Best Portland Sights

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Best Bar Art

Albert Einstein looks a little drunk, frankly. Bette Davis is in the corner making eyes. Stan Laurel is happy and skinny, while Oliver Hardy is happy and fat. A very blond Marilyn Monroe laughs into her cleavage. Everybody else looks like a mob enforcer. Despite being one of only two original surviving murals from legendary "characterist" Al Hirschfeld, the massive wall mural at the nearly century-old Sandy Hut (1430 NE Sandy Blvd., 235-7972) used to be dusty and unlit, noticed by few and almost never seen for what it was: a piece of real American history, glorious in its ode to Hollywood schmaltz. It used to be too dim to see anything, frankly, in a dank bar that for years had been home only to alcoholics who loved whiskey and chose darkness even at 9 am. But with Sandy Hut's new renovation under Club 21's owners, the sun streams through the windows onto a vision of 1950s Hollywood that now presides triumphant over tattooed patrons eating meatloaf specials. Einstein is drunk because he is happy. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Best Radioactive Bonfire


Catholic kids apparently don't mind a little impurity. Every school-year weekend for years, University of Portland students have trespassed onto Triangle Park—the 35-acre, former industrial sludge haven that sits below the university's priests' housing—and started a fire. Despite being a cleanup site full of tumor-inducing chemicals and hydrocarbons from the waterfront's previous incarnation as a power plant, it remained a sandy pocket of the Willamette that was perfect for bonfire parties. Neither Environmental Protection Agency standards nor a steep and gravelly descent have deterred tittering underclassmen from sneaking down there on weekend nights. But as with all Portland things, the biggest threat now is not toxins but redevelopment. In 2011, the university hired Envirocon for "hazardous material remediation," and wants to pave the party and put in a parking lot. Enjoy this radioactive gem while you can, and remember the whipped-cream vodka if you want to fit in. ENID SPITZ.

Best Movie Screening

The Hollywood Theatre's original run of 2001: A Space Odyssey was a huge success. Stanley Kubrick's most ambitious film opened about the same time Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, and didn't complete its run until April 1969.

But until last March, no one in Portland got to see the film again. Not really.

2001 is among about 50 American feature films shot on 70 mm, the wide, high-resolution film gauge used for prestige pictures in the '60s and '70s. The list of 70 mm films, reserved for top directors because of the format's exorbitant cost, is short and mostly epic: Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Patton, and, uh, Doctor Dolittle.

Those films were scrunched down to 35 mm for wider distribution, because few theaters had the required projectors to show 70 mm film—before they went digital and got rid of film projectors altogether. But, like superior-sounding vinyl, superior-looking 70 mm has seen a resurgence. Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master was released in the format in 2012, and Quentin Tarantino's upcoming The Hateful Eight will be shown exclusively on it for the first couple weeks of its run.

So, starting in 2013, Hollywood set about getting its old 1959 Norelco projectors, which originally ran both 35 mm and 70 mm, running again. A nationwide search was launched to track down every take-up sprocket and aperture mask needed to rebuild them.

"We wanted our kickoff screening to be a movie that matched our ambition," says Dan Halsted, the Hollywood Theatre's programmer. "We think 2001 is one of the most ambitious movies ever made, so it seemed like a perfect fit."

Indeed it was. The screenings in March sold out weeks in advance. Those of us lucky enough to get a ticket were treated to an awe-inspiring night of cinema. It was the best experience I've had in a movie theater.

"People were so excited," Halsted says. "I was cornered by a lot of dedicated cinephiles and Kubrick fanatics who told me stories about seeing 2001 in its original release. One guy pulled me aside and told me, 'If you want to watch it right, you wait until intermission to drop acid!'"

2001 isn't coming back for a while. Next up is Hitchcock's Vertigo (July 17-19, meh) and hopefully The Hateful Eight (Christmas Day, I will happily trample you in the mad rush for tickets). When 2001 does come back, buy fast. And don't drop anything until intermission. MARTIN CIZMAR.

Best Mommy-Baby Keepsake

Mothers claim you always forget the agony of childbearing. New Zealand henna artist Melanie Ooi at Blue Lotus Henna (1218 SE Ash St., 758-8195, has invented the prettiest way for a woman to always remember her swollen-bellied self: a full-size plaster cast of her bare torso for $380. After an hourlong casting session, Ooi takes a month to decorate the belly with elaborate henna designs (used in Middle Eastern nations to ward off the evil eye), or the mother saves the cast for a later art project with her little one. Ooi is the only belly caster in the Pacific Northwest, possibly in the world, she says, who carefully hand-molds and hand-decorates each cast (kits are available at Target and Since setting up shop in Portland in 2006, Ooi has embellished hundreds of bellies with henna, but she's done only 15 molds. "It's a pretty niche thing," she says. ENID SPITZ.

