One of the mantras in Oregon's biggest city is "Keep Portland Weird," and its residents are doing an admirable job — from the food-cart clusters to the anti-establishment murals to the 24-Hour Church of Elvis. During a recent trip up north, we wondered: Has P-Town polished up its hipster image or is it still the West Coast's bastion of the bizarre? So we went on a tour of the odd and exquisite, picked one of each in eight categories, selected winners and added up the totals. Is Portland more weird or more refined? Read on.
Sipping tours de force that can be intoxicating
The weird: Amid the warehouses and workaday storefronts in southeast Portland hides a thriving
The refined: The Willamette Valley wine region (http://willamettewines.com) stretches from just north of Portland south to Eugene, and within its boundaries lie some of the top pinot-growing vineyards in the States. Book a day trip with a designated driver -- er, professional tour guide
The winner: Distillery Row
Restaurant that boasts James Beard credentials
The weird: Plan to wait for a while on the weekends at chef Andy Ricker's Southeast Asian street food haven Pok Pok (www.pokpokpdx.com). Ricker was named Best Chef, Northwest in 2011 by the James Beard Foundation, and he has garnered accolades from just about every national dining authority worth its weight in salt and pepper. The classic dish? Ike's Vietnamese fish sauce wings, of which one regular Pok Pok patron said, "You'd might as well not even come to Portland if you don't try these."
The refined: It's an expensive taxi ride northeast from downtown to what is arguably Portland's most talked about restaurant, Beast (www.beastpdx.com), where celebrity chef Naomi Pomeroy presents a six-course prix fixe menu Wednesdays through Sundays. Pomeroy was a 2012 James Beard finalist for Best Chef, Northwest and was featured on Bravo's "Top Chef Masters." You'll pay $75 each on most nights, but you'll be able to boast about offerings like foie-gras bonbons or honey and cracked pepper ice cream.
The winner: Pok Pok
Spot for memorable drink you might not remember
The weird: Shh. Let's keep this between us. In Northeast Portland, there's a swanky lounge-ballroom-recording studio where you can listen to live music or create your own. The Secret Society (http://secretsociety.net) is housed in a Victorian-era hall that's more than 100 years old, and you'll get a double shot of local lore whether you order it or not. What you should order: a classic Moscow mule. Drink
The refined: Book a room at the Hotel deLuxe, and you'll be a few blocks from some of downtown's most happening spots. But you might want to cancel plans and drift up to the bar at the Driftwood Room (www.hoteldeluxeportland.com) off the lobby. The hotel pays homage to the golden age of Hollywood, and the bar pays homage to the golden age of drinking high-end cocktails in an intimate, dimly lit tavern -- which, let's be honest, never goes out of style.
The winner: Driftwood Room
Hotel with little room left to improve
The weird: We've all slept in class, but at the Kennedy School (www.mcmenamins.com/kennedyschool) in Northeast Portland, you pay to sleep in former classrooms. In the 1990s, the McMenamins hotel and restaurant group refurbished an elementary school built in 1915 and took out some of the desks and added a few bars, a restaurant and a brewery. Now, you can write on a blackboard in your room or sample whiskey and a cigar in Detention, one of the campus bars.
The refined: Portland isn't known for its five-star accommodations, but The Nines (www.thenines.com) scores high in both luxury and convenience. It takes up floors eight through 15 in the historic Meier & Frank building steps from Pioneer Square and has taken up space on dozens of national "hot hotel" lists. Grab a drink and a view at the rooftop Departure bar or spend the morning or early afternoon chowing down on breakfast in bed.
The winner: Kennedy School
Tourist attraction that's looking good
The weird: The Portlandia faithful will tell you this is a must-visit, a sight that must be seen, one of the city's finest landmarks. And in a way, they're right. We won't give away the secrets of the 24-Hour Church of Elvis (www.24hourchurchofelvis.com), but we will say the mission to find it and the surprise upon seeing it is worth the price of admission.
The refined: In the summer months, few public spaces in the West offer as diverse an offering of nature's beauty as can be found in Washington Park (http://washingtonparkpdx.com). Take the MAX light rail into the park and hike around a few of the 187 ridgetop acres of Hoyt Arboretum, home to more than 5,800 species of plants. Next, hop on a bus or traverse a trail to the Portland Japanese Garden and bask in the serenity. Finish your afternoon at the International Rose Test Garden and take in the sights and scents that give the Rose City one of its many monikers.
The Winner: Washington Park
Food carts that push culinary creativity
The weird: Chicken, rice, a couple of cucumbers and broth. The staple of the Nong's Khao Man Gai (www.khaomangai.com) menu might sound simple, but getting this Thai treat can seem like anything but. There's often a line, your lunch comes wrapped in butcher paper, inviting a mess, and the guy running the cart will do his best to entertain and embarrass you among the gathered masses. But once you taste the ginger-infused comfort food at Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, you'll be sold.
The refined: High-end ingredients mix with smiling service at the Portland Soup Company (www.portlandsoupco.com) at Southwest Fourth Avenue and College Street. The menu changes with the seasons, but the price -- $4 a cup, $6 a bowl -- stays the same. The roasted tomato with Argentine reggiano soup justifies this cart's name, but perhaps the most beloved menu offering is the slow-smoked Carlton Farms pork butt sandwich. No buts about it.
The winner: Portland Soup Company
Coffee shop that should get you amped
The weird: Come for the coffee and desserts, stay for a seat at a "haunted" table, the singing staff and a trip to the funkiest bathroom in town. Yes, the Rimsky-Korsakoffee House (707 SE 12th Ave.) has a lot going on, which is why you might have to endure a long wait. But as one regular said, "The Rimsky is Portland."
The refined: The next generation of gourmet coffee has percolated its way from the Northwest to such Bay Area standouts as Philz Coffee in San Jose and Blue Bottle out of Oakland, but many would argue Stumptown Coffee Roasters (http://stumptowncoffee.com) in Portland remains the ground standard. Where's your hotel? Doesn't matter. Stumptown has four sleek locations in town that emanate with "slow coffee" goodness.
The winner: Rimsky-Korsakoffee House
Delicious treats that are worth the dough
The weird: The Bacon Maple Bar. Grape Ape. Triple Chocolate Penetration. And, of course, the Voodoo Doll. The names of the deep-fried delectables at Portland's Voodoo Doughnut (http://voodoodoughnut.com) can be heard on nearly every food- and travel-focused TV channel, leading many of Portland's hipsterati to disparage the late-night institution. But don't let the locals dissuade you. On a recent trip, the "This place was so much better before it sold out" chatter came from people lined up 50 deep waiting for a pink box of goodness.
The refined: A block from Powell's City of Books, in the hippest of Portland's districts, the Pearl, rises Pearl Bakery (www.pearlbakery.com), a 15-year-old gem serving bread, pastries, sandwiches and house-made chocolate. Its bread is served in some of the city's top restaurants, including Clyde Common, but if your sweet tooth is aching, mix and match a dozen Parisian macarons and slide into sugar-induced naptime.
The winner: Voodoo Doughnut
THE FINAL VERDICT: Refined or weird?
After much eating, drinking, cavorting, sorting and reporting, the 5-3 score shows that despite PDX being a complex city of countless descriptions, the "refined" side remains the exception, and "keeping Portland weird" is still the rule.
Contact Tim O'Rourke at 925-943-8054. Follow him at Twitter.com/timothyorourke.