Monday, October 1, 2007

Wanderlust: Portland's Hip Hotels

I'm sort of obsessed with Portland, Oregon. (Well, as obsessed as one can be with a place that one has never actually set foot in -- which, in my case, is fairly obsessed.)

In fact, I'm so fixated on Portland that I threatened to move the whole family there, sight unseen, a couple of years ago. Saner heads (that would be the kids') ultimately prevailed, but I'm still holding out the option.

I don't know what it is about the place, but -- at least from afar -- it seems to possess some sort of magical combo of big-city sophistication, small-town homeyness, great food, natural beauty, arty funk, homegrown music, old-time charm, and affordable (at least by Bay Area standards) housing. On the more sweltering days here in the balmy East Bay, even Portland's purportedly endless drizzle seems romantic. And it doesn't hurt that a recent article about the city was entitled "Weird, and Proud of It." That's my kind of town.

Though we're not packing up the U-Haul just yet, I'm absolutely dying to check out Portland in person. It's definitely the locale of our next big family vacation -- most likely over the Thanksgiving or winter break. I have a file folder growing ever-thicker with articles about the rejuvenated industrial Pearl District, Hawthorne, and other cozy-yet-cosmopolitan neighborhoods to explore; tearsheets with ads for all the great stores I want to hit; and reviews of Portland's foodie favorites and increasingly hip hotel choices (like the white-hot Ace, above).

When we travel, we usually sublet somebody's apartment for a week or so (though I'm keen to try house-swapping, too) rather than stay in hotels. Not only is it cheaper, but we get a lot more space, have the option of eating in rather than springing for restaurant meals three times a day, and can pretend that we're locals while we're in town. But these digs look so tempting that we may just suck it up and book a room.

Here's a peek at my shortlist of Portland lodgings:

The Ace Hotel
Housed in a 1912 building near the Pearl (and a block from Portland's legendary Powells Books), the Ace features funky vintage furnishings and Army surplus-chic decor, art-centric spaces (each room has an original mural), a fleet of rental bikes, record players in some rooms, a photo booth in the lobby, and an on-site coffeehouse. It's the sort of place where you might find a dot-com millionaire, a starving art student, or a touring band bunking for the night. Rates range from $95 to $250. Check out the Ace Hotel here.

Hotel deLuxe
Though it doesn't exactly jibe with Portland's damp-and-funky aesthetic, this lavish downtown Deco gem channels an old Hollywood glamour that's hard to resist. Rooms come with iPod docks, flatscreen TVs, and a "pillow menu." There's also room service and daycare for your dog, a swanky screening room that unspools classic films and new releases, a Noirish cocktail lounge, and an elegant eatery. Sounds de-Lovely. Rates range from $159 to $329. Check out the Hotel deLuxe here.

Hotel Lucia
Understated luxury and hushed tranquility ooze from this art- and photography-themed downtown hotel, which features the work of Pulitzer Prize winner (and PDX native) David Hume Kennerly. Part modern art gallery and part upscale hideaway, the Lucia boasts stellar service (press the "get it now" button in your guest room and a staff member will materialize almost instantly to grant your wish) and a contemporary Asian-fusion vibe. Rates range from $149 to $259. Check out Hotel Lucia here.

Hotel Monaco
Decorated in high Anglo-Chinois style by Cheryl Rowley, this glammed-up Pioneer Square dowager boasts an enviable private art collection to complement the dramatic decor. There's a "curator on call" to squire guests to the Portland Art Museum and local galleries. Pets are welcome, too -- and the hotel's canine "pet concierge," Art, can even arrange (presumably with a little help from his human handlers) visits from a pet masseur or pet psychic. Rates range from $160 to $245. Check out the Hotel Monaco here.

Jupiter Hotel
A hipster's haven with a techno beat, this mod motel is located in Portland's uber-trendy "LoBu" neighborhood. Highlights include chalkboard doors, retro-modern furnishings, an adjoining club called Doug Fir, and a rave-party vibe that keeps pumpin' until 4 a.m. When supermodels, European club kids, and rock stars have stopovers in Portland, I suspect that this is where you'll find them. Rates range from $99 to $119. Check out the Jupiter Hotel here.

McMenamins Kennedy School
A converted 1915 schoolhouse in Northeast Portland, the Kennedy puts up guests in classrooms complete with original chalkboards, feeds them in the wood-paneled cafeteria, and lubricates them in the Honors Bar, Detention Bar, or two other watering holes. An attached brewery, a soaking pool on the site of the former teachers' lounge, and a pizza parlour-cum-movie theater in the school's auditorium make this a fun and laid-back choice. In fact, I think it's my favorite of the bunch, since it most closely captures the friendly, funky, down-to-earth Portland I have in my mind's eye. Rates range from $99 to $125. Check out McMenamins Kennedy School here.

