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February 26th, 2014 12:01 am WW Staff | Cover Story

26 Reasons to Love Portland Right Now

NO. 18

In the beginning, there was FreeDarko, and it was weird.

FreeDarko was a blog. FreeDarko was named after Darko Milicic, a former NBA player who was not talented at playing basketball. FreeDarko was the brainchild of Bethlehem Shoals, a Wieden +  Kennedy copywriter (real name: Nathaniel Friedman) whose analysis of the NBA was often interrupted by digressive fantasias such as “If Dirk Nowitzki Was a Chair, What Kind of Chair Would He Be?”

Shoals’ fusion of avant-garde comedy and incisive basketball analysis has garnered him a lot of imitators. Few have taken his model to quite the extremes as his hometown colleagues at the Portland Roundball Society—who concentrate on the Trail Blazers in ways that usually involve several references to dragons. A recent recap by Joe Swide of an otherwise unremarkable Blazers win over the Minnesota Timberwolves started with a long paragraph focusing on the possibility that Timberwolves star Kevin Love missed the game because he was up all night holding open a barf bag for a teammate vomiting raw goat.

These are, it goes without saying, the best Blazers game recaps in the city. AARON MESH.

NO. 19

Image courtesy of Pittock

This year, Portland’s original hipster hangout is celebrating its centennial.

That, of course, is the Pittock Mansion, the 22-room West Hills estate built for Weekly Oregonian publisher Henry Pittock and his family.

Finished in 1914, the mansion-turned-museum sits on 46 acres just north of West Burnside Street. Take a tour, and you’ll learn about Pittock, his wife, Georgiana, and their children. One thing becomes quickly apparent: These pioneering Portlanders shared many of the same interests we do today, including bicycling, ecologically responsible permaculture gardens, hiking and crafting.

“It’s not as if they were the only people in their time who were doing these sorts of things,” says Marta Bones, executive director of the mansion. “But they were very enthusiastic about them.”

Cycling, for starters. Pittock, who wore a thick goatee and locally made wool clothing, was known to take long rides on his fixie.

“He took it up later in his life because bicycling wasn’t really a thing until the late 1800s, so he started bicycling when he was a senior,” Bones says. “But he would bike all over.”

Sometimes Pittock rode all the way to his paper mill in Camas, Wash.—a 23-mile drive on modern roads.

Pittock was also an outdoorsman, ascending Mount Hood four times. His love of the wilderness extended to his own garden, which favored local plants in a naturalistic setting. “There were plans drawn up for elaborate gardens—terraced, manicured flower beds—and he didn’t do any of that,” Bones says. “He said, ‘I like the forest how it is.’”

Georgiana favored sewing and gardening. “You can think of her as a crafty, hands-on person,” Bones says, “between all the rose gardening she did and the sewing guild.”

The Pittocks also liked to fiddle with then-modern devices: The mansion had lines for both of Portland’s rival telephone services to keep the couple on top of news and trends.

“He was always working hard to find out the news early, so he was constantly trying to be aware of what was going on locally,” Bones says. “They wanted to be able to communicate with anyone they needed to, in the way we might have an iPad and the best, fastest Internet connection.” MARTIN CIZMAR.

NO. 20

IMAGE: Emma Browne

NO. 21

Veganism has the tendency to be a scary cult of consumption. Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of well-rehearsed, horrific details relating to the meal you’re trying to eat, contentious vegans might just leave you facing a real moral dilemma. Only if, however, those facts were being delivered by someone obviously faster, stronger or prettier than yourself.

Fortunately, Portland has fat vegans.

You don’t have to worry about whether someone might be a vegan; as the Facebook meme goes, they’ll tell you. Here in Portland, though, the quickest way to spot one in the wild is to visit a Voodoo Doughnut and look for any individuals breathing laboriously and breaking a sweat from standing on their tiptoes to see the vegan offerings of the top shelf. This is apparently the proper position to assume when working to demonstrate the superiority of their diet for the economy, the ecology and personal health.

Our fat vegans serve as proof there are no hidden paths to happiness. They show us that morality doesn’t arise from that which is best for other beings, but rather that the true meaning of life is about justifying one’s own desires and indulging without remorse before ever having to deal with the consequences of those actions. And that even vegan fare can, indeed, be all too delicious. RIAN NIELSEN.

