Best Circus that Never Leaves Town (or the House)
Forget that old bat who lived in a shoe. How about a stunt banjo-ist who lives in The Clown House? A sort-of-shabby structure that sits on the corner of Northeast 25th Avenue and Alberta Street, it's full of more "clowns" than you could ever fit in one of those tiny circus cars, and has become the de facto epicenter of Alberta's Last Thursday phenom. "I play the banjo while lying on broken glass with a 10-inch nail in my skull, and my partner makes balloon animals on top of me," explains "Dingo Dismal," one of the house's two top clowns (he shares that "honor" with "Chlorine Jones"). This year-round nonstop party also boasts a mud-wrestling pit, bike shop, backyard stage, art gallery, dog snack business, scores of freakishly tall, homemade bikes and-speaking of footwear-one huge papier-mâché shoe (it's a bike, not a home). A spare room serves as a hostel, where a traveling cadre of freaks recently crashed for a week. Dingo and co-ringmaster Jones still have the giant pet millipede they left behind to prove it.
Best Place to Pretend You're in the Twilight Zone
The snack bar still sells hot dogs and Pez dispensers. Vintage advertisements during intermission advise the audience to make it to church on Sunday morning and warn that "public displays of affection will not be tolerated." While the 99W Drive-In (Highway 99W, Newberg, www.99w.com) specializes in first-run blockbusters these days, the kitsch knob out there is still cranked up to 11. If your van is in dire need of a-rockin', this ain't the place to come a-knockin' (as the website warns, there are no in-and-out privileges). On the other hand, if you're looking to spend a wholesome, sin-free evening under the stars at the one of the area's last remaining drive-ins, hitch up your bobby-socks and set out for Newberg.
Best Portal to Places Unknown
As you head up Southwest Vista Avenue, just past what's affectionately referred to as "Suicide Bridge" lies a white archway. It looks as though it might be an entrance into an enchanted world inhabited by chatty critters, bored wizards and possibly a Smurf or two. More curious still, the archway shelters a stone staircase that leads the explorer through a patch of English Ivy all the way to...a porch littered with lawn furniture. Those brave enough to venture down a second stairwell, however, will be rewarded with a spectacular view of the Sunset Highway. Ah, mysterious Portland.
Best Way to Get Down in Oregon City
While it may look like a poor man's Space Needle, the Oregon City Municipal Elevator (300 7th St., Oregon City, oregoncity.com) offers something its neighbor to the north can't: practicality. In the 19th century, the locals used old Native American trails to hike up a bluff separating the town's two sides. But when the first elevator began operating in 1915 and townspeople could ascend the bluff standing still, these harrowing hikes became a thing of the past. The current elevator was installed in 1955, and today an observation deck at the top offers a view of the Willamette River and a series of chipped murals depicting moments from Oregon City history.
Best Monument to a Monument
There she stands: Lady friggin' Liberty. With her bold, stoic eyes and vibrant torch, she welcomes weary immigrants to the vast array of possibilities awaiting them in...MILWAUKIE?!! That's right. Last spring, a replica of the Statue of Liberty was unveiled outside of DP Auto Service (4255 SE Roethe Road, Milwaukie). The statue made news in March when its head caught fire during construction. Now fully completed, the 31-foot re-creation stands as a perpetual tribute to freedom, liberty and quality automotive repair.
Best Furniture Mine
Longing for that ironic, one-of-a-kind piece of furniture for your loft or pied-à-terre? Located in an unlikely Southeast warehouse, the ever-so-exotic Tropical Salvage (2455 SE 11th Ave., #46, 421-1270), founded by hardwood virtuoso Timothy O'Brien, sells furniture made with recycled woods from torn-down or destroyed building sites in Indonesia. One of the most intriguing products is their "entombed wood," which comes from trees long buried by volcanic eruptions. O'Brien's "old wood, new use, positive change" philosophy offers Portlanders an opportunity to buy responsibly. Did we mention it's affordable?
