My mom and I celebrated her birthday by recreating a bit of her 21st birthday! Revisiting a few of her collegiate haunts, we also blazed some new trails since Mr. Chang’s Dueling Piano Bar is no longer an option (RIP Mr. Chang’s! Mom doesn’t remember all of her 21st, but she remembers you.).
Our first stop was Pittock Mansion. Built in the hills of west Portland by publishing titan Henry Pittock in 1909, the home is now a public park and museum. The grounds are absolutely stunning, and if you catch nice weather, take the hike up to the house for some of the best views of Portland. We experienced the space river (actual thing!) so our planned hike got swapped out for a brisk walk around the grounds, where my mom was forced into the rain so she could tell me the names of the various flora and fauna, that I no longer remember. She is a good mom.
The mansion itself is one of the coolest examples of American Victorian architecture around and features a mish-mash of styles that appealed the to the Pittocks (French and Turkish Renaissance are both noted influences). Inside, the home is surprisingly modern, with telephones and a built-in vacuum cleaner, along with traditional Victorian rooms like sleeping porches and sewing parlors. Local lore has it that the house is haunted by the Pittock family, adding a little extra special something fun.
After dropping our bags off at the most awesome hotel, Inn at Northrup Station and grabbing a bite and a truly magical drink at Hubers, Darcelle XV for some of the best drag Portland has to offer. I love drag and this show is a riot! Darcelle holds the record as the world’s oldest working drag queen and she is fantastic. Equal turns raunchy and relevant, the show is delightful. All of the acts are a blast, so bring lots of $1 and prepare to have fun.
Hysterical aside: Things I did not know until it happened–there is no break between the 10pm show and the Men of Darcelle’s, so I ended up taking my mom to a strip club for her birthday. Pony came on and she started laughing so hard she was crying. In fact, she cackled all the way through the three acts it took us to close out our tab and get out of there. Happy birthday indeed!
Pro Tip: Call and make reservations at Darcelle XV’s so you are guaranteed a seat. They can be hard to reach by phone, but it’s worth multiple calls.
Bonus Pro Tip: If you don’t want to accidentally take your mom to a strip club, get tickets to the earlier show, or close out your tab before 12:30 so you can hit the door fast.
The following morning, the space river was gone so we made a sojourn out to The Grotto, a Catholic Shrine dedicated to Mary, Our Sorrowful Mother in South Portland. I am not Catholic, so I did not attend mass in the beautiful church, but I did spend several hours wandering the gardens and enjoying the peace.
With statues dotting more than 62 acres of forest and careful landscaping, this place is lovely. Founded in 1924 by Friar Ambrose Mayer, the main focal point of the aptly named Grotto, is in fact, a 110-foot tall grotto with a shrine to Mary. Entrance to the lower Plaza Level of the park is free and has several nice walking trails. However, it is well worth the $6 admission to take the elevator up to the botanical gardens above the Grotto Shrine, where the majority of the statues are, as well as a breathtaking view of Mt. St. Helens and the Columbia River Valley. Along with a charming labyrinth and peace garden, you can find a gorgeous sandstone monastery built-in 1936 to house the brothers of the Servite Friars tucked away towards the back of the sanctuary.
Pro Tip: Bring, or buy, a prayer candle to leave along with your prayers at the shrine to Mary. A number of people even brought sharpies to write the names of loved ones on their candles in many languages.
After wandering around The Grotto for a few hours we had worked up an appetite, so we made our way over to Northeast Portland, for some shopping and eats. In the 1940s and 50s, this area of Portland was home to a bustling jazz scene and Portlands’ Black community. It fell on hard times in the 70s and 80s and has since been gentrified. My mom worked at the hospital in Northeast prior to the gentrification and was eager to show it to me. If you are looking for a hip spot to find a beer or a coffee, Alberta Arts District is a good place to look. That said, I found the level of gentrification a bit depressing, so be forewarned if you plan to spend your money there.
Finally, we made a stop at the pinnacle of independent booksellers, Powell’s City of Books. The bookstore was established in 1971 and occupies an entire city block. They have a fantastic selection of new and used books, so bring a couple dollars and prepare to find that quirky small print book from 1989 that you have been looking for (or in my case, a signed graphic novel and Bird Man’s memoir. Stop judging!)
Pro Tip: Portland is a walkable city. It also has a great little train that runs to all the hot spots. Many hotels offer free, or discounted fares for the train, so ask about passes when you check-in and save yourself the hassle of parking.
Finally, the eats. Portland is also a foodie town and We were lucky enough to try a number of culinary hits, including:
- Hazel Room – Located in Southeast, the Hazel Room is a tasty option for carnivores and vegans alike. Don’t miss the homemade spicy jams. I still dream about them.
- Hubers – It has the honor of being Portland’s oldest restaurant, which says something in a foodie town. The Spanish Coffee will change your life. DO NOT drink more than one (a warning from my mom’s 21-year-old self).
- Portland City Grill – Located on the 30th Floor of the Bank of America Building, this place has a gorgeous view of the city and good pan Asian inspired Americana. The went the extra mile for my mom’s birthday and covered the table with confetti.
- Random Order – This place was a happy accidental find in Northeast. They make a mean vegetarian savory pie. Split it with a friend so you have room for anyone of their gorgeous sweet pies!
- Deschutes – A Bend Brewery, this spot is located in the Pearl. Built in an old auto shop, grab a seat at the bar and get some great beer, while checking out the tanks it is brewed in. Tell the bar staff what you like and they will find your perfect Northwestern brewed match.
- superbite – With two James Beard awards, this place has a reasonably priced tasting menu that will change your mind about foods you “don’t like” (Mushrooms with marshmallow? Yes please!).
Pro tip: Portland is a food lovers dream. They won’t rush you out of a table, but that also means that you should make reservations, or be prepared to wait at most places.