Portland to the Nines

A week in 2014, I found myself sitting at my desk at home staring at the screen with the usual desire to get up and go somewhere. Martin Luther King Day, which results in a three day weekend for me was fast approaching and I knew I needed to go ahead and get something booked to get me out of town. I’ve been trying to get to San Francisco for some time, so I was trying to find a way to make that work out for me. Hotels weren’t cheap that weekend, and with airfares pretty much identical to all the major West Coast cities, I started to look for other options. Since I travel to San Diego a lot for work, I crossed that one off; Seattle? Just didn’t feel like it; Los Angeles? Are you crazy?; Portland? Why, that sounds like an excellent idea!

The last time I had been out to Portland was a work trip I made back in May 2011, which didn’t really give me much time explore the city. After all I was out by the airport on that trip and was also traveling with co-worker (who I did manage to convince to go into downtown for a beer and a drink), but there wasn’t any time for anything else. The time before that was a “layover” on Amtrak in 2010 where I had a few hours between my Amtrak Cascades train from Seattle and the Coast Starlight that I took all the way down to Los Angeles. With that said, I had plenty of Portland to check out; and given my affinity for beer, well plenty of breweries to check out.

The Flights
One of the surprising bits was that I was able to get a ‘K’ Economy fare for both the outbound and return for the modest price of $420. Seeing as I still had one Systemwide Upgrade (SWU) remaining that was expiring in February I figured this would be a good opportunity. There was availability for an upgrade in advance on my outbound day, but it was much later in the day, so I would be losing valuable time in Portland, especially given that I was leaving on a Saturday. I was really crossing my fingers and just about a week prior I noticed that both my PDX-ATL and ATL-ECP legs on the return were available one night, and quickly jumped on getting my SWU applied and confirming First Class. There wound up being no chance for me on the outbound ECP-ATL-PDX flights in terms of getting the upgrade (and ECP-ATL is usually pretty easy for me as a Platinum Medallion; unfortunately I wound up being #1 on the upgrade list with no seats, which is one of the downsides of the Boeing 717 now being used on the ECP flights as there are 4 fewer First Class seats compared to the MD-88). For the ATL-PDX flight I wound up in 10D which was an aisle bulkhead seat on the 737-800. There was plenty of space, but my only complaint is that the flight was supposed to be a 737-800 with personal TVs, but there wound up being an equipment swap with one that only had overhead TVs. Luckily there was plenty of space to use my laptop for the duration of the flight.

Watching Jets Taxi From The Delta Sky Club at B25 in Atlanta

Before boarding my flight back to Atlanta, I had enough time to go and check out the Sky Club in Portland. This one definitely hasn’t been renovated or even had any of the current Sky Club style touches added to it, but that was plenty fine by me. It’s a decent sized club, not really big, but larger than a closet and did the trick. For the most part it was quiet until some Diamond Medallion decided to sit in the middle of the club and talk loudly on her cell phone for 30 minutes, which wouldn’t had been as annoying if she didn’t chuckle after every thing she said. Oh well; on another note the bartender at the club was very friendly and so were the agents. Overall, it’s a decent Sky Club, but next time if I go out there I might have to go and check out the Alaska Airlines Boardroom.

A Mountain Pokes Out From Above A Delta Air Lines MD-88 at the Portland International Airport

As for the return flights in First Class, there wasn’t anything that was out of the ordinary about them from a service perspective. The flight attendants were good about going through and checking on passengers and the meal was what I consider to be one of Delta’s better First Class meal options: Pizza with chicken, goat cheese, and sun-dried tomatoes, salad, and a Dancing Deer cookie. Paired with an adult beverage, I was happy as I watched a movie and a couple of TV shows as we made our way to Atlanta. Near Atlanta I finally wound up talking to my seat mate who turned out to be a Captain with UPS; it seems like more than often I find myself sitting next to pilots on my flights…

Delta Air Lines First Class Lunch PDX-ATL

The Hotel
Actually, one of the things that I’ve often wanted to check out in Portland was the hotel I was staying at for the two nights of my trip: the Nines. Part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand, the Nines is located in the Meier & Frank Building starting with the lobby on the 8th floor. The elevators deposit you facing the windows and after walking around to the other side the shafts, the front desk is found. The agent at the desk was very friendly and offered me a few options for my room. I could have a higher floor or a larger room; not really sure what would be better or if one was an upgrade or a downgrade, I decided to go with the upper floor room. I didn’t need all the extra space, and as long as it had a large comfortable bed I was going to be happy.