Best Positive Use of Negative Ions
So your blood pressure is soaring and your doctor wants you to cut the salt from your diet...but did he say you couldn't sit in it? Didn't think so. According to Halos Salt Crystal Caverns Naturopathic and Health for Life Clinic, (6707 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, 297-5255), salt emits negative ions, which ease stress and anxiety and draw out impurities-a bargain at $15 for 45 minutes. Why waste it on seasoning and luck when you can use it to balance and purify?
Best Knife Fight
While the consensus around the BOP bureau is that 100-year-old Portland Cutlery (536 SW Broadway, 228-2030) is the best place in town to buy a blade, a sharp group of letter-writers have spoken, and their choice is clear: Newcomer Hawthorne Cutlery & Gifts (3208 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-8898) has gathered an outspoken following. WW received three (count 'em, three) unsolicited letters in praise of the newbie knife store. Apparently, Hawthorne's employees are a bunch of cut-ups. "They scared the heck out of a couple of kids with an electric whoopy cushion, Loud!" one letter stated. Why are P-towners campaigning on behalf of knife merchants? Is there a resurgence of interest in purchasing a Klingon d'k tahg like the one used to kill Kirk's son on the Genesis planet? Is there something addictive about ninja stars, samurai swords and mammoth ivory-handled Italian stilettos? And who will get the biggest slice of the local cutlery biz? Tune in next time.
Buzziest Bike-Messenger Bar
If you harnessed the thigh power of every customer at the downtown Stumptown Coffee Roasters Cafe (128 SW 3rd Ave., 295-6144), you could probably power a small town in rural Oregon. That's because lounging outside the place on any given weekday is a grizzled clutch of some of the city's coolest, fittest denizens: bike messengers. They sit there decked out in cool little hats with their cool bikes, sometimes laughing, sometimes glowering-but mostly the latter. When asked why messengers congregate at Stumptown, barista Blake Hoover said, "It's probably because we're downtown and have $1 coffee." The messengers present glowered in agreement.
Best Spot to Stick It to the Music Industry
Forget the billboard charts: If you want a line on the week's biggest hits, check out the trash can outside of Music Millennium (801 NW 23rd Ave., 248-0163). The can's lid is adorned with about a hundred CD spine stickers attached by music consumers who can't wait to get home before tearing into their goods. According to MM assistant manager Davis Cain, "You can look at that trash can and see what's hot for the week; the newest titles are all right there."
Best Place to Spit on the Sidewalk
Hmm, so many options. There's the South Park Blocks, specifically the little plaza around Shemanski Fountain. Great place to spit-and when you get tired of sitting around, selling "nuggets," playing hacky-sack and screaming, what else are you gonna do? Then there's Pioneer Courthouse Square: Why not spit-shine "Portland's living room"? For our money though, the best place to spit on the sidewalk (or pass out, punch your baby-mama square in the face, shout obscenities, ride super-fast on a stolen BMX bike, or any of the above) is Southwest 10th Avenue between Taylor and Yamhill streets. You can befoul Central Library, a streetcar stop and, of course, Willamette Week's front door. That's a lotta loogie!
Best Underexposed Rose Garden
Obviously, that's an overstatement; one look at the dozens of kids splashing in Peninsula Park's fountain or the rainbow-tribe weddings, barbecues, softball and soccer games that take over the park's vast, verdant precincts on a nice day proves that plenty of people know about this North Portland oasis. In contrast to the tourist-trail Washington Park rose garden, however, Peninsula Park's (700 N Portland Blvd.) gorgeous, pleasantly formal array of Portland's namesake blooms are pretty much a neighborhood treasure. The surrounding complex of picnic hutches, playing fields and community center boasts one of the most interesting histories in Portland's park system. The spread once belonged to notorious madam and tavern queen Liverpool Liz; the city bought it in 1909, the story goes, after Liz's race track went out of business. The park's pool later hosted zoo penguins. But they can tell you all about that at the elegant, tile-roofed community center.
