place to sing in the shower
Live music and pristine bathrooms rarely happen in the same building. But at the 2-year-old George Morlan Plumbing Company showroom in Northwest (2222 NW Raleigh St., 224-7000), the two manage to coexist. Behind all of the showroom's high-end porcelain is a room filled with bathtubs and a large 2-foot-high where bands like Toto and Survivor have played. Most recently, the room played host to KPTV-12's Portland Live contest (a local version of American Idol). When the inventory is moved, the room fits 450, all of whom have access to a bathroom equipped with a mechanical toilet that will pretty much wipe your ass. Try finding that at a rock club.
best street to give you gas
OK, let's just say it again: You really should try to use your car a lot less. Global warming is becoming a freaky reality, and with Portland's extensive public transportation system, you can mostly get where you need to go car-free. Oh, and there's something else: Gas is EXPENSIVE. Sometimes, though, the call of the open road is just too strong. And if you don't want to waste even more gas driving all the way out to the 'burbs for low prices, there are two stations on North Interstate Avenue--coincidentally on the Yellow Line MAX--worth checking out: the Union 76 at the corner of North Interstate and Killingsworth Street and the Arco at North Interstate and Portland Boulevard. Gas prices at both these joints frequently fall below most other gas stations'; on Monday, regular unleaded at both stations was running $1.85 (plus those dastardly nine-tenths!), compared with a metro-area average of $1.94. On top of that, the Arco station has attentive service, a great store full of really weird stuff and even alternatives to gas guzzlers for sale: motorized scooters. Given the ever-changing nature of gas prices, especially finicky Portlanders should check out Portlandgasprices.com, where you can monitor and take advantage of the ongoing death match between local gas stations.
best place to get your feet wet
And you thought the only pampering you hadn't tried yet was the diaper kind. But Vogue Nails II (825 NE Broadway, 288-9000) offers new horizons in spa-style luxury. Invite two of your best co-conspirators to share its trio of massage chairs with you--great for gossip while vibrating coils tenderize your flesh and gracious technicians file your toenails. Still need something to take the edge off? Ask your pedicurist to order in some curried chicken from neighboring Saigon Kitchen. No, spa employees won't run to the liquor store for you--they have to draw the line somewhere.
best arty architecture
The Mosaic (1400 SW 11th Ave.), completed last fall, stands proud as one of Portland's quirkiest and most attractive new buildings. One part Le Corbusier and one part Donald Judd, the utilitarian and thoroughly minimalist Mosaic features lofts and split-level condos so spacious and achingly geometric that the most harried soul could not resist the soothing simplicity of its units' design. Enormous windows are mirrored in the openness of the living areas, which segue from bedroom to kitchenette and so on with little more than a rug to designate boundaries. But of all the Mosaic's charms, the roof is the topper, offering a panoramic view that's enough to make you think you live in a legitimate metropolis.
best place to get fired by a politico
As Fahrenheit 9/11 revealed, even political players need hobbies. George Bush digs for bugs. Austin Raglione, Earl Blumenauer's and Sam Adams' former campaign manager, paints pots. Finding her hands freed up after Blumenauer's campaign "came to a natural political conclusion" in 2000, Raglione shaped a new career from an old passion. In 2001, Mimosa Studios (1718 NE Alberta St., 288-0770, mimosa-studios.com), a "paint your own pots" ceramics studio, breathed kiln fire into Portland's hippest 'hood. A popular destination for neighborhood kids, dads with Sunday custody, and bridal showers, Mimosa draws a diverse crowd that proves Raglione's populist savvy. If only George Dubya would retire to what he does best: digging up bugs and driving nine irons.
best corner to see green
Portland may be a land where gardeners find their muse, and the manicured lawns and pruned perennials of hardcore green-thumbs can inspire a bit of coveting thy neighbor's yard. Check out the situation at the corner of Southeast Taylor Street and 24th Avenue. The homeowner on the corner imported dozens of big and bulky boulders as a base in the creation of a colorful frontyard display that's in bloom from the moment spring appears to the first frost of winter. The scene is so beautiful that, months later, next-door neighbors decided to get in on the nifty rock-wall idea. Though the copycat blooms have been slow to warm up, their colors are just starting to show. How's that for keeping up with the Joneses?