NO. 22

Portland has long claimed to be the nation’s best coffee city. Since October, when the Alliance for Coffee Excellence opened an office here, we’re actually the official deciders of the world’s best beans.

“We’re in the mecca,” says Anna Abatzoglou of the ACE. “Portland very much treasures quality, and our program is about quality coffee.”

The ACE is a global not-for-profit organization that owns and operates the “Olympics of coffee,” known as the Cup of Excellence. It was founded in 2002 in Missoula, Mont., and still maintains its headquarters there. But, as it expanded, the organization wanted to open an office in a city more accommodating to coffee-world dignitaries and a large base of serious baristas.

That was neither Seattle nor San Francisco. “It was definitely always Portland,” Abatzoglou says. “I think Portland has a spirit, a vibe going that is conducive to what’s happening in speciality coffee.”

The Cup of Excellence involves coffee-bean farmers from 10 countries in Africa and the Americas. Their beans go through a three-week competition where thousands of samples are cupped using a ceramic glass and a bowl-shaped spoon, with scoring based on acidity, sweetness, flavor and aftertaste. “You want to get the proper extraction from the coffee, and there’s this very strict protocol for cupping, especially for Cup of Excellence,” Abatzoglou says. Once the winners are chosen, the coffee is priced and sold at auction. Sisters Coffee Co., Nossa Familia and Nordstrom Cafe currently serve Cup of Excellence coffee in Portland. 

Abatzoglou says the farmer who produces the superior beans is given roughly 85 percent of auction proceeds. The remaining 15 percent goes back to the country coordinators of Cup of Excellence. “Portland really cares about traceability and cares about a sustainable infrastructure,” Abatzoglou says. “The coffee is the best coffee in the world, but it’s also a win-win situation because it is the farmers who get rewarded.”

NO. 23

The Eagles may have robbed Chip Kelly from the state of Oregon, but that’s still a lopsided trade, considering that, long ago, Portland stole of the heart of Philadelphia’s coolest son.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson—drummer for rap’s greatest live act, the Roots; walking music encyclopedia; Afro enthusiast; Time’s Coolest Person of 2013; and, as of last week, the new Tonight Show bandleader—grew up in the city of brotherly love, dog-fighting quarterbacks and winging batteries at Santa Claus. But if his current job didn’t require him to stay in New York, he’d be kicking it in the land of craft beer and roses.

“My All-Time Favorite City In The World!” Thompson tweeted last June, when he dropped in to DJ at the Do Over, a hip-hop day party at White Owl Social Club in Southeast Portland. That’s not an empty platitude of the sort rock stars use to get cheap applause: He’s been shouting out Stumptown for years. Back in 2008, when Rolling Stone asked him about the places he’d most like to live, he said Portland tops his list “because of its record stores—plus it has the most strip clubs in America per capita.” Three years later, in Philadelphia magazine, Thompson reiterated his infatuation, ranking us above Austin, Tokyo and, yes, even Philadelphia, adding Nike headquarters and our “awesome throwback ’80s arcade” to his reasons for loving Portland.

The tourism bureau might as well shred every livability study and whatever else it uses to sell the city to outsiders: When a guy who’s jammed with Elvis Costello, Jay-Z and President Obama is envious of our ability to play BurgerTime whenever we want, what other testimonial do you need? MATTHEW SINGER.

NO. 24

You’ll be telling your grandkids this story, and they won’t believe you. In 2010, if you wanted a homemade Bosnian pita from a trailer in front of the Governor Hotel, you had to pull wadded-up fabric—laden with disease and cocaine—out of a strip of cow leather. And the lady at the cart would actually trade that filth for delicious beef burek and phyllo bread.

Well, thank God, that’s almost over. Since the addition of point-of-sale card readers such as Square, it’s gotten to the point where you can count Portland’s cash-only restaurants on 10 knuckles. Lazy Portland has been a ridiculously enthusiastic adopter of credit-card readers.