I can practically smell the rain and the microbrew now ...

(Any Portlanders out there with other tips for lodging -- or suggestions for shopping, eating, seeing? If so, please share 'em!)

P.S. I finally went! Click here, here, and here for more info on Portland lodging and shopping.


kelly said...

I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and am now de-lurking to say that I love your blog... and... The Kennedy School is AWESOME!

It's a total blast to stay there and I think it would be extra-fun with a family. However, it's not downtown, so you have to travel a bit if you want to spend time in Portland proper.

We love love LOVE to vacation in Portland and it's hard to say which I prefer -- the joy of the Kennedy School + travel to get downtown OR staying downtown, where you can pretty much walk or take transport everywhere

It might be too much hassle w/ the family, but I might suggest staying part of your trip at Kennedy and part downtown -- get the best of both worlds?

Have fun in Portland! ;)

Leah said...

Welcome, Kelly!

Thanks for the tip. The geography of a place is always a bit lost on me until I walk, bus, or drive it myself, so I didn't have much sense of how "far out" the Kennedy School was.

I like your idea of staying a few days each in different parts of town. I'll take it under advisement!

All the best,


minouette said...


I followed the link to your blog from decor8. I happen to have stayed at the Hotel Monaco recently and quite enjoyed it, so I thought I'd post here. Rarely have I been to a hotel where I could get excited about the wallpaper! They gave my boss and me their membership cards for the art museum, so we went for free. They were very helpful. There was free wine testing in the evenings and coffee at breakfast. I liked Art too.
If you can afford it, I would recommend it.

It was my impression though, as someone who has merely visited twice, that Portland has gone downhill. It seemed rather economically depressed.

Mandy Lou said...

I’m with you on Portland (Seattle too)! I’ve never been, but I’d move in a flash if it were possible.

As a former Bay Area gal, I think the Pacific Northwest has some serious draw – you get the pluses of the bay area (art, design, great food and entertainment) with out as many of the drawbacks. I’m stuck in the mid-west now, and while it has its upsides, you can bet that I’ll be headed out that way as soon as possible!

Anonymous said...

I live in the East Bay and I'm obsessed with Portland in exactly the same way (including the "never been there", and the "we should pick up and move there" parts). Thanks for these hotels! Ace and Kennedy School look amazing.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Im all obsessed about portland to! Planing a trip there and this was some great tips!All the best/ Amelia

Anonymous said...

Well, alright I will comment. Even though it is my first visit here EVER. I'm not shy.

And since I live in Portland, I can say we are not depressed, economically or otherwise! Not that I know of anyways.

It is a pretty cool and sometimes weird place to live. Some people here are weird, I think. Yet, we think the rest of the country is abnormal because most of of it has to pump its own gas. We can't imagine why you would want to do that. We also pay no sales tax, so that is a good thing. It is not a cheap housing market by any means, but compared to CA or even Seattle it is reasonable. I wouldn't say the drizzle is romantic every day of winter, but from time to time it can be that way. I would like a bit more sun, but it could be worse. We have pretty tolerable weather most of the year. We are pretty happy to be living here all around!

I have enjoyed perusing your blog and have surprisingly found lots of ways to waste time! Great! Thanks! It was quite fun!

PS. I don't hate GP (different post!), but I do hate that she is perfect. It is not fair.


Eliza said...

I hope you have Powell's on your list... and an afternoon to spend perusing the shelves. The Pearl and Hawthorne are pretty awesome but so is Broadway from I-5 east (on the east side of the river).

And if you are into cupcakes... try Cupcake Jones in the Pearl on 12th and Couch (I think?) it's decadence in a little cake (they come in two sizes!!!).

Uh, yeah, I love Portland too....

Leah said...

Will do.

Thanks, Eliza!


Anonymous said...

I LOVE Portland. I was fortunate enough to live there for 7 years before needing (and wanting ) to take care of the folks back east. It is everything you've written AND more.

(I've lived in over a dozen states; a couple of foreign countries, and travelled to 4 continents, so far. Portland is my favorite place on earth.)

Anonymous said...


I just read your blog on Portland Oregon. I have grown up about 2 hours south in Eugene all of my life and still love to go to Portland for new and exciting adventures. I recently stayed at the Ace hotel with 3 other friends and it was nice, especially the little coffee shop down below. One of the best lattes I have ever gotten. Anyway, although the Ace was nice, I am a huge fan of the McMennamin Bros. I love all of their hotels and they really have managed to create their own "brand." McMennamins The Crystal Ballroom is a wonderful place to go for a night out. It's weird and cheap and gets very busy on Saturday night. The staff has always been fantastic there. If you get a chance come to Eugene too!


Anonymous said...

Also check out Corvallis if you're thinking of relocating.