best way to eat your words
If you've been to Rimsky-Korsakoffee House in Southeast Portland (707 SE 12th Ave., 232-2640), you're prepared for tables that revolve, levitate or disappear into the wall--all while you're eating at them. The mistress of madness at the confectionary cafe is the delightful Goody Cable, whose business card calls her a "Hypothesis Generator." Goody's latest whim is Living the Alphabet. Every two weeks through next April, she has committed to only eating foods, reading books, listening to music and playing games that begin with the same letter of the alphabet. "Doing so forces me to change the synapses in my brain," she says. The idea grew out of a dinner with author Nick Bantock (Griffin and Sabine), during which the two created a grid with every possible combination of initials and then filled in the boxes with the names of fictional characters. Goody adapted the game for Rimsky's and follows it to the letter: During the C weeks, she ate clam chowder, celery and chocolate-chip cookies while playing charades. Employees at Rimsky have to answer the phone accordingly ("'Allo." "Bonjour." "Ciao," etc.). After E week, her gang's every-other-Monday recap featured an egg toss. At Rimsky's, the inmates run the asylum, but newcomers are always welcome.
best place to get blitzed
You wander into Coffee Time (712 NW 21st Ave., 497-1090), naively, for an espresso and a scone. You end up a convert to blitz chess. Hunched over one of the tiny tables spilling out on the sidewalk, you've got only five minutes to destroy the guy on the other side of the board. If your clock bleeds out before his, you lose. Time is racing. You're thinking 10 steps ahead. You tap your clock, make your move, go in for the kill. When time runs out, you rub your eyes. Another espresso, please.
best place to get an earful
For a few lean years, Portland lacked a viable home for the kind of musical artists who require a hushed, darkened space to cast their spell. Musician/producer Jim Brunberg, 36, half of longtime San Francisco-based duo Box Set, envisioned just that sort of listening environment upon moving here in '99--one that felt like a living room but sounded like a recording studio. So, on the former site of a church, Brunberg created Mississippi Studios (3939 N Mississippi Ave., 753-4473), a cozy temple to music. Granted, with its velvet curtains and antique lamps, the place might feel more bordello than cathedral. But its intimacy invites audiences into quiet attentiveness--broken by worshipful applause.
best gummo flashback
From the historic Hawthorne to the fancy-pants Fremont, bridges for cars have hogged the spotlight for far too long. It's time to give our footbridges some love. Take North Portland's Failing Pedestrian Bridge, which connects hipsters loitering along North Mississippi Avenue's storefront stoops to North Interstate Avenue's wide array of time-warped motels with just a short chain-linked jaunt across I-5. And there's the undeniable fact that this bridge's name calls into question whether a pedestrian will make it. Ouch. If that sounds a little intimidating, check out Overlook's underappreciated Going Street Overpass, which connects parts of North Concord Avenue. It's another chain-link corridor suspended over moving cars, but this one has dozens of padlocks hanging from the bridge's roof like creepy, theft-preventing stalactites. Weird.
best condo camouflage
Pearl, schmearl. Forget about the Henry and the Edge--the city's most interesting new condo development is on the east side. A lot of so-called "in-fill" development has given density a bad name: ugly, shoddily constructed units stuffed into lousy locations. But The Cottages at Hastings Green at Southeast Clinton Street and 70th Avenue, just blocks south of Mount Tabor, get it right. Here you will find classic Portland-style craftsman bungalows with porches, granite kitchen counters, cedar siding and all the other stuff missing from way too many in-fill projects. Best of all, you get a yard or garden and somebody else to take care of it (and the exterior of your crib), all for about the monthly cost of a health-club membership. So far, 20 of 23 units have sold at prices ranging between $220,000 and $260,000, even though architect-developer Patrick Jackson won't be finished building them until October.
best lakeside sushi bar
Forget the zoo and roll your ass out to Rosalyn Lake (3.5 miles north of Sandy on Ten Eyck Road) for real-live, badass bird watching. Ravenous raptors circle the skies above this unusually pleasant pond, occasionally twisting from their idle glide to dive-bomb the state-stocked rainbow trout teeming in the waters below. Although this lake may look quiet, just wait for a few minutes and watch as BAM!, an explosion of fish and feathers reverberates across its surface. Then feast your eyes on the eagles, hawks and ospreys as they flap their way back to the clouds with dinner wriggling in their claws. Boat rentals are available ($7-$12 per hour), allowing an extraordinarily up-close and personal view of these feathered fisherman. But do it soon: Once the dams that feed it are breached in 2008, the lake is slated to become a grassy park.
