Keep Portland Weird

Where Austinites can find the quirky side of the City of Roses

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Portland stole our slogan.

Apparently, those “Keep Austin Weird” shirts did their job so well that the quirk became contagious. The Live Music Capital’s venerable catchphrase spread to Oregon in the early 2000s, thanks to a Portland record store owner with an Austin-sized love for local businesses. Now, PDX’s version of the phrase emblazons its own mural in the city’s downtown. (Ever watched the opening credits to the TV show “Portlandia”? Then you’ve seen it.)

Don’t ready the infringement suits just yet. The truth is that Portland and Austin share a similarly funky spirit, from their preponderance of offbeat entertainment options to their appreciation of a cleverly named giant doughnut to the fact that they’re both home to barbershops that serve beer. The most noticeable difference? You’ll need a sweater if you visit Portland most months.

I’ve scoped out the City of Roses over a couple trips, and I think any Austinite would fit right in. If you’re looking for a little slice of home in much cooler climes, try keeping Portland weird at these spots.

If you like BookPeople, visit Powell’s City of Books

This is how to really get lost in a book.

A thriving independent bookstore is the hallmark of any educated, progressive city, and in this regard Portland leaves Austin in the dirt. After all, nothing says “weird” like a bookstore as big as an entire shopping mall.

Touting itself as the largest new and used bookstore in the world, Powell’s has been eating bookworms’ entire afternoons since 1971. The famed bookseller operates four stores in Portland, and its flagship City of Books location downtown occupies an entire city block. That’s not hyperbole — the store’s nine rooms contain more than 3,500 sections of every subject matter imaginable. (Though not as awe inspiring, the Hawthorne Boulevard location is no slouch in selection, either.)

In addition to the obligatory coffee shop, Powell’s City of Books is also home to an impressive rare books room. There are clearance racks as far as the eye can see. If you walk out without buying at least one tome, you don’t have any business in a bookstore to begin with. My record is three visits in one trip, one of which lasted until the sun went down.

9 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. 1005 W. Burnside St., 503-228-4651,

If you like the Parish, catch a show at Doug Fir Lounge

Austin is the Live Music Capital of the World, but Portland is no scene slouch. If you want to keep it weird and see a chill show, Doug Fir Lounge fits the bill.

Taking its location in the Pacific Northwest to a charmingly literal level, the venue (also home to a full restaurant and bar) answers the question, “What would it look like if Yogi Bear started booking acts at Jellystone National Park?”

From the walls to the bar to the stage to the seating, it’s logs as far as the eye can see. The lounge’s warm, yellow lighting gives the impression of a campfire, and bands play the intimate space against a woodgrain backdrop. Grab a drink and sit down at a tree-slice table or wander around admiring the cabinesque decor. You’ll find yourself saying, “Oh, that’s cool” more than a couple times.

Doug Fir Lounge made Rolling Stone’s list of best club venues last year, and with big bands like Vampire Weekend, Sleater-Kinney, the Shins and more gracing the small space, it’s easy to tell there’s something special going on there, logs or no.

7 a.m.-2:30 a.m. daily, showtimes vary. 830 E. Burnside St., 503-231-9663,

If you like Birds Barbershop, get on the list at Bishops Barbershop

While it’s not likely that many people will get a haircut on vacation, I would say, “When in Portland, do as the Portlanders do.”

One of the city’s notable places to get shorn is Bishops Barbershop. A local friend told me that — get this — Bishops hands you a cold beer while you’re waiting for your cut. Sound familiar, Birds patrons? Yes, the similarly alliterative shops are almost indistinguishable, right down to their inked-up barbers with a knack for edgy cuts. At Bishops’ Alberta Street location, perched in an open, naturally lit loft space up a flight of stairs, I requested the same style I usually get at Birds. You would think I got my locks cut at home. What better souvenir to take home than a new ’do from the Pacific Northwest?

Nine Portland locations, including 2132 N.E. Alberta St. 503-546-4171,

If you like Kerbey Lane Cafe, eat at Original Hotcake House

Fluffy pancakes 24 hours a day are where the similarities to Kerbey stop for this Portland greasy spoon. Austin should be so lucky to have a nocturnal diner like the Original Hotcake House, where a retro-style neon sign beckons the insomniac and intoxicated alike from just east of the Ross Island Bridge.

