On a hot weekday in Portland, a line forms on Pioneer Courthouse Square at a food cart with a puny name, Fried Egg I’m in Love. At least one commendable Lime scooter awkwardly lists in every corner of the cobblestone block. A cloud of smoke – the old one –
some sort of shaped cigarette, not even weed, hangs in the air, because apparently the ’90s nicotine-shot dream is what’s most alive in Portland. Rose City is back, baby. But it is not the same.
A few blocks away, on a street named after gay rights activist Harvey Milk, a maintenance worker in a navy blue jumpsuit scrubs the rough concrete exterior of a parking lot, removing a red stripe of anti-police graffiti. Protests, sometimes resulting in violence, rocked Portland through 2021, and the city still bears indelible marks of the pandemic and a year of unrest. Visiting the Pink City now is stepping into a place that doesn’t necessarily come back to the status quo, it’s a metropolis that has grown a bit while no one was watching.
Compare Portland’s old and new just by walk through the downtown lunch options. When the city’s entire food cart was dismantled in 2019 (for a shiny skyscraper that will house a Ritz-Carlton), the city lost its largest collection of iconic restaurants, a dizzying array of Korean shawarma and burritos. barbecues that can’t quite be recreated in the smaller hubs that have flourished elsewhere.
So take a stroll north to the glittering Cooperativa in the Pearl District, an Italian food court that launched last September. The business connects a fresh produce market with tiled counters serving square, Roman-style pizzas and cocktails. It still represents Portland values, showcasing product vendors and serving up hand-made pasta, but it’s not the takeout from days gone by.
Or contrast the new Grand Stark hotel, run by the company that gave Seattle the Palihotel, with the city’s usual haunts. From its Eastside location, Grand Stark shares a vintage aesthetic (the building dates back to 1906) and a commitment to common spaces with, say, the eccentric Ace Hotel. But its muted color scheme and rain showers target a more discerning client, and a lobby lined with sculpture shelves is suitable for an afternoon of remote work, away from the happy hour scene that defined the hotel. ‘Ace pre-Covid.
A few blocks away from Division, the shell of the old-fashioned Pok Pok is empty, with only the memory of its sticky, cheeky chicken wings. Pok Pok’s sister Whiskey Soda Lounge across the street and a few doors down has already captured its overflow behind large picture windows; now repainted in a cheerful teal, the new Oma’s Hideaway fills the space with such color it’s hard to remember the old hotspot.
The restaurant began as a laid-back pandemic project of Thomas and Mariah Pisha-Duffly, the couple behind well-rated Indonesian joint Gado Gado. Oma’s Takeaway, the rushed pop-up named after the owner’s grandmother, was a cheeky mishmash of tater tots and dan dan noodles, billed as âAsian stoner foodâ for the era of closure. It even opened at 4:20 p.m. everyday.
While 2020 demanded quick pivots and irreverence, Oma quickly became a dining venue in its own right, relaunched this spring as Oma’s Hideaway. Beyond the still totally irresistible snacks – the roti canai flatbread is so flaky it hardly needs to be dipped in the rich kabocha curry – the menu bounces from crispy sweetbreads to roasted game chicken with ribs. pork that end with the flavor of a caramel sauce fish. Soft drinks manage to incorporate velvet falernum or shiso and wormwood. A vein of serious care runs through every dish, perhaps teaching us that nothing is really offhand.
In the industrial south end of downtown, near the Tilikum Crossing pedestrian bridge, the sounds of Portland finally returned in early summer. On a 33-acre gravel parcel, Christina Fuller and her company, Fuller Events, have created a place from the ground up: the Lot at Zidell Yards. In what she calls the nation’s tallest undeveloped urban building, Fuller has erected a stage for live shows and movies that couldn’t take place indoors during the pandemic, including the vital Waterfront Blues Festival from the city.
On stage at the start of summer, Portland rockabilly singer Jenny Don’t takes the microphone, supported by her group the Spurs. It’s the start of a tour that will bring her back to Portland in September for an indoor performance at Dante’s downtown. But here at her first gig in a year, dizzy as the audience dances and dances to the beat, she half laughs, half yes when a breeze from the Willamette River takes off her cowboy hat.
âIt’s nice to see the musicians come back on stage,â Fuller says. âIt’s like an athlete returning to the field. At sunset, he paints the clouds behind the spectacle of a series of light purples; the Lot was launched as a stopgap, but perhaps a new iconic Portland location has been born. There’s no question Portland is bouncing back, but it might never look the same again. And that’s okay, we’re not the same either.