best way to fish a superfund site
According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, high levels of mercury are present locally in the fatty portions of all but migratory fish species like salmon and steelhead. So eating 'em is out. For a little catch-and-release fishing fun, check out the beach between the Ross Island Bridge and the Ross Island Sand and Gravel Ferry Landing, on the Willamette's eastern shore. If the broken glass, discarded footwear and industrial presence aren't enough of a tipoff, this is not a food fishery. But it's still a pretty decent place to drop your line. Bring lures and a lawn chair or poppers and a fly rod and cast near old pilings or bridge abutments for bass, crappie, perch and carp. Flattening the barbs on your hooks will greatly facilitate the return of these already embattled fish to their watery world. To get started, hit Ollie Damon's Repair and Parts (236 SE Grand Ave., 232-3193), where a reasonable setup of rod, reel, baits and weights runs about $25, and the advice is always free. Don't forget the old adage: A bad day fishing beats a good day working. And don't forget a fishing license, either.
best pearl purl-er
Skeins of every possible kind of yarn are available at the tiny Pearl District yarn barnlet Knit-Knot Studio (1238 NW Glisan St., 222-3818). But the cozy spot's proprietress Elizabeth Prusiewicz (above, left) is Knit-Knot's best bargain. After you enter her fuzzy domain, within 30 seconds she'll have tucked your name into her memory banks and puzzled out your knittin' history. Give her two minutes more and the ex-hairdresser, ex-gym teacher will gently manhandle your fumbling fingers and school you in the lightning-fast "continental" style of knitting she first learned from her mother in Poland when she was 5 years old. It took 48 more years for Prusiewicz, who crafts the intricate pieces she sells in the store from pictures or from feel rather than from patterns, to realize her lifelong hobby should be her full-fledged business. "It's not the pattern that I value," she says as another gaggle of yarn-hungry women (and men) enter her store. "It's who taught you." Who better to pass on purls of wisdom to us?
best haunted barracks
Col. Alfred Sully survived campaigns in the Mexican, Civil and Indian Wars only to die slowly of chronic indigestion at the Vancouver Barracks in Southwest Washington a century ago. He is one of dozens who have earned the Barracks a reputation as one of the most haunted places in Clark County. Instead of going quietly to the grave, Col. Sully can be visited at the site of his April 1879 death--the Grant House on Officer's Row. The doors of this distinguished house, often used for weddings and other ceremonies, are said to open and close mysteriously. And truth be told, the sound of Sully's boots can be heard pacing the second-floor corridor. Creepy. To visit the Barracks, head north on Interstate 5 and take the Mill Plain exit. Head east, turn south onto Fort Vancouver Way and follow signs to the visitor's center.
best underground punk show
Beneath the lanes of Grand Central Bowl (808 SE Morrison St., 232-5166) lurks a huge, run-down parking garage--a picture-perfect urban-decay setting for Portland's punk scene. Music producer Double Trouble books bands several nights a week in the bowling alley but sends its all-ages punk shows (including a recent one with Portland icons Poison Idea) to the garage below. Home to the occasional car, some ratty couches and assorted band detritus, this underground venue provides great set-dressing for angry, disaffected music and also gives the audience an illicit thrill of trespassyou're halfway expecting the garage's security guards to show up and kick everyone out!
best example of fortuitous co-housing
When Portland Opera moved into its new headquarters on the east bank of the Willamette River in the former KPTV-12 building last year, it had a problem: While the divas exercised their big pipes in the cavernous structure big enough for a full-blown dress rehearsal, the company's finances suffered because it needed a tenant for the building's second floor. "We've been looking for a tenant since we moved," says opera spokeswoman Julia Sheridan. As luck would have it, the city's Bureau of Environmental Services needed office space for the billion-dollar upgrade of Portland's sewage, the East Side Big Pipe project. Big pipes, meet even bigger pipes. "It's a nice symbiosis," Sheridan says.
