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Story and photos by Lynn Rosen and Steve Giordano   December 1, 2011

  Portlandia statue  

When you visit Portlandia, you get this overwhelming urge to merge, fit in. You want to go find a bike and commute to work, get a nose piercing or a tattoo, shop at Powell’s Books,, grab a meal from one of the notorious downtown food carts, or stay on the edge of The Pearl District at McMenamins Crystal Hotel, Let there be no mistake—McMenamins Crystal Hotel goes the distance to help keep Portland weird. And we say weird with affection here. Here’s a then

Portland Crystal Hotel
Portlandia is to Portland what the Statue of Liberty is to NYC
This is now - The Crystal Hotel Today
  Portland's Crystal Hotel  

The hotel, located on 12th Avenue, just across the street from the fabulously cool Pearl District, has a soap opera history—juicy, shady and jaded.

Originally built as the Hotel Anna 100 years ago, this unusual Flat Iron building has seen some sordid commerce—from prohibition brew pubs to gambling dens to prostitution salons to gay bath houses to used car row. Upon request, the front desk will provide a complete history of this richly historical property.

The McMenamin brothers, Mike and Brian, whose bent it is to take on such projects, bought the property and made it one of their own. They have a gift of doing that.

  The 51 guest rooms, as well as all the hallways and stairwells, have been renovated in the spirit of the last century of pop, jazz, folk and western musicians. The rooms are named accordingly such as Emmy Lou Harris “Wrecking Ball,” Devendra Banhart “Long Haired Child,” Marvin Gaye “Hitch Hike” and Garnet Mimms “Cry Baby” to cite just a few.  
  Portland Crystal Hotel hallway painting of jazz scene   Portland Crystal Hotel hallway car painting  
Hallway painting of jazz scene
Hallway painting
  Portland Crystal Hotel guest bed   Portland Crystal Hotel guest room door - "Howl"  
"Liquor, beer and wine"guest room
Allen Ginsberg's Howl on the door
  Reverend Horton Heat's Liquor, Beer and Wine is one of the names on the doors. Hand painted headboards and text scribed around the dark blue walls reflect that sentiment. This held true in our "suite," "Howl," named for Allen Ginsberg's signature poem. The poem wound its way around the bedroom, across the doorframe and into the bathroom.  
  Portland Crystal Hotel guest room with Allen Ginsberg and his Howl on the wall  
Allen Ginsberg and his Howl on the wall

We had one of the few rooms with a private bath. Every floor has just four of these. The rest are rooming house rooms with sinks, but the bathrooms are down the hall.

Room amenities are sparse, minimal. You can actually get a hair dryer if you ask at the front desk, but don’t expect to snag a 100 watt light bulb. The McMenamin brothers have this thing about light. There isn’t much. Most all of the bulbs in the rooms are no brighter than 25 watts. And the walls are dark blue. Take a flashlight, especially if you want to read in bed.

  Portland Crystal Hotel guest room chandelier  
Allen Ginsberg room lighting
  Portland Crystal Hotel Zeus Café   Portland Crystal Hotel's Al's Den  
Crystal Hotel's Zeus Café
Al's Den

Zeus Café, on the ground floor of the hotel, is a happening place with its nighttime bar scene and solid bar-fare food. But breakfasters swarm in for oddly named dishes like Mount Hood Scramble, Baja Fritatta and Eggs in a Cadillac. Prices are reasonable and the ambiance very cool. Also, after hours, don’t miss the music in the bowels of the building. It’s Al’s Den, a dark bar with live music, mostly jazz, every night.

The legendary Crystal Ballroom, with its famous “floating floor,” is just around the corner and a must for concerts and a dance sensation like nowhere else on the planet.

“While the action on the stage has always thrilled, one thing everyone remembers about the Crystal is its astounding "floating" dance floor. "Like dancing on clouds," is how people describe cutting a rug here. At the time of its construction, the Crystal's mechanical dance floor (now fully restored to proper working order) was said to be unique on the Pacific Coast. Today, it may be the only one left in the United States.

Powell’s Bookstore,, a block down the street, as most every book-lover knows, is one of the largest independent bookstores in the US. Find amazing books and bargains on the shelves, then maybe even some real beatniks hanging out along the benches and cubbies drinking lattes and checking their emails.

  Oregon Historical Society building mural   Oregon Historical Society building mural  
Murals painted on the outside of the Oregon Historical Society building

The Oregon Historical Society has some pretty unusual, bizarre and mind-bending murals on its outside building walls. Check out the Lewis and Clark and Oregon Trail art works, inside, yes, but on the outside are the weird/awesome murals that will blow your perceptions.

  Antique car   Antique car  
A few of the many antique cars on display at a 2011 Portland Art Museum exhibit
  Across the street, the Portland Art Museum sometimes has some pretty weird exhibits like this one-of-a-kind automobile show. This exhibit recently closed, but be sure to check out the rare and crazy at this Portland treasure for upcoming shows  
  Portland food carts   Portland food carts  
Portland food carts

Portlandia food carts are also gaining a great big reputation and a huge fan base. There may not be any one ethnic dish a foodie couldn’t find at a street food cart. Simple, real food at simple, reasonable prices. And you don’t even have to leave the country! Most of the carts are located on a downtown block bordered by Alder and Washington streets and SW ninth and 10th, but see the website for MANY other locations.

If you want to enjoy inside dines, two Portlandia establishments will keep you outside of the ordinary food box.

The experience of Shigezo gives Portlandians a fresh brand new look at the first ever huge Japanese chain to open in the US. What is an everyday ho-hum in Japan is now open for business in downtown Portland. From sushi to noodles to seaweed to hibachi, Shigezo welcomes new customers to an old Japanese tradition with fork-tender meats and standard curry stews. The layout is an exact replica of the Japanese storefront down to the electronic toilet with computerized buttons. Sorta weird.

St. Jack the French restaurant where EVERYthing on the menu tastes fabulous, is the very “in” Southeast Portland neighborhood spot to visit. Menu items are not exactly weird, but there’s nothing ordinary about frogs legs, calf’s brain and beef heart. The butter lettuce salad, steak, mac n’ cheese and chicken liver mousse get rave reviews. Noisy/busy, make reservations.

  Portland Tree to Tree Adventure Park   Portland Tree to Tree Adventure Park  
One weird adventure you won’t want to miss is the aerial obstacle course in the treetops just outside Portland in Gaston Harness up with safe straps and helmets to zip on lines, ropes, trapezes, swings, ropes, tires, ladders and tightropes. Don’t be afraid. Anyone can play. There’s even a special kid’s course.

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