Best of Portland 2014: Best Buys

Emma McIlroy (left) and co-owner Julia Parsley at Wildfang.


Listening to Emma McIlroy, it's easy to forget she's talking about cropped hoodies and ripped overalls. The Ireland-born 30-year-old speaks in fevered, near-evangelistic tones about Wildfang (1230 SE Grand Ave., 208-3631,, the tomboy-inspired fashion company she co-founded in March 2013. "Our girl is bold, she breaks some rules, she's original, she's independent, she's cheeky," McIlroy says. "We want to make her life better."

What are Wildfang's tools for life improvement? Menswear-inspired blazers, plaid bow ties and patchwork-print snapback hats. McIlroy says her sartorial goal is to look like she's just fallen out of Keith Richards' closet. Her business partner, Julia Parsley, a 33-year-old with a pixie bouffant, favors functionality and comfort—think shredded overalls with faux-leather straps. Wildfang's growth has been nothing short of meteoric. In a year, it's gone international, launched its own private collection and opened a storefront, an airy space on Southeast Grand Avenue, where the shelves are lined not only with muscle tanks and beanies but slingshots, succulents and books about Jacques Cousteau and hand-to-hand combat. Wes Anderson would be at home. For McIlroy and Parsley, who each left six-figure salaries at Nike—they now make about $45,000 each—the rise has been dizzying.

And that's to say nothing of their brand's big-name fans: actresses Kate Mara, Evan Rachel Wood, Kristen Stewart and Ellen Page (who basically lives in her black Wildfang cap, emblazoned with the word "TOMBOY"), swimmer-turned-model Casey Legler, Tegan and Sara, Band of Skulls bassist Emma Richardson, Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry and basketball player Brittney Griner. On a Friday in late June, McIlroy and Parsley were still reeling from the previous evening—singer Janelle Monáe had stopped by for an unexpected three-hour shopping spree. According to McIlroy, at one point Monáe turned to her: "It's like you made this for me," she said. REBECCA JACOBSON.


This city doesn't need extra incentives to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon—it's wildly popular in Portland, where Lutz Tavern is credited with relaunching the dad-beer brand. But McDonald's didn't need toys to sell hamburgers, either. If PBR is the Big Mac of the bar scene, you'll find the drinks on the Pabst menu at the Side Street Tavern (828 SE 34th Ave., 236-7999, are like Happy Meals, with small tokens of appreciation for the 1 billion served.

Some of the bar's drinks actually transform Stumptown's default swill into something entirely new. The Pabstini comes with olives, while the Pabst Red Ribbon is a red beer made with tomato juice or bloody mary mix. Other drinks satirize the people most likely to order such a thing. You get the choice of a fake mustache with the Portlander, or a Polaroid selfie with the Andy Warhol. The favorite? According to one server, it's the Cheap Cowboy, a tall boy paired with a Pall Mall cigarette. Beats a plastic Despicable Me figurine. MATTHEW SINGER.


It's disturbing to see people washing hair attached to a decapitated head. But then you realize the head belongs to a mannequin, not a real person. And then you look around the expansive salon at Beau Monde (1221 SW 12th Ave., 226-7355, and realize students are also styling the hair of full-bodied mannequins in between working on live customers. That's a little strange, but it's OK, because you are going to get a $10 haircut—only $6 on select days.

Pick the right day and you can get a $12 facial, a manicure and pedicure for $15, or an "all-over color" for $25. That's cheap. And in this case, cheap is good. Beau Monde has been training hairstylists since 1960, and as scary as it might be to put your head in an amateur's hands, highly experienced supervisors drift from station to station making sure things don't get out of hand. And, oh, there's free popcorn. NIGEL JAQUISS.