best place to apply natural substances
At Von Natur, the east side's new downscale relaxation palace, you can slather your skin with distinctive, locally created potions made of natural ingredients like pumpkin, seaweed and charcoal. The funky day spa (137 SE 28th Ave., 252-9639, www.vonnatur.com) opened last fall in an old warehouse, gussied up with green and purple paint, willow branches and jewel-colored glass bits recycled into mosaics. According to co-owner/aromatherapist Kayla Fioravanti, the place was designed to feel cozy as a living room--if your living-room uses include cinnamon-scented mud foot baths, that is. Von Natur bloomed again in July, when it expanded by adding a sweet-smelling garden of rosemary and lavender and a courtyard for sunny-day facials and chair massages.
best place to soil yourself
Ah, the secret lives of plants. Cistus Design Nursery (22711 NW Gillihan Road, Sauvie Island, 621-2233) helps gardeners suffering from "zonal denial" push the envelope of plant hardiness, offering unique native and imported species of garden decor to customers from around the Pacific Northwest. Founders Sean Hogan and Parker Sanderson have developed an intricate and chaotic setting which showcases plants of the Southern Hemisphere, hardy tropicals and Asian plants, as well as Mediterranean climate plants. Perhaps the most intriguing element is what the guide calls the "erotic" section of the garden, which abounds in pods and spikes galore. Insert appropriate porno music here.
best storm troopers
Look up in the sky: It's a bird, it's a plane, it's--the Perseid Meteor Shower? At 132,000 miles an hour, this dazzling galactic display from the constellation Perseus goes much faster than a speeding bullet but still leaves behind blazing smoke trails that can remain visible to the naked eye for a minute or more. To learn about this and other extraterrestrial topics, join the Rose City Astronomers, whose 300 members assemble at OMSI on the third Monday of each month. Family memberships are only $24 for a year (register at www.rca-omsi.org) and provide access to monthly meetings with guest lectures, star parties (the Perseid party, free and open to the public, is Aug. 12 at Rooster Rock State Park), a lending library and monthly telescope-making workshops for budding Galileos grinding their own mirrors.
best dress(ag)ed horsey set
If you ever wanted a pony for your birthday, Ginny Rattner is the mom you wish you had. When the 51-year-old West Linn homemaker realized there wasn't a first-class facility where her teenaged daughter Jessica could compete in dressage, Rattner decided that if she built it, they would come. In dressage (French for "training"), points are awarded for a series of maneuvers that test a horse's response to the rider's body signals--think ballet on horseback. Using their own resources, Rattner and husband Justin, a senior fellow at Intel, bought a 44-acre clover farm in Sherwood and turned it into DevonWood Equestrian Centre (25033 SW Pacific Highway, 625-8831, devonwoodec.com). The luxurious, mahogany-lined barn and heated tack-room floors are designed with the care of the horses in mind. Ditto the rubber pavers in the aisles, the heated blanket closets, and the heated water in the buckets. "While we look luxurious," Rattner says, "it is all form following function and done in the name of safety." We should all be so safe.
best seats in the city
Finding the best seat in town might require a little exercise. And cash. Fear not. Simply climb aboard one of the third-floor exercise bikes at the Multnomah Athletic Club (1849 SW Salmon St., 223-6251) and enjoy a vantage point affording sweating cyclists a view of PGE Park. After a season or so of pedaling away that posterior, you'll be in great shape and well-versed in all things Timber and Beaver. But there is a downside. To climb on your seat, you must have a membership at the MAC.
And since those are as hard to come by as Neil Goldschmidt's little black book, we offer the next-best seat: a barbershop in an old-school men's shop. Talk about your membership woes in one of the two barber chairs at Este's Mens Clothing (1633 NW Glisan St., 227-0275). For $25, Este's will lower your ears and pour you a Scotch while you relax next to the shop fireplace and watch the 51-inch TV. After the tonsorial treatment, put something together from the store's large collection of sweaters, custom suits and shirts, then step out on the town in something that will make even Gerry Frank jealous.
