Tales of a wandering lesbian


Portland is my home base.  In between travels, I find myself back here, staying with or housesitting for friends.  This return trip to Portland has been a string of housesitting gigs, punctuated by forays out into the exciting and quirky spots that Portland has to offer.

Last night I had a free night in between gigs, so I decided to get a room at one of Portland’s landmarks, the Kennedy School.  Part of the venerable McMenamins family, the Kennedy School is housed in a 1915 schoolhouse that was once part of the Portland school system.  In addition to 23 classroom/guest rooms, the property includes a soaking pool, 5 bars, a huge, interesting restaurant and a theater pub.

If you haven’t experienced McMenamins, here’s the skinny:  many of the bars, restaurants and hotels are located on historic properties in the Northwest.  The properties are restored and revitalized, filled with artwork based on the history of the properties.  The feel of the locations is one of history and carnival all in one.  Reality alert:  the restaurants are notoriously understaffed, making for an often challenging service experience, but the overall atmosphere almost always makes up for this.

Yesterday, I checked in to my room – Originally “classroom 4” and now the “Mirror Mirror” room, and headed to the theater for some dinner and a movie.  Along with lodging, the room rate includes free movies in the old auditorium and unlimited soaking in the soaking pool.

The theater is located in the school’s auditorium.

Movie-goers can order pizza, calzones, and a variety of other pub food – as well as beer and wine – to be delivered to the sofas and tables that serve as theater seats.

Yesterday was Wednesday, the day that the Kennedy School holds “Mommy Matinees,” movies for parents to bring their kids without concern for the running, talking and screaming discouraged in other theaters.  I ordered a veggie calzone, staked out a velvet sofa, and turned on my computer to check email while I waited for “The Princess and the Frog” to start.

The movie was completely enjoyable and the surroundings delightful.  And it was great to walk down the hall to my classroom bedroom when it was over.

The room itself was pretty darn cool.  The walls were lined with the original chalkboards, some of which were sliding panels enclosing old-school  coat racks doubling as a closet.  Too cool.

The room was decorated with phrases from the fairy tale “Snowdrop” (you might know it better as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves).  The “Mirror, mirror on the wall” sequence was cleverly written backward on the bathroom wall.

The thing I was most looking forward to was the soaking pool.  Located where the teacher’s lounge used to be, the soaking pool is a beautiful, tiled courtyard area.  The water is the right level of hot, with bubbles running down one length of the pool.  Last night it was a good mix of Portland-style, tri-athlete-looking folks, Rastafarians, steam rising from their hats and dreads, and young families sporting matching racing goggles (kids are allowed in the pool until 8PM, so plan to go later if you aren’t willing to move aside for them).

One of the great things about the Kennedy School is that it feels like one big living room.  It’s almost like visiting a friend’s big, old house.  There’s a lot of room to kick back and relax.  Like when I decided I wanted a brownie and ice cream at 10:00 at night.  I grabbed my computer and trotted down to the Courtyard Restaurant to eat and write.

I sat and listened to a few other people who were chatting and snacking.  And I wrote about meeting a new friend in the soaking pool.  When I’d mopped up the last bit of ice cream I packed up and walked the 50 yards back to my room – where I passed out in a brownie-induced stupor.

My time at the Kennedy school was fantastic.  The property is amazing; the room was original, roomy, comfortable and spotless.  The movie was entertaining and the soaking pool was ultra-relaxing, even with kids walking the perimeters of both.  And the food was good.  I’d say I had one of the best service experiences I’ve ever had with a McMenamins property.  It was so enjoyable that I’ll be recommending the place to my parents next time they’re in town.  It really does offer a genuinely Portland experience.

It’s nice to find new places to have adventures, and nice to be reminded that adventures are in my back yard – wherever I am.

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February 25, 2010   4 Comments

Back in P-Land

After spending some time with my family in Idaho, I’m back in Portland for a bit.  You know Portland – the land of the super-yummy specialty restaurants.

Today, I had lunch with my friend Leo, who I hadn’t seen in months.  We planned to go to a deli for some grub and gab, but when we drove up to it, it was closed.  Fighting through the momentary fluster, Leo regrouped.  “How about the Red Bike?  You like fried egg sandwiches?”

Now, I’d never heard of the Little Red Bike Café but, as it so happens, I do enjoy fried egg sandwiches.  So, we made a course-correction and headed toward the smell of butter (always a safe option).

The café is cute.  Disguised as an unsophisticated walk-up counter kind of place, the café is anything but.

Red Bike counter

The first clue to this was the tea menu.  If a place has more than 10 types of tea on a special menu, it’s not unsophisticated.  If the tea comes in a tea press, it’s bordering on fancy.

