36 Hours in North Portland: The Real Deal

by Steve, April 16th, 2007

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.


6 p.m.
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.

7:30 p.m.
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.

10:30 p.m.
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.


10:30 a.m.
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.

12:30 p.m.
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.

2 p.m.
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.

4 p.m.
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.

6 p.m.
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.

8 p.m.
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 p.m.
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.


8:30 a.m.
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.

9:30 a.m.
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.

8 Responses to “36 Hours in North Portland: The Real Deal”

  1. Comment from rrpiper:

    Damn, that’s pretty spot on!
    I think I’ve shared that 36-hour experience back when I lived off Interstate and Killingsworth.
    Too bad the Jockey Club is no more, I could really see that makin’ the NYT.

  2. Comment from RedMolly:

    Hee. We’re moving to North Portland in June (from the god-infested wastelands of Western Colorado) and thinking this sounds pretty diggable. Will have to add the Alibi to “good cheap entertainment” list–thanks! (Had a link to this post passed on to me by another North Portland denizen.)

  3. Trackback from pligg.com:

    36 Hours in North Portland: The Real Deal

    “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”

  4. Comment from ray:

    I very rarely go to titty bars so I haven’t been to dancin’ bare yet but I’ve been every other place on that list other than the Nite Hawk, nice post!


    representin’ kenton

  5. Pingback from re:PDX - Portland Oregon Real Estate » Week Links - April 27, 2007:

    […] 36 Hours in North Portland: The Real Deal – More Hockey Less War A North Portland blogger shares his version of the NY Times article (above). Note: language may not be family-friendly. […]

  6. Comment from becky:

    the little park out by the waste treatment plant is actually quite nice. There’s some nifty nature art, and you can bike over to PRI and watch fast things go around a track.

  7. Comment from Anne:

    Hate to argue with you but the Interstate Fred Meyers has NOTHING on the Hawthorne Fred Meyers. Now that I am living in Kenton the Fred Meyers here seems so peaceful and clean and nice, it is a bit disorienting.
    The Hawthorne Fred’s was the place where some meth guy robbed the Girl Scout Troop who were selling cookies out front.
    It is there that you can smell the urine and beer from the bottle return yards away and often see someone in the process of urinating as you return your shopping cart.
    Plus lots of people bring their stinky little dogs in and put them in the shopping carts.
    One evening I saw a woman who was literally naked from the waist down in the bakery aisle. OK she had on see through fish net stockings but nothing else.
    It was also the place where they kept up the Anna Nicole Smith Slim Fast ads above the checkout counter, even though 4 feet away you could read the tabloids about her death and the tawdry fight over her very rich (and drug addicted?) baby.

  8. Comment from Himself:

    Oooh, the ol’ Hawthorne Fred Meyer. But do you remember it before the remodel? (That was my local Freddie’s in the ’90s.)