For those who can afford neither a MAC membership nor a haircut in a fancy men's shop, perhaps something free might suit you. Make a quick pit stop at The Sharper Image (700 SW 5th Ave., 228-4110) for a little one-on-one with a massage chair. At $800, the iJoy Turbo 2 features "human touch rollers," which essentially replicate a set of human hands. As you melt into the faux suede, the only real decision you'll need to make is black, red, mocha or eggplant. But you don't have to buy to enjoy a little rest and relaxation--there are floor samples all over the store.
best thinker outside the box
It doesn't make sense: A box-recycling company selling discount packaging material is adored by Portland's art community? Thanks to an open mind and uncanny real-estate savvy, Northwest Portland-based Carton Service (cartonserviceonline.com) makes a little cash on the side as Portland's largest art-studio landlord (the biggest is at Cathedral Park Place, 6635 N Baltimore St.). With Carton Service buildings around Portland full to capacity and at least two calls a day from prospective tenants, owner Ken Unkeles says, "It's the biggest market demand that I can't do anything about." Artists adore Unkeles for many reasons, but topping the list is a reputation for maintaining tenants' rents as long as they stay simply because, as he says, "a deal's a deal." Unkeles is fond of saying he's in it for the money--and he's doing just fine--but he does business with a straightforward honor that would seem outdated were it not working so well. His business philosophy: "I want to pay a nickel for something worth a dollar and sell it to you for 50 cents. We're all happy." Makes sense, doesn't it?
best time machine
The simple beauty of '80s video games is back: bleeping symphonies, nondescript graphics and joysticks that don't resemble a 747 cockpit. Retro arcade Ground Kontrol (610 SW 12th Ave., 796-9364. www.groundkontrol.com) resurrects Atari legends from the immortal amphibian of Frogger to that triangle (err, spaceship) in Asteroids. Local nostalgia hero Anthony Ramos hooks up old-school vidiots with the gritty pixels of dinosaur favorites, including Pit Fall and Pole Position, and his den is also a good place to get a fully functioning 16-bit Nintendo or Atari 2600 (reasonably priced). If they're not fossilized beyond use, game cartridges run around $4 apiece. It's on like Donkey Kong.
best span of time
For a pedestrian crossing the Willamette River, the easily accessible Hawthorne and bi-level Steel are among the best bridge options. But for arm-swinging and aesthetic purposes, the lowly Broadway Bridge is tops. The soon-to-be-unveiled revamped walkways are more spacious than any other bridge's, plus the period lamps, wrought-iron staircases to the railroad yards, and views of the city and river offer an unmatched stroll for the romantically inclined. Yes, the Rose Garden complex is a bit of a wasteland, but the imminent opening of an access to the Pearl District should make this bridge a destination as well as a conduit for both tourists and commuters. Currently in the midst of a complete overhaul, some of the span will reopen in September. Until then, it's a beauty for pigeons to behold.
most a-maze-ing 'hood to get lost in
The historic Ladd's Addition residential development is a maze of roundabouts and oddly angled mini-streets, with names like "Hemlock," that baffle even the savviest local pedestrian. More like Paris than Portland, this perplexing yet totally inviting area's winding ways are due to 19th-century bigwig William Sargent Ladd, who gave his namesake development a European-influenced radial design at odds with the rest of Portland's street grid. Thankfully, elegant houses, massive trees and a central rose garden (at Southeast 16th Avenue and Harrison Street) make this a thoroughly pleasant place to lose your way.
best place to get your rocks shined
A trip to Active Manufacturing Jewelers Inc. (534 SW 3rd Ave., Room 201, 222-5170) is a reminder of a time when most rings and shiny baubles were likely to be created--and repaired--by a craftsman who knew each customer by name. In his second-story custom shop in Portland's unofficial diamond district, jeweler Mory Keyantash spends his days "on the bench," forging one-of-a-kind trinkets, all the while chattering to his two beloved parakeets. To celebrate engagements, the Iranian-born jeweler offers practical advice along with handcrafted wedding rings. "You have to let the woman choose what she wants," Keyantash advises his male customers, "because you're going to see it once or twice a day, and she's going to see it a hundred times a day." Not even a visit to Dr. Phil could offer more clarity than that.
best community porch
In the midst of trendy restaurants, galleries and coffee shops in NoPo's Mississippi district lies the Mississippi Avenue Co-op (4034 N Mississippi Ave.), a collective dedicated to sustainable living and keeping the community real. The house has been run as a communal space for the past six years; Portland Collective Housing bought it in August 2003. One of the collective's many contributions to the neighborhood is the Free Porch. While it is frequented by homeless individuals, anyone can rummage through free clothes, produce and household items. House members have maintained their commitment to the porch even after neighborly complaints to police about the mess. Freebies are now kept tidy in donated containers.