It’s tough to pass up an offer to stay free at a really nice hotel. It’s this kind of thing that makes you drop everything and drive a couple hundred miles through snow and ice to take advantage of.
The Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon is celebrating it’s 100th anniversary, and their PR people invited travel writers to stay there for free. (There’s the requisite disclosure.) I’d never heard of the hotel, but it has a prime location in the middle of downtown Portland, within spitting distance of the Saturday Market, Powell’s Books, a bunch of breweries, restaurants, and coffee shops, and lots of other neat stuff. Oh, and did I mention it was free? Sold. Sam, the travel buddy, was down, too.
Upon arrival, we were treated to a tour of the hotel with the marketing director. The lobby is quite stunning, with lots of old wood and marble, and posh furniture with gold accents. It felt a little too fancy for this lowly travel writer, but then I saw a couple wearing jeans and dragging their really bored pre-teen boys and I felt more at home.
We got access to some of the super-secret parts of the hotel: the wine cellar, the penthouse suites (where I’m told celebrities were currently staying! OH!) and, to top it off, the Presidential Suite, where every sitting president since Taft has stayed. Obama has yet to spend the night, but he’s set foot in the room, so that mostly counts. Tres impressive.
After the tour, it was time for a beer. Cascade Brewing has been on my must-list for a year now, ever since I started on the sour beer journey. Cascade is THE place for sours in the Northwest, so I walked over a mile through falling ice pellets to get to their barrel house. We tried a bunch of sours but my favorite was the kriek, which had a delightful balance of jaw-aching sour with mellow cherry. And the cheese plate wasn’t too bad, either.
Next, we found a shop on an otherwise bland street of seemingly vacant buildings. The shop had things like reclaimed furniture, found objects, and air plants, and I’m a sucker for that shit. Inside I also found two gigantic mop dogs, just chilling. Later that night, we met with Sam’s sister and her boyfriend for dinner, which was fun, but the meal was unremarkable, so we’ll just skip that part.
The next morning, we were torn on where to eat for breakfast after learning the crazy waffle-sandwich food truck we’d been recommended had shuttered. We stopped for coffee at Stumptown, one of our favorites of the Seattle-Portland area, and I had a fantastically flaky, perfectly buttery chocolate croissant to go with my always-impeccable latte. Then we checked out the Blue Collar Bakery across the street, in part because it advertised, “We’re not afraid of butter!” The tiny breakfast bundt cake of apple, cheese, and spinach hit the spot.
Then it was on to the Saturday Market, which is also on Sundays. We met friends there and then decided to get the hell out of the overcrowded market and headed for the path along the river, under the cherry blossoms. The sun started to peak out, alighting the bright green grass and warming up the morning just a bit. After a food truck foray, it was time to head back to Seattle.
We made one brief stop at Upright Brewing, mostly because I just wrote about them in Seattle Weekly. I bought some of their oyster stout to take home, and we sampled a few beers–two sours, both fantastic. At Upright, there’s no true tasting room. You pay cash for your beer and set it on top of a stainless steel table or a big barrel or one of the few small tables squeezed in between all the brewing equipment. I would have tried more, but, ya know, I was driving.
Portland always surprises me. I kind of snub my nose at it sometimes, being the faithful Seattleite I am, because the scenery isn’t as epic as it is here (two mountain ranges! lakes! the Sound! tons of hills!) but there are other things going for it, I suppose. You’re pretty ok in my book, Portlandia. You’re pretty ok.