Do you need to purchase and ship a new custom glass bong to Bermuda, where you will be vacationing? Are you also maybe too pale for that upcoming beach vacation? Would you like an up-do and blond highlights to match your new tan? Would you also prefer to get your new will notarized before traveling? Well, there's only one place in Portland where you can handle all of this important business in one stop. That's Woodstock Tan (4326 SE Woodstock Blvd., 771-9175,, which is also, conveniently, a hair salon, smoke shop, authorized FedEx Ship Center and notary public. The bongs—er, water pipes—rolling papers and custom glass are in a room up front, by the mailboxes and shipping counter. The tanning beds are in the middle, and the hair salon is in the back. The only apparent product crossover is in the huge selection of hemp butter sunscreen. How did this come to be?

The FedEx/tanning salon has been here since 1988, says owner Paul VanGorder, who further subdivided the space with plans to bring in more tanning and beauty businesses—"massage, whatever."

"One of my customers makes pipes here locally, and he approached me and asked if I would rent the space to him," VanGorder says. That guy ran the shop for only about three months before another sublettee took it over.

"We help each other out," VanGorder says. "We run their shops when they're not there, and they run my shop when I'm not there." MARTIN CIZMAR.


Steve Prastka and his wife, Joyce Chua, a pair of Vancouver industrial designers, have created high-tech products that range from laptops to lasers for eye surgery. Cremation supplies wouldn't seem to be a natural progression.

But when Chau's father died, they were faced with hundreds of distasteful choices about where to store his ashes—brass vases engraved with flags and eagles, or wooden boxes carved with wildlife scenes. They found nothing they wanted to put on their mantle.

So Prastka and Chua launched Capsule (, a high-end, seemingly bombproof line of products made and assembled just outside Portland with aluminum mined in the U.S.

Their design is simple, sleek and strong. It has won international attention at the German Design Awards and the Spark Design Awards. Their top-of-the-line C-5050 polished chrome and black nickel urn looks like a reinforced Kleenex box, and will set you back $1,800.

"You could run it over with a car," Prastka says. "It would take a big bomb to destroy that thing."

Capsule also broke into the pet urn business, after people began buying full-size urns for their dogs and cats. For $300, you can store Fido in a fashionably sleek aluminum keepsake urn shaped like a hockey puck.

"I don't think people realize how many pet producers there are in the pet-cremation world," Prastka says. "Pet funeral directors are everywhere. It's very sophisticated." KATE WILLSON.


The most notable members of the infamous Portland Mavericks found success through something other than athletics—as a film director, a car-dealership magnate or a Kurt Russell. But the long-gone indie Class A squad's greatest legacy actually has something to do with the sport.

"Because of Big League Chew, my student loans are paid for," Rob Nelson says. "I think it should be the official bubblegum of Oregon. Even though it was made in Buffalo, it was created here."

A self-confessed "junkball lefty" reliever, Nelson came up with the notion for an alternative to chewing tobacco while killing time in the dugout with Mavericks ace Jim Bouton, the former New York Yankees pitcher and Ball Four author.

"There were guys who were chewing tobacco and spitting on each others' shoes all around the bullpen," Nelson recalls. "Jim asked me if I'd ever chewed. I told him I tried it once and thought it was disgusting. Maybe an inning or so later, I told him about an idea I'd had for some time—suppose we shredded gum? We would look as tough as these guys, but we wouldn't make ourselves sick!"

Bouton, who'd spent time in the Chicago Cubs organization, took the idea to the Wrigley family. In 1980, Big League Chew sales amounted to $21 million. The product is still going strong—maybe even stronger than the nicotine stuff that inspired it and which is shunned even in Portland, where corncob pipes are a fashion statement and rolled cigarettes the highest of crafts. Next month, Big League Chew, to which Nelson still owns the trademark, will attempt to break the Guinness World Record for most simultaneous gum bubbles, before the first game of Cal Ripken Jr.'s youth baseball tournament in Maryland.

"Kids like that there's no individual wrapper," Nelson says. "They can share with their friends. They can take a little. They can take a lot. I promise you it's not because they wanna look like Lenny Dykstra in 1986. That doesn't exist anymore." JAY HORTON.


