While I appreciate the New York Times Travel section doing a flattering story on Portland (I’ve still got my ode to the “Ugly Beauty” that is Portland in draft form to be published here soon), I wish once — just once — somebody would write a story about Portland that didn’t gush about Powell’s Books, the Rose Garden, Saturday Market, and all the hoity-toity restaurants in the Pearl.
So, in response to the NYT piece, here’s my 36 real Hours in North Portland. Maybe Portland isn’t so Nice after all.
1) REAL PERSPECTIVE The roses in North Portland’s Peninsula Park won’t be in full bloom for several weeks, but you can get in a game of foosball or ping pong at the community center at the opposite end of the park. Don’t fuck with the surly teenagers gathered by the playground on your way, and they won’t fuck with you. There’s no view of the skyline here, just a real slice of Portland life.
2) BRIGHT BURRITOS Walk north on Rosa Parks Avenue, taking in the view of the parking lot known as I-5 North (things may actually be breaking free by this hour), and grab a cheap burrito at El Burrito Loco. Don’t be put off by the filthy-looking, crumbling facility; this place regularly scores above 90 on county health inspections. After your burrito, play a game of Street Fighter or Michael Jackson Moonwalker, or grab a candy bar from the quaint vending machine padlocked to the booth.
3) NOPO NIGHTLIFE With one of the most extreme free-speech clauses of any state constitution, Oregon has an over-abundance of strip clubs. No pasties and g-strings here, my New York friends! North Portland (known as “NoPo” to the gentrifying hordes of yuppies moving in on the cheap real estate) has it’s entry in the naughty naked category in the Dancin’ Bare. Hop on a modern and efficient MAX train at Rosa Parks and Interstate, and find a seat next to somebody who isn’t slumped over, smelling like cat pee, beer or vomit. This might not be possible, so you may want to just stand by the door and breathe through your mouth. Get off under the giant statue of Paul Bunyan, grinning contentedly across the tracks to the lovely beige edifice that is the Dancin’ Bare. Mix it up with all the local color of Harley-ridin’, knuckle-draggin’ mouth breathers on offer at this fine establishment of gentleman’s entertainment.
4) HANGOVER HELPER Nurse your Dancin’ Bear hangover with breakfast and a Bloody Mary at the Nite Hawk, one of Portland’s only restaurants with a unionized workforce. Just stumbling distance from North Interstate Avenue’s many neon-bedecked roach motels, the Nite Hawk has served customers at the corner of Interstate and Rosa Parks (formerly Portland Boulevard) since 1931.
5) STRATEGIZE OVER LUNCH Head back up Interstate to Michoacan Restaurant, which doesn’t always score so great on the ol’ health inspections. Make sure to get plenty of fresh lime and chili with your meal to help fend off any microbes from improper food storage and handling.
6) COFFEE OR SHOPPING? Why not both? Head a little further up Interstate and land at what the police warmly refer to as “The Gates of Hell,” better known to locals as Fred Meyer or simply “Freddy’s”. It looks a lot nicer since they knocked down the old shit hole facility that sat on the same site, but it’s still a haven for tweakers, shoplifters and street walkers. And it’s still chronically understaffed. But now they’ve got a Starbucks instead of Mickey D’s, so you can sip a latte as you stroll the friendly aisles, taking in the local color.
7) ROLL OUT OF TOWN QUICKLY Ask a Freddy’s clerk to get a bike down off the rack for you to look at, and when they’re not looking, make like the locals and run out the front door with it. Take a pleasant ride heading west on North Lombard, fighting traffic all the way to the Peninsula Crossing Trail. Take the trail north, directly to Portland’s main sewage treatment plant. Take a break there before returning your bike to the friendly security guards at Freddy’s.
8) CITY OF KOOKS Head back down Interstate on the MAX and do cocktail hour at the the Alibi, a fabulous tiki lounge . They may not have the karaoke fired up yet, but this is a great place to see and be seen by other North Portland tourists. Don’t expect to see anybody there who actually lives in North Portland, of course.
9) NO RESERVATION REQUIRED The cheap, strong drinks at the Alibi will probably have you pretty tanked up by now, so you might as well stay put and order some delicious fried food from the nearly spotless Alibi fryer.
10) HANG ON, ROCK OUT Hey, unless you really want to see some more of that action down at the Dancin’ Bare, you might as well stick around at the Alibi and watch the drunks embarrass themselves singing karaoke.
11) UNE GRANDE GUEULE DE BOIS, S’IL VOUS PLAîT Portland booze hounds don’t get up this early, so why should you? Sleep it off for a few hours. Most of the motels on Interstate rent hourly, so even if you sleep past checkout time, they won’t ding you for another full day.
12) HOW NICE The meth monkeys in the unit next door have just rolled in after an all-nighter, and they’re having a knock-down, drag-out screaming fest. And looky here, the police just done showed up to take their two children into protective custody.
Print that, New York Times.