The Ace Hotel and Powell’s Books are anchors of Portland life, and the anchors of this once very grungy, now on the border of rough edges to gentrified stretch of Central West Portland, where the main artery Burnside divides the Northwest and the Southwest. Between 10th and 11th Avenue, Powell’s is truly a city of books, where you can read and read until headaches force you to stop. You’ll easily get lost in Powell’s, even after a dozen visits. Trust me.
The Ace lies a block south of Powell’s, on Stark. Impossibly chic, the New York imported hotel boasts a far too cool for school lobby where the fashionistas gather to sip lattés from Stumptown’s baristas, who reside in the Stumptown cafe adjacent to the lobby. On the 11th St. side of Stumptown is Kenny and Zuke’s, the young, exciting Jewish deli of Portland, with superb rugelach, smoked salmon, rye bread, and house brined, smoked, and roasted pastrami that could give Langer’s and Katz’s stiff competition.
On the other side of the lobby is Clyde Common, an “urban tavern” that was one of the pioneers in combining top caliber food with top caliber cocktails. The bar still remains truly the place to be, the domain of one of the country’s most notable bartenders, Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Clyde Common started the peculiar trend of barrel aged cocktails, or at least gets credit for making it a trend. The barrel aged negroni is a masterpiece, so balanced and pristine, it glistens like a prized ruby. Frankly, any drink will do here. You’ll have to wait. It’s communal tables away from the bar. It’s loud. But, you’d do anything for these cocktails. Dress up too, unlike half the patrons on my visit who looked like went from the airport to the lobby to the bar.
The new concept of dining and movie theatres is evident across Stark at Living Room Theatres. It’s a great idea. Now, since 96% of American movies are trash, you can still have an enjoyable experience at the cinema almost guaranteed. To the east of the Ace and Powell’s, the old challenges of the neighborhood are still evident.
To the north of Powell’s is the Pearl District, a classic example of American yuppy gentrification where lofts, yoga studios, art ateliers, and sleek cocktail dens replace warehouses. Just north of Powell’s, you’ll find a treasure trove of spots to eat and drink– dinner at the revamped stalwart Bluehour, drinks at possibly the city’s premier cocktails at Teardrop, try a new exciting mix of pizza and cocktails at Oven and Shaker, sample several types of the cult favorite brew Abyss at the Deschutes Public House, sample essentially every Oregon beer at Henry’s 12th Street Tavern, and shop for those beers at the nearby Whole Foods Market, boasting easily the most impressive collection of bottles I’ve seen at a grocery store.
Things get a little gruffer towards the 405 freeway, in what is known as the West End. Here you’ll find the long time baron of Portland dining for tourists, Jake’s Famous Crawfish, along with yet another McMenamin’s pub, this one known as the Crystal Ballroom. Around the corner, grab some dessert at Cacao. It’s a concept that needs to be replicated, where Cacao makes their own rich drinking chocolates available in two ounce shots, and you can grab some of Portland’s boutique chocolatier’s truffles and bars, such as the lavender salted caramel from Alma, the swoon worthy Luscious Caramel from Sahagun, and the funky parmigiano-reggiano chocolate bar from Xocolatl de David.
In the middle of Portland, the meeting of Northwest and Southwest and the meeting of rough edges and gentrification, is quite possibly also the center for food and drink in a city that could challenge any city across the country for being the center of food and drink.