 was a total clusterfuck.
Cass had to head back to Seattle for a wedding, so Brooke and I were on our own for 24 hours in Portland. I’m a loyal Lyft customer back in Seattle, especially since when I first signed up for Lyft this winter and received a $20 ride credit towards my first 10 rides if used in a week. I figured Uber had to have some sort of sign up deal as well, so I signed up for Uber and found a $25 off your first ride coupon on Retailmenot.com. Our ride from Vancouver to downtown Portland ended up being only $7.00.
**Tip: If you haven’t used them before, wait and sign up for Lyft or Uber when you need an expensive ride somewhere and see what kind of deals you can get on your first ride.
I’d looked at brunch spots in downtown Portland and we decided on Tasty N Alder. There was an hour and a half wait, but we got on the list and gave our cell number, and then walked a couple of blocks over to Powell’s City of Books.
Powell’s is the book store to end all book stores. I visit it every time I visit Portland. They have a map at the front entrance to help you navigate the sections, and there are plenty of information clerks to help you find something specific. Best of all, they have used books and new books on the shelves, together in harmony. If there are six copies of the book you want, you can check the price on each one and decide how used or new you are willing to pay for. Powell’s is also a great spot for Portland souvenirs–they have lots of coffee mugs, guide books, and other fun items from the Northwest. (You always wanted a log pillow so you can be like the log lady from Twin Peaks, right? Powell’s will hook you up.)
Right as we were wrapping it up at Powell’s, Brooke got a phone call from Tasty N Alder that our table was ready.
Tasty N Alder was definitely worth the wait. They have a bunch of unique small plates and larger entrees, all meant to be shared. Sort of like a brunch tapas bar. Also on the menu is a selection of brunch cocktails and boozy milkshakes (called “grown-ass milkshakes.”).
I went for the “Tasty Mary” which was a classic bloody mary with a little sriracha and house-made pickled okra, beet, and mushroom. It was fabulous. Brooke had the “Elizabeth Taylor,” a sparkling cocktail with creme de violette and bubbles.
We also shared the simple greens, potatos bravas, and the Korean fried chicken. It was all amazing. The Korean fried chicken came in a rice bowl with a fried over-easy egg on top. The chicken was crispy and boneless, which made it a lot easier to share and eat with the rice, egg, and kimchi.
After brunch we were ready to do some vintage shopping. Another great thing about Portland? No sales tax! As if you need another excuse to shop…
Our first stop was Ray’s Ragtime, which is also right next door to a plus size vintage shop, Fat Fancy. I am plus-sized, and it is difficult to find great stuff at regular vintage stores. Not a whole lot at Fat Fancy is vintage, but they have a lot of great stuff at great prices. I found a summer dress, a sequin skirt, and another pair of sunglasses to match my new bathing suit I got for this summer.
Ray’s Ragtime next door is a treasure trove of vintage clothing, costume jewelry, vintage hats, and mardi gras masks. Brooke found an awesome 60’s go-go dress and a bracelet to match, and I got a fabulous lime green vinyl purse.
We walked over to Burnside and stopped in at Buffalo Exchange, where Brooke found some great boots to go with her new dress.
It was edging towards late afternoon, and we were ready to check into our hotel and ditch our backpacks. We caught the #20 bus a short ways across the Burnside bridge to the Eastside Lodge, where we had a reservation. The Eastside Lodge isn’t the classiest joint, but at $100 a night including lodging tax, it was quite a bit cheaper than the more hip and more preferable Jupiter Hotel across the street. The lobby smelled like cigarette smoke, and I filled out our information on a handwritten index-card sized form. It was clean, however, and the beds were decently comfortable. Included is a mini fridge and coffee maker. No hairdryer built in, but we were able to check one out from the front desk. Bottom line: When I visit Portland, I don’t spend much time in the room other than to sleep. There are far better things to do.
We ditched our bags and explored Burnside a bit, which borders the Buckman neighborhood in Southeast Portland. We found Bombshell Vintage, which had an impressive collection of 1950’s prom dresses and crinoline skirts.