Red Bike tea

We ordered a couple of sandwiches and sat down to talk about life.  (Leo and I always have a good time conspiring to find fantastic business ideas and meaningful spiritual journeys.)  But when they food arrived, I found myself totally distracted by the first bite.

Red Bike flat tire

I got something called the “flat tire”.  It had scrambled egg, cheese, aoli and veggie-bacon on a sesame bagel.  Super-yum.  When I ordered, I asked them to leave the bacon off.  Forgetting I was back in Portland, I was surprised when the guy behind the counter offered me veggie-bacon.  Yup, veggie-bacon.  That just about made my day, not because I like bacon, but because I was reminded of the coolness of Portland.  And, as the sandwich sat there, the aoli melted and coated the bread and egg.

Leo got something else – something with real bacon.

Red Bike ciabatta

This bad-boy was serious.  It had a fried egg, thick bacon and was on a ciabatta roll.  I didn’t even ask how it was, I was so consumed with mine, but it looked tasty and disappeared quickly.

The staff was extra-helpful and Portland-funky.  As I walked out, I looked back on the place and mused.

Little Red Bike Cafe

Every-so-often I forget how cool Portland is.  You don’t even have to look for incredible places to eat here.  I’ve never even heard of a restaurant that specializes in fried-egg sandwiches, but now I know where to go next time I’m craving one.

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January 13, 2010   2 Comments

Five Stars

The Nines is a five-star hotel in Portland. In fact, it’s the only five-star hotel in the city. That’s an important point.

On my return trip to Portland, I booked a room at The Nines for a few nights. It’s in the old Meier & Frank building in downtown Portland, overlooking the Pioneer Courthouse.

Pio Courthouse View

It’s a pretty cool place. They hollowed out the building from the 8th floor up, to create an atrium that houses a fancy restaurant and several common areas, including a wood-paneled library/billiards room.

Before I get too far, I’d like to share the secret of how I was able to afford a room at The Nines: because it’s the only five-star hotel, you can use filters on Hotwire.com to make sure you get the best deal. Here’s how it works: usually you tell Hotwire what city and star-rating you want for a hotel, along with other things like how far it is form the city center. Hotwire comes back with a low price for the type of hotel, but doesn’t give you a name. That means you might get one of several different hotels in the area. It’s a bit of a gamble, but allows you to get a good deal on a room. However, if you plug in “Portland” and “five-stars”, the only option is The Nines, even though it won’t show you the name of the hotel. Excellent. What that meant for me is I paid the same for The Nines as any other big, downtown hotel, and a good bit less than if I’d booked direct.

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, here’s the skinny on The Nines. It’s beautiful. The rooms are decorated in white, turquoise and silver. My king room had a huge flat-screen tv, a desk, minibar, marble bathroom and velvet chaise lounge.

Nines bath

It’s the kind of place where they have a turn-down service every evening. When I returned from gallivanting around Portland, I found my bed turned-down, my terrycloth Nines robe arranged artfully on the bed, the tv remote and room service menu out, jazz playing on the clock radio/ipod speaker, ice in the bucket, and little chocolate cakes on the nightstand.

Turn down Ice bucket Cakes

The hotel is a fairly quiet one, despite its downtown location. Atrium view rooms are available at a premium, and cut down on the street noise, if you’re really looking for a quiet retreat. The hotel houses two restaurants, one in the 8th floor atrium, and one higher up. It has a nice business center with faxing and copying services, as well as printers, computers, and an Ethernet hookup for your laptop. It also has free wireless internet if you’re feeling anti-social.

The only thing it doesn’t have is cheap parking. The only hotel parking is valet parking, an expensive indulgence in a city that prides itself on its mass-transit and pedestrian-friendly streets. I took the Max light-rail from the airport to my hotel for a few dollars. No transfers and it dropped me off a half a block from the hotel entrance. Portland is a great place to explore on foot, but there is on-street parking that is free at night, and a “smart park” city-owned garage a few blocks away if you insist on having a car.

My nights at The Nines were a welcome retreat. I found myself thinking that a decompression period in the hotel might be a nice post-leap ritual.

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December 29, 2009   1 Comment

Portland is cool

Portland’s cool.  It really is.  Sometimes I forget, and I am reminded forcefully by my friends who take it as a personal insult – defending the awesomeness of Portland like it’s a family member.

Today, walking back from an excellent breakfast at the waffle cart (cool), I noticed that one of the homeowners along the way had converted their little garage into an artist’s studio in the Mississippi arts district (super cool).


When I walked over to snap a picture, I noticed a bike bell – hanging from the mirror of a van parked in front of the studio (the coolest).


It pretty much broke my cool meter.

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July 8, 2009   4 Comments