Best Obelisks

The Stark Street Mile Markers might as well be the monoliths standing watch over the apes and the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey (see above): imponderable, void of all meaning. The fakey concrete slabs at Maryhill can go to hell: The Stark Street obelisks are Portland's true, meandering answer to Stonehenge. More than 150 years old, they were placed there by unknown travelers to mark the distance from what was the old Multnomah County Courthouse. The military is arbitrarily blamed for the obelisks' existence, because the military is always blamed, but there is nothing martial about these 5-foot-tall, roughly pyramidal stones projecting from Portland's soil. Stone P14 at Southeast 257th Avenue and Stark Street—its designation carved by hand into its face—lists to one side like an old Pisan drunk, while at Lone Fir Cemetery, P2 cowers back into the grave-site wall. Stone P6, at Elmer's, is fat as if from pancakes, while P7 fell into a landfill before having to be ignobly saved by college students. College students! But a century ago, the obelisks were the only way for wagon travelers to mark the distance they'd traveled along the old Baseline Road that roughly follows the current location of Stark Street. Only nine of the original 15 stones remain. They stand not quite roadside, as beautiful monuments to nothing. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Best Mobile Art Museum

Albatross is a gallery on a black lanyard around the neck of artist Michael Reinsch. Reinsch, who teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, established Albatross in May to explore an alternative mode of exhibiting artists without the high overhead of a traditional gallery space. While it's also a gallery, Albatross is a work of art in its own right: Wearing the gallery every day, Reinsch's curatorial art moves into the realm of performance, even as the works he shows remain insistently two-dimensional.

With monthly programming, artists can create a single work to be exhibited for the duration of the show. But so far artists have been drawn to the ephemerality of exhibiting a single work at a time each day, as inaugural artist T. Nikolai did with Inventory. His series of 31 Perler bead mosaics derived each image from the inventory screens of various video games.

For the month of June, Johanna Robinson responded to Albatross' origins as an identity badge with Identity Weavers, a series of seven consecutive paintings made of vellum silhouettes over reflective mylar painting to bring the viewer's image into the work. But by adding one new element of imagery each day, the viewer's reflection ultimately becomes completely obscured. 

Albatross' deliberately small scale brings to mind a line from Howards End: "It is the vice of a vulgar mind to be thrilled by bigness, to think that a thousand square miles are a thousand times more wonderful than one square mile, and that a million square miles are almost the same as heaven." Albatross takes smallness seriously, and the success of an artist exhibiting there lies in their ability to create art so intimately thrilling you don't notice you're standing close enough to smell Reinsch's breath. MEGAN HARNED.

Best Gun in a Tree

You might think twice about carving your name into a tree trunk if you looked down and saw a gun pointed at your crotch.

Most trees don't have such obvious self-defense mechanisms, but that's OK, because they have The World Forestry Center in Washington Park. Built to look like an alpine lodge, high on a hill, the museum educates visitors on global forest stewardship. The armed willow is one of the center's quirkier possessions. Many years ago, someone left a .22-caliber rifle leaning against the willow. The tree grew around it, until today nothing can be seen of the gun except for the butt on one side and a few inches of barrel on the other.

As exhibits go, it's less flashy than the center's replica Siberian rail car or timberjack harvester. But it's a much more eloquent testimonial to the forest's resilience.

If a tree can hold a gun, it might just be a matter of time before it figures out how to load one. Developers and loggers beware. ADRIENNE SO.

Best Retired Carpet

No, not that one. The first one. From 1883, man. Back when carpets were awesome. By the front door of The Old Church (1422 SW 11th Ave.)—a lovely concert hall and wedding venue that is nostalgic about being a church—visitors can stand reverently before a 3-foot-square framed swatch of carpet, preserved with care in a gilded frame. "Original Carpet 1883," it says. You hear that, PDX? Original. Our citywide love for that PDX carpet, let's admit it, has nothing to do with the actual carpet pattern and everything to do with the fact that it was always the first thing we saw when we flew home, a blue-haired stepchild elevated to a symbol of civic pride. Now look at the Old Church original, a Victorian piece of beautiful baroque, floral in faded reds and deep blues, as intricate as any ancient brocade. It is the last gasp of the old republic, and it must have been heartbreaking to tear it out after being ruined by countless feet. Even so, staff members at the Old Church didn't know why it was framed, declaring it a little before their time. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

Best Big Bird

The backside of Wilhelm's Portland Memorial (6705 SE 14th Ave.) used to be a huge, blank concrete wall as imposing as the mausoleum inside it, which houses the cremains of more than 75,000 former Portlanders. But as the surrounding Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge became a recovery zone for endangered great blue herons, artist Mark Bennett painted a 65-foot heron onto the wall in honor of the wetlands. And there it stood for a decade: a mammoth and lonely wader in the marshes. That is, until 2008, when Mark's son Shane picked up the brush alongside friend Dan Cohen. The pair spent a year and a half filling the wall with the Oaks Bottom birds the Shane Bennet loved, including an eagle he saw swooping in while he painted. According to Wilhem's CEO David Schroeder, the 55,000 square foot mural is now the largest hand-painted outdoor mural in the United States. On the back of the place that houses more Portland dead than anywhere else, there is a giant monument to the avian life that is returning. Sadly, it was to be Shane Bennett's last project. In March 2010, a year after the mural was completed, he died in a snowmobiling accident at age 31. His service was held, appropriately, at Wilhelm's. "An eagle flew in at the end of the service," Schroeder says. "It appeared out of nowhere, close enough we could all see its eyes, and flew off. It gives you goose bumps." MATTHEW KORFHAGE.

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