Don’t walk in looking for trendy bells and whistles. It’s all no-fuss wood paneling and sticky booth seats here. Full of dive joint charm, even the most curmudgeonly of old-school Austinites would feel at home chowing down on a surprisingly juicy 3 a.m. steak or on some of the diner’s famous hashbrowns. It’s hard to believe that IHOPs even exist in the same town as Hotcake House.

24 hours a day. 1002 S.E. Powell Blvd., 503-236-7402,

If you like Magnolia Cafe, eat at Detour Cafe

Nestled behind bushes and trees, Detour Cafe earned an immediate recommendation from my local friends as a brunch spot to beat. Established in 2001, the cafe serves the kind of wholesome, comforting fare you would expect from a lived-in neighborhood nosh spot, with an emphasis on organic and locally sourced ingredients that would make it an easy Austin favorite, too.

There’s no better example of Detour Cafe’s cozy quirk than its signature breads. I ordered the cardamom toast with my meal, a thick slice of fragrant white bread that’s crispy on the outside and soft on the spice-kissed inside, soaked with a pat of melted butter on top. I couldn’t resist the menu’s carb-loaded temptations and also ordered a housemade cheddar biscuit. It’s a dense morsel that’s heavy and bready inside, with just enough scallions to keep things interesting, and a crown of gooey cheese to make sure you know you’re not at Red Lobster.

For the meal, try one of Detour Cafe’s build-your-own potato skillets. The cazuela filled with roasted potatoes is the kind of hearty, homecooked meal you would expect from a Portland brunch. Try it with chewy strips of pepper bacon, creamy avocado and soft goat cheese.

8 a.m.-4 p.m. daily. 3035 S.E. Division St., 503-234-7499,

If you like Gourdough’s, get in line at Voodoo Doughnut

Where local calorie merchant Gourdough’s favors high-concept, goliath desserts that you have to eat on a plate, the world famous Voodoo Doughnut is much more of a traditional “pick your poison and put ’em in a box” doughnut joint. That is, as traditional as a shop with an Oreo/peanut butter monstrosity called “Old Dirty Bastard” can be.

Waiting outside in line for one of Voodoo’s funky fried treats is just part of the deal. Your curiosity will be rewarded, though. Just a few of the irreverent delights on the menu:

  • Memphis Mafia: Chock full of banana chunks and cinnamon, topped with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts, chocolate chips and the posthumous blessing of Elvis Presley.
  • Mango Tango: Filled with mango jelly and topped with vanilla frosting and a healthy coat of Tang dust.
  • Marshall Mathers: A plain cake doughnut covered in vanilla frosting and — wait for it — M&Ms. (Get someone to explain the joke if you must.)
  • Captain My Captain: Covered in vanilla frosting and a certain breakfast cereal that you can probably guess.
  • Bacon Maple Bar: Ahem.


Sure, Voodoo also sells your run-of-the-mill rounds, like powdered sugar. But if you’re going to wait in line, you might as well get a doughnut named after a rapper and covered in crumbled cookies.

24 hours a day. Original location: 22 S.W. Third Ave., 503-241-4704; second location: 1501 N.E. Davis St., 503-235-2666;

If you like Amy’s Ice Creams, try Salt and Straw or Fifty Licks

Austin’s legendary cream slingers offer a show and wacky flavors (like the coffee-and-donuts-loaded Cop Stop), but Portland’s cream scene is no slouch in the creativity department, either.

Salt and Straw is a good place to start, with three locations owned by a pair of culinary-minded cousins. Their sophisticated flavor combinations range from a sweet and floral honey lavender to the decadent sea salt with caramel ribbon. The charmingly twee decor just adds to the shop’s eclectic feel.

Hours vary. 2035 N.E. Alberta St., 503-208-3867; 3345 S.E. Division St., 503-208-2054; 838 N.W. 23rd Ave., 971-271-8168;

For an even more highbrow scoop, try Fifty Licks. This austere white store serves up small-batch, custard-based flavors that are a far cry from the normal chocolate and vanilla. The jasmine rice with fragrant pandan leaf is weird and delightfully savory, and the jasmine tea with apricot flavor is as deeply refreshing as it sounds.

Fifty Licks’ bistro feel also extends to the shop’s beverage menu, featuring Cuban coffee and an exciting selection of sorbet cocktails. You won’t find flying balls of Mexican vanilla here, but Fifty Licks’ distinctive take on ice cream is 100 percent out of the ordinary.