In 2012, our city was No. 1 in per-capita Square usage nationwide. Today, we’re still among the leading cities, while also using  scrappy, local card-reader startups like Ulutu. We currently count 75,000 of those little Square readers among the city’s merchants. That’s one for every nine people in town. You can buy fresh raspberries with your debit card at the freaking farmers market. You can use cards to pay for parking. Just this year, Escape From New York Pizza backed down from a 30-year cash-only policy. Beulahland, Dots Cafe and the Slammer Tavern now take credit. Even the vast majority of food carts have little readers on their phones and iPads—although notably not Burrasca, our newly minted Food Cart of the Year.

We offer, humbly, a very tiny hit list of brick-and-mortar holdouts, in no particular order: Voodoo Doughnut, Boxer Ramen, Fuller’s, Taqueria Los Gorditos, Roadside Attraction, Lemongrass Thai.

Just wait, in five years there will be protests at their doors. It’ll be 1968 all over again. It’ll be Apple’s “1984” commercial. Watch out. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

NO. 25

IMAGE: Emma Browne

I moved to Southwest Portland’s Corbett-Terwilliger-Lair Hill neighborhood 40 years ago, just before Willamette Week published its first issue. My house—heat, water and electricity included—totaled $90 a month.

Back then, CTLH—which officially shortened its name to South Portland in 2006—was a hippie haven home to the city’s biggest LSD manufacturer. It has everything I want: great neighbors, modest Victorian houses, a grocery store across the street, easy access to I-5.

That last item created the neighborhood’s one major drawback: The Willamette River lies just a few hundred yards to the east, but it’s been largely inaccessible since the freeway severed the neighborhood.

But, a few years back, the city hung a tram on Pill Hill. With it came a sop to the neighborhood in the form of a 700-foot steel-box girder bridge across I-5 for pedestrians and cyclists. That bridge—officially named for former U.S. Congresswoman Darlene Hooley but often mistakenly called the Gibbs Street bridge—has changed the way my neighborhood relates to the city. Suddenly, we’re connected to the waterfront parks, the new Sellwood Bridge, the Hawthorne Bridge, the Esplanade and the streetcar line that will soon be a complete loop between downtown and the east side. In a year or so, it’ll be possible to bicycle from my house all the way to Gresham while riding only a few blocks on city streets.


What could be better? RICHARD H. MEEKER.

NO. 26

IMAGE: Jerek Hollender

Portland has a habit of falling for the wrong Blazers.

There was our fling with Rudy Fernandez, who briefly enamored us with his exotic Eurotrashiness before whining his way out of the league and back to España. Patty Mills was sweet, but he was a certified towel-waver. Channing Frye was certainly charming, and he reciprocated our feelings, but his favorite restaurant was the Buffalo Gap in John’s Landing—major red flag.

What we have with Robin Lopez is different. He’s different. He’s a lot like us. He loves comic books. He’s obsessed with all things Disney. He uses Twitter and Instagram to make references to Boy Meets World and The Goonies and crushing on Emmy Rossum. He plays Bruce Springsteen deep cuts as his pregame warm-up music. In a city of overgrown man-children, the Blazers’ starting center is the biggest kid of all. If he didn’t look like a walking oak tree and speak in the rumbling baritone of an orc standing guard over a medieval castle, he wouldn’t appear out of place hanging on a porch in Southeast Portland, ranking Harry Potter characters and arguing the merits of traditional cartoon animation versus CGI.

These are not things NBA players are supposed to care about. Professional athletes are celebrated for having a single-minded focus on the game—see the media’s exaltation of near-sociopaths Kobe Bryant and Derrick Rose. When Lopez and his twin brother, Brook, were at Stanford, Sports Illustrated and The New York Times wrote profiles gawking at their love of video games and Michael Jackson. But Robin has never played up his outside interests for marketing purposes. He isn’t trying to brand himself as the NBA player non-basketball fans can relate to. He’s just a 7-foot, 255-pound rebounding machine, who also happens to rock a big reddish-brown ’fro and have strong opinions on wizards.

Lopez doesn’t seem to know why any of this makes him cool—which is precisely why he’s the coolest guy in the league. And as long as the Blazers keep winning with him in the middle, he’s ours. May this relationship live long and prosper. MATTHEW SINGER.

ˆ[This article previously listed the wrong location for the Do Over hip hop party. This has been corrected.]

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