Timeline: September 12-14
With Brian off to work early Tuesday morning we spent a bit more time getting caught up with Colleen and then the three of us drove into downtown Portland for a stop at Powell’s, self-described as the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. And as one of our presidential candidates would say, it is yuuuge. With around 68,000 square feet of retail floor space, the inventory for its retail and online sales is over four million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books and they purchase around 3,000 used books a day.
We parked in their dedicated lot, a narrow aisled puzzle with a very steep driveway, one that reminded me of that harrowing drive through the labyrinth downtown of Seville in 2014, when I scraped our side mirrors on buildings on each side of the street. We walked to the main entrance on West Burnside and entered a remodeled and expanded lobby. The first thing that caught my eye was a wall of books sorted by prize winning categories like Pulitzer and Mann Booker. The latter is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel written in the English language and published in the UK.
One of my goals the last year or so is to work my way through the bulk of Mann Booker winners and to that end, I pulled something like five winners, all used at about $8 apiece off that wall. It was a haul and one I’ve put to good use as our trip continues. We spent the next hour or more roaming the aisles, each lost in our own little world, finally communicating via text as to our locations, rendezvousing at the in-house coffee shop.
A bit hungry after our shopping adventure, we walked across the street to Sizzle Pie for a slice apiece (Joanna and I split one, it was gigantic) of delicious New York style pizza. Fueled up, we continued walking, circling the blocks of this retail rich slice of downtown, stopping in for a brief visit at a unique store we’d not seen before, Storables, a west coast chain devoted solely to storage options of all kinds.
Colleen mentioned a desire to check out the nearby Crystal Ballroom and as we arrived there a block or two later, Joanna and I realized that we’d had a beer in its downstairs bar a number of years back when we visited here with Norm and Mary, one of a number of McMenamins properties that we visited that trip. We stopped in to see about a tour to discover that we were just in time for one of the two of the day, with just enough time to order a beer to take with us as we walked through the facility.
The chain was founded by brothers Mike and Brian McMenamin when they created the first post-Prohibition brewpub in Oregon, the Hillsdale Brewery & Public House in southwest Portland in 1985. Known for restoring historic properties and turning them into unique eating and drinking establishments, they currently operate nearly sixty pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues.
The Crystal Ballroom, originally built as Cotillion Hall, was constructed in 1914 as a ballroom, and dance revivals were held there through the Great Depression. Starting in the 1960s, the hall has also been host to many popular pop, rock, folk, blues and jazz artists, as well as beat poetry and other entertainment. It is famous for its main ballroom’s mechanical “floating” dance floor, thought at the time of its building to be the only one on the West Coast, and is potentially the only one still in existence in the United States.
It was a thoroughly entertaining tour and by the time we finished we were ready to head back to Hillsboro to join Brian after work and head out for dinner. As it turned out, his choice was yet another McMenamins property, the Rock Creek Tavern. A gorgeous evening weather wise, we sat outside on the patio and ordered a round of beers and our entrees. Joanna and Colleen each got the Hogshead Salmon Sandwich (wild salmon, Hogshead Whiskey glaze, lettuce, tomato, red onion & secret sauce), Brian a burger and I Ale-Battered Fish & Chips (wild Alaskan cod, fresh-cut fries, tartar sauce & buttermilk coleslaw). All a little pricy at about $14 per item, it was very good pub food none the less.
We decided to put sightseeing on the back burner the next day and instead took our bikes out for a ride into downtown Portland. Finding a route wasn’t too hard and we rode east, climbing up into Washington Park where the International Rose Test Garden, Portland Zoo, and Forestry Museum are located.
We were well over 12 miles in by this time and lost track of the directions, so decided turn around and make our way back to Hillsboro, a nice ride of 26 miles on a nice day.
After cleaning up, we drove to a nearby park and ride station around 4pm to take the MAX Light Rail into downtown to meet up with Lee and his girlfriend Shannon. After a brief stop at both the Mountain Hardware and Columbia Sportswear outlets, we walked a few blocks to the Pine Street Market, in the historic Baggage and Carriage Building just blocks from Portland’s waterfront. Built in 1886, the building was used as a livery and horse-drawn carriage storage facility until the early 1900s. It has housed many different businesses since then and is now essentially a hip food court, with the eight or so vendors providing an interesting and satisfying array of food choices, including Spanish Tapas, Wursts, Mediterranean/Israeli, Pizza, Steamed Buns and Bibimbap bowls, and most important of all, the Salt & Straw soft serve dessert bar.
Over the course of a couple of hours, many types of food were consumed; I had the Shalom Y’all Plate (hummus. falafel. tahini. Labneh and chop salad), quite satisfying and I convinced Joanna that starting with dessert would be OK in this instance. Her large sundae from the Wizbangbar was enough to finish any thought she had of eating other food. The bottom line: all went away happy. And dessert may now be the main course for the remainder of the trip.
The MAX ride back out to Hillsboro gave us time to reflect on our short visit, images of a vibrant city center echoing in our minds, giving us a glimpse as to why this city on the river is such an attractive place. Its mild winters and dry summers combined with affordable rents out in the suburbs are a powerful draw. We could see why so many have chosen to live here.
We closed out the evening as we had done in prior days, talking until we all went to bed, knowing we’d get just a quick chance to say good bye to Brian the next day before he left for work and we took off for Bend and our next stop at my Brother’s place there. Our three nights were not nearly enough to satisfy our curiosity about this town. We’ll have to return and do some more research. And drink a bit more beer and eat dessert for dinner.
Mann Booker: http://themanbookerprize.com/
Sizzle Pie: http://www.sizzlepie.pizza/
Crystal Ballroom: http://www.mcmenamins.com/crystalballroom
Rock Creek Tavern: http://www.mcmenamins.com/RockCreek
International Rose Garden: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Rose_Test_Garden
Pine Street Market: http://www.pinestreetpdx.com/