I should also note that the concierge from the Nines had emailed me several days prior to my stay; I had not seen that from a hotel in the US before, so I knew in advance I was going to be in good hands with this hotel. I didn’t really need anything from the hotel in advance, but that introduction and responses to my questions was much appreciated. Throughout my stay the concierge staff was very helpful. Again, I didn’t really plan out anything about this trip (I’m pretty good about not planning), so when I was looking for places to go for food, drinks, or exploring they were definitely good at coming up with suggestions for me.

Getting to the room, I wound up in room 1108, which had a single King Bed a rather comfy couch next to the window, “standard-sized” TV, large bathroom (but small-ish shower) and decorated consistently with the rest of the hotel. Really, the way they’ve decorated this property really would make it fit in the W Hotels brand. Heck, the W Seattle isn’t even as flashy/modern as this place is. Anyways, as you can see the room was perfectly adequate and the bed was excellent. I was wondering if it was the W or Westin bed, because it felt like it could have been either one, but forgot to ask. As for the view, I could catch a glimpse of Pioneer Square from my room, but otherwise had views of adjacent buildings. I was located on the side of the building, so there wasn’t much to see.

the Nines, Portland – Entry

the Nines, Portland – King Bed

the Nines, Portland – Couch (Comfy!)

the Nines, Portland – TV + Desk

the Nines, Portland – Bathroom

View of Pioneer Square from the Nines

Also, located in the lobby is their restaurant Urban Farmer (open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner) and on the top of the building, their lounge, Departure. My rate included daily continental breakfast, which turned out to be a $25 credit. I only took advantage of it my second morning there, as the first morning I had breakfast with a friend, but it pretty much meant you had free-reign of the menu. I went with the Eggs Benedict and a side of hash browns, because especially after a night of drinking, that just seems like a good idea usually. Well, in theory, they were decent, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t put too much hollandaise sauce on top. I definitely had to scrape some off, because otherwise it was just too overpowering. All for the better that it was free in the end.

Urban Farmer (Located in the Lobby of the Nines, Portland)

I checked out Departure, the rooftop lounge, the night before. I made it up there not long before they called last call, for one last drink to cap off my night on the town. It was pretty quiet and I would have figured that it would have been busier, but it is what it is. I will say, I have never sat in such a comfortable bar seat however. Almost like a really soft boat captains chair. After finishing up my drink it was back down to the room and time to rehydrate and eventually go to bed.

A Pretty Terrible Photo of the Hotel Bar/Lounge, Departure

The only real hiccup that I experienced during my stay was when I woke up that Sunday morning and took a look at the copy of the folio that the hotel emailed me. At first I was wondering if I was still drunk, because it was about $180 more than it should have been! Especially when it showed up as a line item as “Room Charge” of $91.21 for each of the two nights I stayed! Not knowing what in the world was a result of this, when I finally checked out, I asked and as the agent took a look at my folio, just said “Oh, not this again.” The explanation that he gave to me was that randomly, the system will improperly add the taxes at the incorrect rate and then post to the folio. It’s something I’ve never seen or heard of at any other Starwood property and I assume they all use the same systems for that, so I’m not exactly sure if that was a legit reason or not. He was however, very apologetic and fixed it right away, getting my total bill down to a correct and much saner $380.

Overall, I was impressed with this property. It was my first stay at a Luxury Collection property and they definitely delivered excellent customer service all around. Would I stay here again? Without a doubt, that is unless it winds up being prohibitively expensive. I definitely saved by traveling in January, and I still would like to try out the Westin Portland which is located not far from the Nines; it too looks like a great property.

