The new Portland Monthly is the Andrew Sugar of magazines. You know Sugar--he's the Florida moneybags who swooped into town a few years back and built the sleek restaurant-bar-club combo Lush/Level. Hate it or hate it, there's no denying Sugar's empire sparked Portland's appetite for serious swank, paving the way for Mint and East, egg chairs and avocado martinis.
The debut issue of Portland Monthly, released at a much-hyped invite-only bash Sept. 27, is plenty lush. Aimed at upscale, mostly female readers, it looks like a blend of Entertainment Weekly and an in-flight magazine, with slick ads for fashion boutiques, jewelers, modern-furniture stores, Pearl District realtors and restaurants. The cover is a World's Fair-style illustration of an idealized Portlandscape, glowing like Disneyland, the outstretched hand of Portlandia beckoning. The 104-page package reflects the city's cultural shift toward the chic; there's even a review of Carlyle, catering king Bruce Goldberg's new restaurant at Northwest 17th Avenue and Thurman Street, a harbinger of fancy dining in what the magazine tactfully calls an "untapped district" under an overpass.
Editor Scott Vogel and publisher Nicole Vogel, the brother-and-sister team behind Portland Monthly, moved to town last year. He's a former theater critic for The New York Times website and features writer for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. She's a former vice president at Turner Broadcasting. They printed 40,000 copies of the inaugural issue ($3.99 at major grocers and newsstands) and will publish bimonthly for the first six issues.
As for competition, there isn't much. Portland UpClose came and went before anyone noticed. Portland Magazine, a year-old quarterly, comes across as good-hearted but hopelessly amateurish in comparison.
Portland Monthly does have its weak points. A Harper's Index-style factbox in the Mudroom (the news-briefs section) is entertaining but includes no sources or attribution. The photography looks great, but many of the layouts are cramped. Serious articles, such as one on the dog poisonings at Laurelhurst Park, are juxtaposed with oddly flippant, mostly unsigned "humor" pieces that veer between silly and embarrassing. The cover story, on 50 reasons to love Portland, is oddly organized by vague keyword ("delight," "urbanity," "shock"); the writing is energetic but too glib and often downright baffling. (Item 30, on "best-of lists," is either way postmodern or just ridiculous: "Call it an obsession with list-lessness, but the town's gone ratings-rageous, as the present pages humbly attest.")
The issue is anchored by a meaty, well-written article by March magazine editor Adam Van Loon, "The Rebound Year." With juicy quotes from several key folks, he examines the Trail Blazers marketing team's full-court press toward reconnecting the team with its disillusioned public; it's an interesting piece of cultural analysis that perceptively uses the team as a symbol of the city. And in the back of the magazine, the performance and restaurant listings are zingy and authoritative.
Bottom line, in city-mag parlance: The main course shows a lot of promise, but the rest of the meal is a little too Sugary.