“Portlandia” has long been accused of being more documentary than satire. Just walk down Northeast Alberta Street, the argument goes, and you’ll see scenes just as outlandish as what the IFC series airs every week: Clowns riding tall bikes, mustaches waxed to twirly perfection and cafes serving exquisitely brewed single-origin coffee, poured by the same tattooed and pierced 20-somethings who often work as extras on the show.
That’s why the best way to get the “Portlandia” experience is simply to visit Portland: In six years of filming, the show’s film crew has crisscrossed the city so many times that it’s hard to find a juice bar, tattoo parlor or artisan tea shop that hasn’t been used as a location.
Over the years, “Portlandia” has evolved from a freewheeling sketch show into a more character-based project, rooted in Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s sharp portrayals of the self-serious, self-satisfied and self-absorbed.
Of all of the sketches on “Portlandia,” season one’s “Put a Bird on It” remains arguably the most influential — who can say how many Portlanders decided not to get owl tattoos after seeing that sketch? The scene was shot in the Land Gallery on North Mississippi Avenue, an art gallery and gift shop that remains a perfect go-to destination for quirky Portland gifts. (And while the “Portlandia” taxidermy shop Dead Pets tragically burned down at the end of season five, there’s a real-life example just up the street from Land Gallery: The shop Paxton Gate boasts “ethically sourced taxidermy” and other oddities.)
And of all the topics that the show takes on, it finds a particularly rich vein to mine in foodie quirks, as it skewers the dietary idiosyncrasies of a city with its very own vegan mini-mall (at Southeast 12th and Stark streets; home to Sweetpea Baking Co., Food Fight! Grocery and Scapegoat Tattoo). Trying to tour the food locations in “Portlandia” would keep you full for a month, but a few of the show’s more iconic locations include Voodoo Doughnut, whose novelty sweets are an obligatory treat for any out-of-towners; Prasad, a cafe and juice bar where Fred and Carrie made their first, flatulent foray into raw food; and tapas joint Oba Restaurante, where our heroes had to bring in the services of a “check splitter” to pay a particularly complicated bill. And while the goofily named food cart “Stu’s Stews” from season three is fictional, here real Portland only improves on the show: Try the breakfast sandwiches at Fried Egg I’m in Love or the Korean barbecue at Kim Jong Grillin.
No tour would be complete without paying respects to Portlandia herself: The 6.5-ton copper statue, which appears briefly in the “Portlandia” credits sequence, presides over downtown Portland from the side of the infamous Portland Building, where she was installed in 1985.