By Anthony Grant
Yes, Portland, the Rose City, is about as good a gay travel destination as they come. Yes, it’s compact, green, eco-friendly and full of great neighborhood restaurants and bars and yes, there’s no sales tax – on anything! And you can walk into just about any deli and get yourself a bottle of Hot Lips soda made from freshly crushed Willamette Valley raspberries. Despite all this good stuff, my nerdy little confession is that on my recent first-time visit, I barely made it past a bookstore. But not just any bookstore: Powell’s City of Books is a sprawling, gloriously independent bookstore in the trendy Pearl District in downtown Portland. I spent three deliciously offline hours in the (surprise!) travel section alone before checking out the gay literature and art and history sections.
At one point I made a break for one of the famous cookies at the Pearl Bakery across the street, and feasted on a delectable chunky one dense with chocolate and pecans. It paired nicely with the stupendous iced coffee I had at Stumptown Coffee, which is nestled inside the trendy Ace Hotel. I didn’t stay at the Ace, but the vintage photo booth in the lobby made me smile, and I had a memorable dinner at its restaurant, Clyde Common. It was creative, crackling fare, from my starter salad of arugula, castelvetrano olives, pecorino cheese and butter fried croutons, right through to my seared black cod with rapini, capers, chorizo and tarragon vinaigrette. The next morning, had I not been going through another bag of Pearl River cookies, I would have had brunch at Bluehour, a decidedly glamorous eatery that anchors a row of revitalized warehouse spaces in the Pearl.
There are plenty of Portland hotels that are good for gay travel. There’s the Ace, of course, but I settled in to a chic and very bustling newcomer called The Nines. It’s a Starwood Luxury Collection hotel, but there’s little to suggest a corporate setting. Rooms feature nightclubby lighting fixtures and light-blue velvet sofas. The lobby restaurant, Urban Farmer, focuses on organic and locally-sourced ingredients (like many Portland restaurants), there’s a small library filled with books from Powell’s that does double duty as a swanky lounge and the Asian-themed rooftop restaurant and bar is called, appropriately enough, Departure.
Rain or shine, Portland’s a lovely place to slow down and savor a well-crafted cocktail. I indulged in a wham bam thank-you Sam Singapore Sling at the Teardrop Cocktail Lounge, finishing barely half because I wanted to save some sobriety for the Andrew Christian underwear fashion show at Boxxes, the Pearl’s go-to gay nightspot. It encompasses the Brig, for dancing, and Red Cap Garage, with an enclosed patio that fronts Stark Street (and incidentally, sits invitingly right across from the Ace Hotel).
Across the Willamette River from downtown Portland, but still fairly central, you’ll find the very hip Doug Fir Lounge. The mid-century log cabin décor is fit for a Bond flick, and indie bands perform in the space nightly. It’s located on the same property as the Jupiter Hotel, a “cultural boutique hotel” and one-stop shop for everything from a new ‘do at Wack, a hair salon, to a new tattoo at the Jackelope Tattoo Studio. As a guest, you could also rent a bike and cruise around this leafy town. In Portland, there are more possibilities than you might think.
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Anthony Grant created the first travel blog for TV station France 24 in Paris and is former senior editor at Forbes Traveler (where he now contributes features) in New York. For more visit http://voyagiste.wordpress.com/