Beer + Food
Ok, so I definitely enjoy my beer, and Portland is one of those cities that is great for beer lovers. There are breweries all over the city, and really the options are endless.
Henry’s Tavern
Located right off of Burnside in the Pearl District, this was my first stop after checking in at the hotel. Basically, I came here based on the front desk clerk telling me that they had something like 100 taps of craft beer. Seeing as I needed lunch still and beer is always good, I figured I would go and see what they had for me to try. I ordered the mac and cheese with prosciutto, which for some reason seems to be oddly usual for me to order in places like this…not really sure why either. Anyways, the food was decent and the beer selection was extensive. I sampled two different beers that from breweries that I had never heard of and quite frankly cant even remember the names of. They weren’t disappointing, but perhaps I should look into actually recording the beers that I drink so I can track these things?
Rogue Hall / Rogue Distillery & Public House
This is actually two locations; Rogue Hall, which is located on the Portland State University campus (actually on the ground floor of what looked like a dorm), and Rogue Distillery & Public House, which is located in the Pearl District. Both of these are outlets of the Newport-based Rogue Ales, which along with Stone of San Diego brew some of my favorite beers. I made my way through several glasses, including the Portland State IPA (how many colleges have beers named after them; I think someone needs to brew a UCF Pale Ale), the Chipotle Ale (which had a nice hint of the pepper flavors), Rogue Dead Guy (the beer that introduced me to Rogue in the first place), and many others. Both locations had plenty of choices to choose from, although the PSU location did not have has many as the one in the Pearl District. Also, I can vouch for the tater tots…
Bridgeport Brewery
This was my first stop on my Sunday of drinking and I had two beers here. Overall, the it was a pretty decent place, with plenty of seating and strangely with football on a good portion empty. Perhaps it was because I was at the upstairs bar, but I’m not really sure. Anyways, I went with the Hop Czar Imperial IPA, which I had thought surely I had before back home in Florida. That or I’m imagining things, but it made for a good glass of beer. I followed that up with a beer that had been tapped for the first time just a few days prior, the first in the Bridgeport Trilogy series, which was a Crystal Dry-Hopped Pale Ale. Turns out it’s their 30th anniversary this year, and they are releasing three “limited edition” beers throughout the course of the year. It wasn’t very strong, but it did not disappoint.


Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House
Although I came here to drink, I really came here because I knew that I was going to need to have some food intake in order to balance out the beer I was drinking. Like many brewery brewpubs, there was a fairly extensive menu with me opting for a “spicy chicken pizza” which had peppers, onions, chicken, cilantro, mozzarella, all over a spicy jalapeno pesto base. First of all, I didn’t know such a thing as a jalapeno pesto existed, and second of all, I want to know how I can either make it or where I can buy it. As a person who loves pesto and jalapenos, yeah, it did a pretty good job. As for the beer, I had just one, although I don’t remember what I had…Red Chair Northwest Pale Ale or one of the IPAs.