Rock and Rose a bit further down the street had an interesting selection of new and vintage clothes, as well as gifts and collectibles. There are quite a few other shops, restaurants and bars along Burnside to see as well.
Further east on Burnside we stumbled across Hippo Hardware, a vintage hardware shop with a Hippopotamus fetish. We weren’t looking to visit a hardware store, but the hippos were calling to us.
Hippo Hardware is huge–two stories full of old antique hardware such as light switch plates, knobs, door knockers, bathtubs, toilets, sinks, and an entire upper floor devoted to antique lighting. If you’re looking for an antique chandelier or funky old knobs for a chest of drawers or cupboards, or really want a pink toilet, this is the place to go. The owner’s impressive collection of various types of hippos mingle with the merchandise on almost every shelf. They also sold T-shirts, and I’m kicking myself for not buying one. Next time.
It was 4:00, and we needed a break. Not interested in hanging out in our moderately skanky hotel room, we decided to find somewhere to sit down and get a drink. We consulted our phones, and Brooke thought she found a brewery up the hill a little further east. When we got there, it turned out to just be a bottling plant. We glanced around and saw The Sandy Hut.
It looked like the worst dive bar in Portland, but we were there. And we were thirsty.
The Sandy Hut (I recently read that locals call it “The Handy Slut”) turned out to be the best accidental bar discovery I’ve ever made in Portland. We walked in the front door and past the Playboy pinball machine, and stepped straight into the 1960’s: old Hollywood mural on the wood-paneled wall, curved faux leather booths, and Frank Sinatra mixed with other hits from the 40’s-60’s played on the jukebox. The bartender was friendly, and the blended strawberry margarita she made me was strong and refreshing. The food menu even looked decent, and reminiscent of times past.
We left The Sandy Hut thoroughly refreshed, and hungry. My friend Eric, a former Portland resident, told us Biwa Japanese Izakaya in Buckman was his favorite restaurant in the entire city. He has also lived in Japan, so his recommendation held some weight. We walked to Biwa and stopped by a mural for a photo op along the way:
Biwa Japanese Izakaya (215 SE 9th Ave) turned out to be as good as Eric told us it would be. If you’re not familiar with Izakaya style Japanese restaurants, they are kind of like a Japanese tapas bar. Small plates meant to be eaten with beer or cocktails.
We started with some fancy cocktails. Brooke had a drink that was called something like “so cool, so modern,” which was herbal and fresh and came with a green strawberry. I had the “wtf” which was reposado tequila, yellow chartreuse and cardamaro, the latter two ingredients I’d never heard of. The waiter told me if I like tequila I’d love it. I didn’t. But it was drinkable. Medicinal tasting, but drinkable.
We started with the “porkiest” pan-fried gyoza dumplings to share, which were the best gyoza I’ve ever had. The dipping sauce tasted house made and had a bit of an extra vinegar bite that really complimented the porkiness.
Brooke had the masu (trout) prepared like BBQ eel, and the miso soup. She said it was good. I had the rice cake soup with pork belly and clams, and the onigiri (rice ball with tuna and mayo inside and wrapped with crispy nori). Both were outstanding. The tuna inside the rice ball tasted smoked, and the rice was seasoned perfectly. I wished I’d ordered two of them. The soup was also delicious.
We were still a little hungry so we ordered the karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken bites) to share and Brooke had the shiitake mushroom skewer. The chicken was delicious, and too much for us to eat. We had a fridge in our room so we took it with us for later.
After dinner, we headed to a coffee shop in Buckman that I’ve been wanting to check out for a long time: Rimksy-Korsakoffee. On my last trip to Portland I’d made the mistake of assuming that since it was a coffee shop, it would be open in the day time and attempted to visit in the afternoon. It is open evenings only, from 7:00 PM to midnight. No alcohol is served, just coffee and dessert.
Rimsky-Korsakoffee inhabits a converted Victorian house. We walked in and took two menus from the table by the door, as instructed by the sign on the table and found a spot in the back room. It was busy, and the atmosphere was cozy. A woman played piano in the front room for tips. We ordered coffee, tea, and shared an ice cream sundae. Our waiter was peppy and flamboyant, calling us names like “sugar cookie.” He was very entertaining.