Hours vary. 2021 S.E. Clinton St., 954-294-8868,

If you like East Side Show Room, drink at Sapphire Hotel

Craft cocktails, mood lighting and the intoxicating elegance of a bygone era: Sapphire Hotel would fit right into the growing East Austin bar scene. Bathed in red light and decidedly unassuming, Sapphire Hotel bills itself as a once-upon-a-time overnight stop for traveling sailors and ladies of the night. Now, it’s an effortlessly cool lounge with a lush, curio shop funkiness and a genial sense of humor.

Laid-back bartenders serve up creative concoctions with winking names, like the shockingly spicy Going Up. (That one’s serrano tequila, lime and muddled cilantro, served straight up.) The Scotch Egg (a cocktail, not a snack) is worth a crack, too, smoothly blending scotch, a whole egg and orange gastrique; candied orange peel and nutmeg dust top it off with panache. Or, if you can’t make up your mind, you can always take a chance on the bartender’s good taste and go with dealer’s choice.

4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-midnight Sunday. 5008 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., 503-232-6333,

If you like Alamo Drafthouse, try Kennedy School

There is no shortage of upscale movie theaters serving food and drink in Rip City — it’s more the rule than the exception. To maximize your novelty factor, try Kennedy School, sure to be one of the most memorable stops of any Portland trip.

A historic elementary school that opened in 1915, local entertainment czars McMenamins transformed the former campus into a hotel accompanied by multiple bars, a restaurant, a soaking pool, a brewery and, yes, a movie theater in the old auditorium. There’s just the slightest hint of “The Shining” to be found wandering the halls of Kennedy School. Before you grab a cold one and settle into a comfy armchair in front of the silver screen, check out the dark, pipe-laden Boiler Room Bar. (How else to describe it? It’s, well, a bar in the school’s former boiler room.) If there aren’t ghosts haunting that place, they will probably move in as soon as they find out about it.

Hours vary. 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave., 888-249-3983,

If you like Pinballz Arcade, play a game at Ground Kontrol

Ground Kontrol is what you always hoped growing up would be like. The bar offers revelers two floors of classic arcade games and pinball machines, with a full selection of spirits to loosen up your joystick grip for a little Street Fighter maneuvering. It’s just the kind of offbeat juxtaposition an Austinite is used to.

Think of an arcade classic, and Ground Kontrol’s got it: BurgerTime, Centipede, Dance Dance Revolution, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Mario Bros., Mortal Kombat II, Tekken … the list goes on.

The bright white fluorescent lights lend a little bit of a Tron feel to the proceedings — yes, they have Tron, too — and it will feel good not to ask Mom and Dad for more quarters, assuming you can afford your own. And really, when was the last time you had a chance to let loose on an Addams Family pinball machine?

Noon-2:30 a.m. daily. 511 N.W. Couch St., 503-796-9364,

If you like Vulcan Video, check out Movie Madness Video

Between Vulcan Video and I Luv Video, Austin has a lock on independent movie rental stores stocking hard-to-find favorites. But does either of those fine establishments have a movie memorabilia museum between the comedy and drama racks? Movie Madness Video does.

While browsing the more than 80,000 titles available to rent, check out owner Mike Clark’s impressive collection of props and costumes from Hollywood classics. We’re not talking small potatoes, either: the bar of soap from the “Fight Club” poster, an alien head from “Aliens,” the monster’s costume from “Young Frankenstein” and a statue from “Citizen Kane” are just a few of the treasures to be found in the surprisingly robust glass cases. (My dark horse favorite: Jennifer Lopez’s hotel uniform from “Maid in Manhattan.”) You might not need to rent a movie on vacation, but this hidden neighborhood gem is too good to pass up.

11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily. 4320 S.E. Belmont St., 503-234-4363,

If you like Home Slice or Hoboken Pie, try Sizzle Pie and Pinky’s Pizzeria

Your options for a pizza break in Portland are diverse indeed. For Austinites who prefer both their crusts and their frills on the thin side, Sizzle Pie is the hottest spot around. There’s a rough-around-the-edges feel to this jukebox-friendly pizza joint; you’re likely to see a few kids ride their skateboards right up to the door as heavy metal blares out of the speakers. (The restaurant’s motto: “Death to false pizza.”)

The menu, also chock-full of vegetarian and vegan options, means business. The topping list is well-appointed and a little kooky, featuring delicious oddballs like spicy pulled pork and breaded eggplant. If you need a better feel for what kind of establishment Sizzle Pie is, pizzas with names like Holy Diver and Buffalo 666 should clear things right up.

