For me, life as a real adult began in 2009. When my then-boyfriend, now-husband and I moved cardboard boxes into our first shared home with the barely-working heaters and linoleum flooring; and some months later we got a furry brown puppy who chewed all of our iPhone cords to their death; and, a couple years after that, with shaking hands, we stood in a Redwood forest surrounded by friends and family and said “I do.”
But before all of that, we dated. Like real dates that are planned in advance and inked on calendars. The dates themselves weren’t usually fancy. Teenagers tend to be cash poor. But we fought over popcorn in movie theatres (he inhales it) and we split platters of cheese-topped french fries and, sometimes, we strolled down city streets, hand in hand, and explored. But life gets complicated when you get older. Not that dates don’t still happen for us, they do, but they tend to be more of a “squeeze it in here and there” kind of thing rather than a scheduled event, carved out just for us, that we can look forward to in anticipation.
So, when the opportunity arose to have a little “staycation” in our own hometown, on the other side of the river and at the swanky downtown Hotel deLuxe no less, we jumped. Actually, that’s not true. We looked at our calendars, flipped from week to week, and finally settled on a night that worked for both of us, about eight weeks in advance. Here’s a look at our little staycation experience, including plenty of travel recommendations for eating and drinking and staying in Downtown Portland.
Old Hollywood Glam at the Hotel deLuxe
We checked into the Hotel deLuxe and were immediately struck by its glamorous Old Hollywood vibe. Gleaming chandeliers, gold-foiled wall details, and black and white framed prints from classic Hollywood films lined the walls and hallways. Bourré, spoiled as he is, was kindly invited by the hotel to join us on our little trip and take part in their pet program (which includes the option of doggy room service!) And by that I mean, he bounded into the suite like he owned the place and immediately began gnawing on all the toys they’d left out for him on his doggy bed. I was just happy they weren’t iPhone cords.
We’d prepared for this trip with smoothies and salads for days and by the time we checked in around noon we were both completely famished. But in a city like Portland, with over 500 food carts slinging street food for hungry passerby, a quick bite is never hard to come by. So, hand in hand just like old times, we hit the pavement, soaking in the blue skies that had miraculously appeared after two weeks of rain, and stopping for a quick hummus wrap from Wolf and Bear and a side of pot stickers.
Sweet Treats at Saint Cupcake
Sometimes, while strolling, you pop into stores and shops and restaurants out of curiosity or want or sheer necessity. Other times, you do it because the heavens have just opened up and you’re caught unprepared with a bag of camera gear but without your trusty waterproof rain jacket. Lucky for us, when the latter happened, Saint Cupcake was just across the street.
And yes, I did use rain as an excuse to eat a confetti cupcake; and no, I’m not even a little bit ashamed.
Feeling Fancy with Afternoon Tea
If I’m being totally honest with you, Barrett and I are both much more into coffee beans than we are tealeaves. I tend to blame this on the fact that when I sipped my first tea at the age of twelve, a classic southern sweet tea, I was pretty sure my teeth might fall out. But afternoon tea, English style, at the Hotel deLuxe opened my eyes to an entirely new world of hot drinkable leaf output. There’s black, there’s green, there’s white, there’s custom blends, and the best part? The sugar is optional.
We weren’t entirely sure how to order, tea novices that we are, so our server brought out the box of Smith Tea leaves for us to explore. After carefully sniffing each, I settled on a rich black Lord Bergamot tea, which she suggested was deep and complex like coffee (it was); and Barrett settled on a Bai Mu Dan white tea with a kind of soft creaminess and floral undertones. Two hours passed in what felt like minutes, with the two of us just sipping and pouring and savoring tiny sandwiches filled with cucumbers and salmon and laughing about how fancy we felt for the afternoon. (Also, as an aside, I just received a text message from Barrett with a photo of white tea steeping in a mug at his office. I think it’s safe to say, Hotel deLuxe has made a couple of tea drinkers out of us after all, un-fancy as we might be.)
Dinner at Departure
At this point, we were thankful to have fasted pre-staycation. My stomach was already feeling full and the gloomy sun hadn’t even dipped its toe towards the horizon. But I set aside the lack of stomach space for a minute because that’s what you do when Portland Dining Month is happening and you have reservations at the modern downtown dining hotspot Departure. We ordered the dining month menu, complete with a piping hot bowl of Tom Kha Gai soup, a platter of herbaceous, peppery and plump Szechuan mussels, and finished it off with a chocolate brownie set atop toasted marshmallow fluff.
A bar-owning buddy of mine recently said to me, “You must feel right at home here…New Orleans and Portland are both cities that love to drink!” It’s true, on both accounts. You’d be hard-pressed to wander the streets of Portland without stumbling across a craft brewery that’s perfected the art of sour beer making; or a bar that makes cocktails like they’re a work of art. So, to polish off our stay on the other side of the river, we went in search of cocktails after dinner. Lots of them. As in, I’m pretty sure my liver looks like a raisin right now.
We started at Pépé le Moko, an underground bunker of sorts with caved ceilings and dim lighting and some of the best classic cocktails in town. It’s said to have played host to Portland sailors in earlier times, perhaps unsurprising given the sultry kind of seaman vibe it puts out. The bartenders here also happen to make some of the best Negronis, Amaretto Sours, and Espresso Martinis around. Next, we meandered over to Shift Drinks, one of the most lauded cocktail bars in Portland and an industry favorite, where we perched up in front of the window with a gimlet-induced giggly kind of buzz.
On our stroll back to the hotel, heading in for a couple of sazeracs at their retro-style Driftwood Room but also not wanting the night to end, we held hands and walked side-by-side and did the silly things that people who are dating (again) tend to do. And when the rain started to fall and I was (again, ugh, I’m the worst) unprepared with without my rain jacket, we didn’t run or hide out in cupcake shops, not that I would have protested. Instead, we just belted out a few lines from the old Gene Kelly Classic, like total nerds, and kept strolling, which felt like a fitting end to our staycation date.
Many thanks to Hotel deLuxe for making this little staycation possible. And, also, for giving us a really good excuse to hit the other side of town and date all over again.
Fellow Portlanders and travelers alike, what else would you add to this list of downtown food carts, restaurants, and bars?