I am an OSU alum and the city has really came into its' "own" over the past few years. It's much smaller, not as much for the traveler, but gorgeous and some great places to eat. I have always planned on moving back there. If you are traveling by car, may I suggest getting on HWY 99 and following it either north or south. You will see much more of the state. I-5 doesn't do much justice.

But being away from Corvallis now, sometimes I just drive up there to go to some of my old favorite spots. Nearly Normals Gonzo Cuisine, New
Morning Bakery, etc. Also while you're in Eugene, you HAVE to go to Sweet Life! I love everything there, you can access their website: It's a little local secret. Also, Bepe and Gianni's Trattoria is a fantastic restaurant near campus!

I am sure that most people have also told you that you will probably get rained on... June is a great time to come. But if you don't mind the rain, come on up!


Anonymous said...

I transplanted to Portland from LA ten years ago and absolutely love it. It is a great city to eat in, raise kids and enjoy a quality of life. The Pearl District does offer many art galleries and cool restaurants, but there are other areas the locals enjoy such as the Alberta district and Sellwood. What makes Portland charming is the people, they are genuinely nice here! (Even if you are from California) Must eats: Voodoo donuts with a Stumptown Coffee shop a block away, Saburo Sushi (must arrive 1/2 hr before opening), Salty's Sunday brunch on the Columbia river (make reservations)and Queen of Sheba for great Ethiopian food.

I've also lived in Eugene and Corvallis, both college towns. They are nice for a visit but somewhat difficult to transition to from a larger city, especially for a person of color.

Anonymous said...

Glad you finally made it to Portland!

I'm going for the third time next month - and I love Portland too. Urban yet full of nature, friendly, great restaurants, decent nightlife...

For this visit I'm staying at a new hotel called Hotel Fifty. Ace Hotel is booked or I probably would have stayed there.

Happy travels!

Anonymous said...

fantastic post! I live in Tacoma, WA and was looking to stay at the ACE this wekend but they were filled up. I googled hip hotles in PDX and was dropped off at this post. I ended up booking a room for my wife and i at the Jupiter. Thanks much!


ElementaryPenguin said...

Hey there, I know this is an older blog I just stumbled upon,
but i'm a portland native and i couldnt resist imparting a bit more what-to-do-where-to-go knowledge upon you :)

my friends and I are sort of connoisseurs of everything portland... we are personally obsessed with our city. And we're also broke. So i dont have good recommendations for the ritzy places (except that the bellboys' tudor outfits at the Heathman Hotel always make me want to stay there), but i can give you the best of affordable portland.


Best Pizza: Escape from New York Pizza. it might even be better than new york. Take cash, b/c they dont accept anything else.

Best dessert: Rimskykorsacoffeehouse. It's not in downtown, but its worth a venture purley because the largest circular table.. rotates. Yup. it rotates. Their coffee isnt that great, but their dessert is fab.

Best ice cream/yogurt: Skinny Dip on upper burnside. It's REAL yogurt. And its amazing.

Best Mexican food: Porque No. it's in the Albina area on the east side of I-5. And while you're in Albina..

Best coffee (besides Stumptown): Albina Press. They're nationally acclaimed as one of the best coffee shops in the country.

Best donuts: Voodoo Donuts. It's a portland institution.

Best concert venue: Chyrstal Ballroom, hands down. Arrange your schedule next time you go so you can see a concert there. The floor has tires underneath it so it bounces...

You already got House of Vintage on one of your other blogs, which is definitely one of the best vintage shops in ptown... so that's about all i have :)

I hope you get to come back soon, to the best city in the world!

Keep Portland Weird!

Leah said...

Awesome -- thanks, EP!

Michael said...

Just found this... a little late? Haha.... Portland is such a mixed bag with cooler than thou Kurt Cobain knock off's and hipster ridiculousness (I am more vegan than you!), but it is a wonderful town... and outside Portland is where it gets REALLY beautiful. A little over a half hour away wine country is more beautiful than France... which sort of blew my mind. But those hip hotels are way too much for me.... charging a higher rate for garrish interior design trying to cover tiny boxes.

I love the Governor downtown. It is so classic and stylishly old school. Beautiful building. Also... The Allison is opening in a couple weeks.... that is what I call relaxing. =)

Tasha said...

I get to go to portland for work (YAY!) and i found your blog when googling "funky hotels portland"

um, one stop shopping, thank you!!!

Anonymous said...

This is such a great post about places to stay in Portland! My sister is getting married there in a few weeks, and I've been meaning to find a bed and breakfast. I keep putting it off, because I've never been to Portland, and it feels so intimidating to look for places to sleep when you've never actually been to that town. The Ace Hotel looks like my style, and I think I'd feel most comfortable staying there. I'm especially excited that it's so close to Powells Books. I've never been there, but I've always wanted to go.


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