One of the things Rimsky-Korsakoffee is most famous for is its bathroom, so naturally I had to check it out. It is located upstairs, which had 5 different doors. The doors were labeled “no not here,” “no no not here,” “not here either, silly,” “don’t even think about going in here,” and “bathroom.” I was really curious about what was behind doors number 2-5. I guess I’ll never know.
The bathroom lived up to its legacy. When I walked in I was momentarily startled by a life-sized doll with a receding hairline sitting in a kayak on the bathroom floor. The entire bathroom is painted like an underwater world, with mannequin feet dangling off of a dock on the ceiling, and a mermaid holding your toilet paper. I think the kayak man is supposed to be a corpse, and he is missing part of his arm (shark attack?). There is a story here, maybe someday I’ll figure out what it is.
I think if I was in high school or didn’t drink and lived in Portland, Rimsky-Korsakoffee would be my regular evening spot to socialize.
We settled up with our fabulous waiter and headed on to our next destination, the Lovecraft Bar. The Lovecraft is a horror-themed bar named after the turn of the century horror author H.P. Lovecraft. It was early, and the bar only had a few people in it. We ordered some beers and snagged the last available booth. A dirty old biker guy sat on a bar stool nearby obnoxiously attempting to flirt with some girls sitting behind us. Fortunately, he left us alone.
Shortly after we got our drinks, the fog machine turned on, and an electronic singer/performer started some entertainment on the dance floor. We stayed a little while longer, and then moved on.
No night out in Portland is complete without a visit to one of the numerous strip clubs in town. My favorite (and the only one I’ve been to, actually) is Mary’s downtown. Tonight we thought we’d check out Union Jack’s, which was directly across the street from our hotel.
Several years ago, I’d heard Union Jack’s was cool. Girls with tattoos stripping to punk music and ironically gyrating to 80’s metal hits. Very Portland chic. Unfortunately, this was not the case. It was pretty much your standard sleezy strip bar. The girls were working the room like party guests in g-strings to get the overwhelmingly male crowd into the back rooms for a private dance (or whatever).
We bought some beers and took a seat right at the back stage, armed with $1.00 bills to tip with. A few of the girls had some pretty amazing pole moves, some others were more mediocre–less acrobatic and more wrapping legs around gentlemens’ necks on the edge of the stage.
After a few dances, we moved back a bit to some lounge chairs and watched a while longer. Being the only two non-working women in the strip club (aside from two women who were there with their boyfriends), we found ourselves to be delightfully invisible. The girls were nice to us–complimenting Brooke on her dress, telling us we looked cute, but we pretty much safely avoided the hustle for the back rooms.
There was a lesbian bachelorette party that showed up at one point, and the guest of honor was invited up on stage for a public lap dance–all in good fun.
It wasn’t a bad experience, but I probably wouldn’t go back to Union Jack’s intentionally. There are far better strip clubs in Portland that offer classier and more unique stage shows without the sleezy hustle. I’ve got no problem with lap dances, but that type of club isn’t my scene. Mary’s is way better–if you are into a more of a casual bar with a stage show thing. Just make sure to bring singles to tip with.
We checked out of the hotel and took the bus back across the Burnside bridge to the Pearl District downtown, and got our name on the wait list for the Byways Cafe for breakfast.
There were three little tiny tables on the sidewalk, so we took one that opened up rather than wait for one inside. We never actually saw inside the place. The food was fantastic. Brooke had Meg’s veggie mountain with vegetables, potatoes, and egg, and I had the three day weekend (biscuit and gravy with scrambled egg). It was the best biscuit and gravy I’ve ever had (seriously). The biscuit was fresh and crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. It was a pretty hearty breakfast, I was glad I opted for fruit instead of hash browns.
After breakfast we walked down to the train station and took the Amtrak train back to Seattle (a four hour trip). We shared a train car with a gaggle of noisy girl scouts, much to the chagrin of the men in the seats behind us. Fortunately I had my ipod to tune them out.
It was another short and sweet trip to Portland. I am looking forward to a longer stay sometime in the future with Paddy. There are still many places on my Portland list to check out. Stay tuned.