Spring break, Portland-style: our guys turn back the clock and tune up their senses.
My buddies (Daryl and Pete) and I needed an escape — just one weekend with no alarm clocks to be set, no reports to be filed. Since spring is the season of youth, we set out to reset our internal clocks by indulging in some of our boyhood pastimes in our favorite town. Each of us negotiated 48 hours away and took off for Portland to kick back and kick off our winter blahs.
Home base was a luxurious suite atop the plush Hotel Monaco, in the heart of downtown. We made a pit stop at their nightly wine and beer reception before heading over to Red Star Tavern and its linger-longer four-hour happy hour. That gave us ample time for passionate debate on one of life’s most pressing matters: football. Forget trying to be 25 again — we were going for 15.
We scattered the brain-fog with French press coffee at Mother’s Bistro; they’ve been serving up one of downtown’s best breakfasts for a decade. We feasted on savory salmon hash and prosciutto-garlic-tomato scrambles, then rumbled off to North Plains to play the Ghost Creek course at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, consistently rated among the nation’s finest. And it’s easy to see why: finely manicured greens, challenging fairways and enough trees to keep Daryl’s ball from properly advancing toward the pin, much to our amusement.
Afterward we ventured over to North Portland, one of the newer neighborhoods to register on the city’s beer-loving scene. At the The Hop & Vine, we found the Oregon Beer Odyssey, a consortium of three beer geeks who offer classes on everything from sour beers to rare European brews. Ours covered hops, and brewer Ben Edmunds discussed and explained beer’s key flavor ingredient with professorial passion and expertise. Before the night was over we tasted 11 distinct brews and learned why Portlanders, in a city with the most breweries in the world, are deluged in growlers of microbrew: most U.S.-grown hops are cultivated right here in the Yakima [Washington] or Willamette [Oregon] valleys. (Classes rotate through several locations, so check their website for more information.)
We rounded out the night with a few frames at Grand Central Bowl, an upscale bowling alley dripping with plasma TVs and neon mood lighting. After marveling at Daryl’s technique (how can such a horrible golfer dominate in bowling?) we settled into leather couches, feet up and warmed by a fireplace, and toasted to our greatness.
The final day of our trip started appropriately with a fishing trip on the Willamette River, just upstream of Portland, with Mark Lytle and his outfit, Lytle Charters. Lytle hosts visitors from as far as Brazil for river and sea fishing, but today he got three neophyte fishermen who couldn’t tell a Chinook salmon from a steelhead if it jumped in the boat.
We launched in the churning waters near Willamette Falls, the U.S.’s largest waterfall by volume and the site of ancestral Native American fishing grounds, which gave us welcome perspective of our place in time. Then we sped downstream to lure one of the 20,000 or so Chinook headed home after a trip to the Bering Sea. “They can smell in parts per billion, which means they can smell Idaho from the ocean,” said Lytle.
As time went on, it became clear that it wasn’t our day to reel anything in. But this weekend wasn’t about results — it was about experience, and our time on the river was as relaxing as any of us could collectively remember.
After docking, we headed off to our grand finale: a Trail Blazers game, in seats close enough to hear (and occasionally participate in) the trash talk. We first headed to Spirit of 77 for a pre-game drink and dart competition. It’s a sports bar in name (reflecting the Blazers’ 1977 championship) and big screen TVs but with distinct Portland twists like an espresso stand, menu options like pistachio pesto roasted vegetable salad, and a refurbished local high school basketball court forms the wall behind the bar.
The Blazers won with ease, providing the proverbial icing to our weekend. As the clock ticked down the fourth quarter, Daryl said, “It’s going to be tough to go back to work tomorrow.” What started as a break from reality only whet our appetites for more adventures in the Rose City. We might even bring our families next time.
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