11 a.m.-3 a.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-4 a.m Friday and Saturday. 624 E. Burnside St., 926 W. Burnside St.; 503-234-PIES,

For a cozier parlor, Pinky’s Pizzeria is the ideal wind-down spot after a day of sightseeing. A low-lit, comfy neighborhood spot, Pinky’s boasts an impressive bar to go with its tantalizing pies. Offering several local beers on tap and more than 100 whiskey bottles, the staff is friendly and prone to recommendations and conversations. I split a Nero pizza, bringing mozzarella, pear, walnut, gorgonzola and bacon together for a sweet, savory and pungent treat. (It actually reminded me quite a bit of Hoboken Pie’s similar Torres pie, which many an Austinite has savored in the wee hours of the morning.)

5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday. 3990 N. Interstate Ave., 503-282-1259,

If you like the Greenbelt, visit Multnomah Falls

The thing about the Pacific Northwest: It is objectively beautiful. List the first things that come to mind when you think of gorgeous landscapes — lush foliage, white-topped mountains, clear waterfalls — and you’ll paint a picture of Oregon.

Just an easy drive east of Portland holds postcard-perfect eye candy like Multnomah Falls. At 611 feet tall, it’s a sight that elicits awed murmurs from crowds. The constant spray at the foot of the falls helps create a “micro-climate” cooler than the surrounding area, which means you should bring that jacket you were thinking of leaving in the car. The falls aren’t content to dazzle with just one level: The top tier towers at 542 feet, and the bottom at 69 feet. You might recognize the Benson Bridge separating the two levels, which is the best place to take in the grandeur.

Before jumping back on the highway, snake around the mountains to nearby Latourell Falls. Set back further into the rocky green, these falls are less imposing than Multnomah, but the short hike there will make you feel like Laura Dern in “Jurassic Park.” Bonus: The small streams of water that trickle down the rock walls on the drive there are a sight in their own right — especially at winter, when I’m told they’re frozen into ice ribbons.

The occasionally green and sometimes flowing Greenbelt, though a centerpiece of Austin’s outdoor recreation scene, just doesn’t compare to the best of the Beaver State.

Inside Mount Hood National Park. If you need help finding it, nearby Multnomah Falls Lodge is located at 50000 E. Historic Columbia River Hwy, Bridal Veil, Ore., 503-695-2376.


Whither wonderful wax?

Powell’s will keep your eyes busy, but audiophiles with a thirst for vinyl in the PDX should check out Jackpot Records. Very much in the spirit of the Austin’s own Waterloo Records, Jackpot is a homegrown record store with a diverse selection. You could spend hours thumbing through their stacks.

Shop local

If you’re the type of person who leaves room in their luggage for treasures making the return trip, listen up. There’s a shopping scene for any taste in PDX. On one trip to Portland, I took the city bus to a different avenue each day, exploring shops by foot. I didn’t even buy anything, and I never got tired of window shopping. Such is the power of a town well-stocked in stylish trinkets. A couple pointers:

  • If you like antiquing on North Loop, try Division Street/Hawthorne Boulevard. These two streets’ shopping scenes run parallel, and there’s a funky mix of cafes, vintage stores and kombucha bars. Hawthorne’s shop selection is a little more robust. Don’t leave Oregon until you check out House of Vintage; it’s like Austin’s Blue Velvet, but the size of your average Kmart.
  • If you’re into trendy South Congress strolls, try Mississippi Avenue or Alberta Street. The former, a bonafide historic district, drips local flavor amid gift-focused storefronts like Flutter and plaid-friendly vintage stores like Animal Traffic. No chains to be found. For a quieter stroll with a more posh feel, Alberta Street is the place to be. The emphasis is on galleries, fashionable boutiques and salons, but the independent Portland spirit remains.


Coffee break

Wandering the City of Roses will require a caffeine boost or 10. Like any city of Macbook-toting artistic types, Portland is bursting at the seams with trendy coffeeshops, many of which tout their own special roasts. Here are a few worth checking out:

  • If you like Houndstooth, try Stumptown (five locations,
  • If you like Cafe Medici, try Coava (1300 S.E. Grand Ave.,
  • If you like Monkey’s Nest, try Blue Kangaroo (7901 S.E. 13th Ave.,
  • If you like Summer Moon, try Cellar Door (2001 S.E. 11th Ave.,
  • If you like Ruta Maya, try Revolución (1432 S.W. Sixth Ave.,

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