Best Extreme Makeover: Portland Edition
There was a time when you would have passed the Bluebird 58 apartment complex near Southeast 52nd Avenue and Woodstock Boulevard and thought in a not-so-nice way, "Who the hell would wanna live there?" But that was before these ratty, rundown apartments were "greenhabbed" into an ecoplex by Brian and Sofia Jamison in 2002, to promotes a "healthy, sustainable and affordable living environment" (www.bluebird58.org). Add chic to the list of adjectives describing the remodeled two-bedroom apartments, which were rebuilt using environmentally friendly, recycled, reclaimed and low-energy materials. The new 'n' improved Bird features everything from energy-efficient appliances, a community organic garden and a rainwater collection irrigation system to a 15-by-3-foot compost pile complete with worm bin. The only thing not welcome in this hippie Melrose Place? Smoking cigarettes is banned inside the units and out.
Best Place Where a Cigar Is Still a Cigar
After 111 years in Portland, Rich's Cigar Store (820 SW Alder St., 228-1700, and 706 NW 23rd Ave., 227-6907) remains the place to shop for a $150 bubinga wood humidor, a $59.95 silver cigar cutter or a box of 25 Ashton Cabinet Pyramid cigars for $213.75. Yes, there are those annoying surgeon general's warnings about the dangers of cigar smoking: If you want to heed them, you can still sniff the store's heady aroma. And if you can't support Big Tobacco even by smelling, Rich's (www.richscigarstore.com) still rates a visit for the literati, with its inventory of more than 2,500 periodicals.
Best Hotel Hideout #1: The Rooftop Garden
A home-away-from-home for Hollywood movie crews, Portland Center Stage actors and even indie bands, downtown's quaintly hospitable Mark Spencer Hotel (409 SW 11th Ave., 224-3293) has been an oasis of calm amid the flood of human detritus that's littered Southwest Stark Street since 1907. But the hotel's most serene scene is its least-known feature: a sweet, tiny rooftop garden on the seventh floor. According to David Porter, the hotel's marketing director, a century ago the entire roof of the (then) Nortonia Hotel was covered in flora and fauna-a destination that played host to upscale tea parties for guests. Nowadays, the Mark Spencer party is smaller: a few sun-bleached lounge chairs and tables, a pair of couches hidden in a covered alcove for when the weather turns sour. But the view-steel bridges spanning the Willamette River to the east and the verdant face of the Washington and Forest Parks to the west-remains the same. All it takes to escape from present day is a room key.
Best Hotel Hideout #2: The Lobby
Looking for a place to chill out? Some quiet corner where everybody doesn't know your name? Downtown P-town offers few break rooms as anonymous yet comfortable as the lush new lobby of the historic Governor Hotel (614 SW 11th Ave., 224-3400). Sure, it helps to be a guest here first. But even if you're not checked in, pretend you're planning to while you check out this getaway room. The space, no bigger than a Pearl District condo, comes complete with a flat-screen television, plush seating and all sorts of newspapers. Who says you can't live like the rich (at least for 15 minutes)?
Best Hotel Hideout #3: The Porch
You won't find old grannies rocking in these chairs. Three Degrees Restaurant at the RiverPlace Hotel (1510 SW Harbor Way, 228-3233) offers guests a truly tranquil experience. A line of a dozen finely crafted rocking chairs allow diners to enjoy cocktails and even dinner while enjoying the unobstructed view of the river and city lights. Known to bring people together, this unique setup encourages friends and strangers alike to intermingle and enjoy the experience with each other. Serenely removed from the craziness of downtown yet still in the heart of the city, what better place to chat with Portlanders you don't know than on this lazy riverside porch?
Most Limber Limb
The victim of the worst case of spinal deformity ever, the contorted trunk of the wisteria on Northwest Cornell at Westover Road has twisted and bent until it doubles back on itself, almost forming a half hitch. Like many octogenarians, it has to lean on a cane to stay upright. Owner Julie Sheppard says most people notice it when it blooms and lavender flowers drip off it like huge bunches of grapes, but it's the huge trunk that makes the proliferation possible.