Deschutes Brewery

PINTS Urban Tap Room
I stumbled on this place when on that Sunday night while looking for somewhere to get some local brews and a dinner. It seemed to have good reviews and it mentioned that they brewed their own beer, so naturally I was intrigued. I walked to their location near Union Station, and walked into a place that was definitely more relaxed and slowed down than the big brewery outlets. Actually the small crowd that was here seemed to all be locals, whilst I was the lone out-of-towner. I grabbed myself a sandwich and fries (which were both pretty good) and two of their beers: the Seismic IPA and the Rip Saw Red….I think. I don’t think either really stood out for having a unique flavor or anything, but it was still a good few pints. The thing that is interesting about this place is that in the mornings this place is a coffee shop; I don’t think you can get any more Portland than being both a coffee shop and a brewery.
Tasty ‘N Alder
I came here with a friend and his girlfriend on Sunday morning. They had talked this place up as having some pretty amazing food for brunch the night before, so I just had to try it. We did wound up having to wait about an hour for a table (the place was very busy), but I was not disappointed with my Tasty ​Steak & Cheddar Eggs ​with Cornmeal Pancake and Jalapeno Butter. The steak wasn’t over cooked and the cornmeal pancake with jalapeno butter was perfect combination of flavors, but yet very simple. If there is a long wait here, you can always go over to Powell’s Books to kill some time, like we did.
Sizzle Pie
I grabbed a slice of cheap pizza here and a cheap beer on Saturday after leaving Powell’s Books (the first of my two visits that weekend). Good for what it was, and it appears that they have a few locations across Portland. Important to note that they are open into the wee hours of the night, if one is craving some solid food after a night on the town.
Doug Fir Lounge
The Doug Fir Lounge is located on the east side of the Willamette River along Burnside. While it is a short taxi ride from the other side, I decided to walk from PINTS that night over to here, which is something I would not recommend if you aren’t comfortable with walking through slightly questionable area at night. Anyways, getting to the other side of the bridge I finally made to the bar and instantly my plan to see the show that they had that night were crushed. Sold Out. But, I didn’t come all this way for nothing so I settled into the upstairs bar and decided that I would at least have a few drinks. It seemed like a pretty nice establishment, and according to the menu on the bar, it’s one of the Top 20 Clubs in America according to Rolling Stone magazine (since I didn’t take any pictures, you can check out their website: http://www.dougfirlounge.com/). With not much else to do, I decided to hang out here for a while and when it came time to cash out my tab, I was pleasantly surprised that two vodka-based drinks and a beer only cost me $8. I was easily expecting something more like $20 just based on the pricing of places back home or quite frankly most anywhere. Maybe I didn’t get charged for something, but maybe it is just that cheap (or maybe there was a special that night?). All I know is that you can’t beat a price like that and a neat environment like that either.
Stumptown Coffee Roasters
I guess Stumptown is a bit of a Portland institution, or so I am led to believe. There’s a few locations around town and everyone seems to feature their coffees, so that has to be a sign, right? Being a fan of independent or small coffee shops (read: not Starbucks), I figured I would give it a whirl. Their location in Downtown was a short walk from the Nines, so I decided to go over there and have a latte. Given that it somewhat of the same feel as the coffee shop I frequent back home, it felt like being right at home. The only downside to their great coffee? Apparently it’s cash only.
Voodoo Doughnut
I had tried to go here when work brought me out here back in 2011, but their downtown location at that time was undergoing renovations. So this time after enjoying a cup of coffee from Stumptown, I walked down the street and got myself a doughnut. The “Oh Captain, My Captain” is what I settled on, which featured a serving of Capt’n Crunch! The frosting did make for a decent substitute for the milk and overall, it was pretty good. I was actually going to grab an assorted box to take back to Florida for the folks at work, but it being cash only and me only have $5 in my wallet, pretty much killed that idea.

Oh Captain, My Captain

Powell’s City of Books
Powell’s Books is quite the impressive place, that is if you like books. Taking up an entire city block, they pretty much have almost everything imaginable; new or used, common and uncommon. I spent probably a bit too long here browsing the stacks, trying to find a few books that I haven’t been able to find elsewhere, and pretty much getting lost. In the travel section I had found several books that I wanted, but not wanting to wind up taking a whole bunch of books back with me to add to my stack of books I’ve yet to read, I down selected to one, Thrilling Cities by Ian Fleming. Yes, the man who wrote the James Bond books, apparently has done some travel writing; the book contains several essays on various cities around the that were written for the Sunday Times in the late 50s / early 60s. I figured, that this could be a rather interesting look at some of the places that I’ve been to, especially since two of the essays are on where I had just gotten back from: Hong Kong and Macau.

Powell’s Books

There was only one thing that was disappointing about Powell’s: the science and engineering section. In fact, it took me forever to locate it, because I had not realized that it was located in different building across the street from the main building. But even then, once inside, I was disappointed by the selection of Electrical Engineering topic books or even what I would consider general technology books. I mean I figured that there this is where I might find some cool old engineering books, but that apparently wasn’t in the cards. But then, that’s not overly surprising, since the majority of the population isn’t going to care about those topics. They did have a pretty decent selection of books on software topics, so there was that.

Portland is a fascinating city and despite being a large metro area, it doesn’t have the crowded rushed feel that many cities have. Despite my running all over the place, it still felt laid back. Perhaps that was a function of taking it easy on that Saturday night and catching up with two friends that I hadn’t really seen since graduating from high school eight years ago or maybe it was just the vibe that the city of Portland has. Either way, I’m glad I finally made it back out here and actually have some time to explore the city, especially since the past two times didn’t give me that opportunity. Much like how I like to visit Seattle, I think I need to try to work in a trip to Portland more often; next time there’s plenty additional things I would like to check out, and I think my next trip is going to have to be in the summer when it is a bit warmer. Heck, I might even be convinced to bike my way around town…it is after all a very bike friendly city.

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