Walk through the coffee shop at Powell's City of Books and you're likely to spot Arnold World. Just look for the white lilies and roses sprouting from upside-down disposable cups.

World makes these blossoms from paper towels. Specifically, from

Tork Premium Multifold Hand Towels

, a brand he settled on after a great deal of trial and error. "They hold their shape, which I think is probably due to the high concentration of bleach," he says, face crinkling under his Nike baseball cap as he chuckles. "This is one of the most cost-effective forms of art there is."

World, a 52-year-old originally from Minneapolis, picked up the art of paper-towel flower-crafting 10 years ago. While working at a used-car lot in Beaverton, a customer gave him a calla lily made from a white napkin. When he was laid off two years later, he spent his free time at the public library and eventually found ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging that prioritizes shape and line over explosive color. It's a minimalist approach that informs World's work. His flowers, each of which takes about an hour to make, are carefully, lovingly built. "No scissors, no glue, no tape, no wire," he says—just paper towel. There's a simplicity and softness to his creations, with none of the sharp edges of traditional origami.

To create the flowers, World tears the paper towels into strips. With worn finger pads, he rolls and shapes the petals, leaves and stems, adding the occasional decorative curlicue. He sometimes dips his fingers in water, or breathes warmly on the paper towel, a process he likens to ironing. He waits for people to approach him, and when they do, normally asks for between $10 and $20 per flower. He also sells an e-book about flower-making.

Most of the time, though, he keeps to himself. His headphones are always on: Different flowers naturally require different soundtracks. For an "aggressive flower," like a wood lily, he'll turn on "Hosanna" by gospel singer Kirk Franklin. A morning glory is better served by Adele's "Chasing Pavements." REBECCA JACOBSON.


Bartenders have been concocting Manhattans since the late 1800s, so you'd think they'd have it down by now: whiskey, sweet vermouth, bitters and a maraschino cherry in cold, bracing equipoise. But this classic cocktail, which manages to make you feel simultaneously macho and sensitive, can be a devil to get just right. Christopher Pearson has it down. This six-year veteran of retro-chic dive bar the Sandy Hut (1430 NE Sandy Blvd., 235-7972, prefers Bulleit rye for the cocktail's base. He has a damn-near-mystical way of intuiting just how sweet or dry you like your Manhattan mixed, and he always remembers the next time you show up. With his shock of strawberry-blond hair, skinny jeans and a discreet demeanor that harks back to old-school private clubs, this 30-year-old is like a younger, hipper version of Lloyd the bartender in The Shining. If your tastes run toward Manhattans, Pearson is definitely the best goddamn bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine—or Portland, Ore., for that matter. RICHARD SPEER.


In this world of fabulous artisanal ice cream—think Salt & Straw's amazing honey balsamic strawberry with cracked pepper or Cool Moon's kulfi—I've always wondered why I'm so drawn to Dairy Queen's dipped vanilla cones.

Now, courtesy of an essay in The New York Times' recent ice-cream issue, I know at least the science behind my addiction: DQ's soft-serve has been "super-whipped to make it creamier and yet stiffer than traditional ice cream…. It will always come out of a machine that churns it up after adding air to the mixture, and be frozen at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream…. Its unique semi-frozen, creamy texture makes it amenable to being dipped in heated flavor toppings that adhere to it like a sexy evening gown before melting promptly on your chin."

Thank you, Jennifer Steinhauer.

Though there are choices, the best DQ soft-serve is a medium-sized vanilla on a cake cone dipped in chocolate. And in Portland, the best of those is at the Sellwood Brazier (1610 SE Tolman St., 235-2242). It's a little lighter and creamier than others in these parts, and the chocolate coating is just the right texture and thickness. Why is this location preferable to other DQs? "It must be the age of the machines," says the guy on the other end of my order. "They're all different." RICHARD MEEKER.

Best of Portland 2014 

Best Listens | Best Buys | Best Moves | Best Animals | Best Civic Life 

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WWeek 2015

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