“Well, Portland, Oregon and sloe gin fizz, if that ain't love then tell me what is,” demands an enamored Loretta Lynn on the track, “Portland, Oregon”.
Both Loretta's choice of beverage and her infatuation with this often overlooked Pacific Northwest city might strike some as surprising, but for the legions of lesbians who have set up home here, Ms. Lynn is singing their tune. At least about the city. I've yet to see boisterous girls and bois hoisting pitchers of plum spirits in the hostelries, but getting fizzy is probably only a matter of time.
The friendly, environmentally-progressive city of nearly 600,000 sits on the mighty Columbia and Willamette (rhymes with “dammit”) rivers, with the perfect peak of Mount Hood as backdrop. Temperamental Mount St. Helen's lopsided caldera smolders 50 miles northeast, a reminder of the forces of nature on Portland's doorstep. The bevy of al fresco opportunities accounts for some of the city's allure. When the U-Hauls hit the highways, you can tell which are headed to Portland; the Subarus are garnished by bike, board, and kayak racks.
Women from every echelon of the lesbian spectrum have gravitated toward Portland, drawn by progressive policies and active communities in “The City That Works.” Those heading west in the hopes of finding themselves amid a sea of cozy Northwest flannel stand to be disappointed; today's uniform runs more to streamlined black attire over an expanse of tattoos. New arrivals will just have to keep warm other ways. Good thing those Portland folks are so friendly. Gay men, too, have joined the influx, and are among those restoring the vitality to once crumbling neighborhoods, such as Mississippi, by renovating houses and opening businesses.
Perhaps the strongest lifestyle statement gay and lesbian inhabitants make is with their feet. Bike paths and excellent public transit options abound and are well used. This eco-consciousness prevails throughout a city determined to tread lightly. Few are the trails of deep carbon footprints through Portland's charming, distinct, livable neighborhoods. Forest Park offers more than 5,000 acres and over 70 miles of hiking trails within city boundaries.
And there's more. The music scene is lava-hot. Add a throng of club nights, from niche nights such as fat-positive Cupcake (Holocene; 1001 SE Morrison; 503/239-7639; www.cupcakepdx.com) to the circuit scene at Girl4Girl (Wonder Ballroom, 128 N.E. Russell St.; www.girl4girlseattle.com), and this relatively compact city is a delight to dally in. Lest the entire city sound estrogen-overrun, men make up the majority of the clientele in Stark Street and the Burnside Triangle's clubs and bars. On Thursdays and Saturdays the city's laidback gay denizens up the tempo at Scandals (1038 S.W. Stark St.; 503/227-5887; www.scandalspdx.com) and Boxxes (1035 S.W. Stark St.; 503/226-4171; www.boxxes.com). Over in Hawthorne, sumptuous Crush (1412 SE Morrison; 503/235-8150; www.crushbar.com) is the martini bar of choice for a fun set.
Bumper stickers proclaim, “Keep Portland Weird” and wonderfully weird it often is, from the motley stable of tiny plastic horses tied to 19th-century tethering rings on Northwest sidewalks, to Voodoo Dougnut's (22 S.W. 3rd Ave.; 503/241-4704; voodoodoughnut.com) doll-shaped delights, complete with stake and jam blood (alas, Pepto-Bismol topped treats are no longer on the menu).
Restaurants, too, have their quirks. Taking the concept of local produce to extremes, herbs and chickens live on the roof at restaurant Rocket (1111 E. Burnside St.; 503-236-1110; rocketpdx.com). Organic and regional food seems the norm in Portland. And there's an added bonus; I don't think I visited any restaurant or coffeehouse where I wasn't distracted from the menu by cute lesbian staff. New Cajun dining destination Roux (1700 N. Killingsworth St.; 503/285-1200) was one such case in point. It's little wonder so many visitors come back to stay.
Portland is brimming with liquid assets. The city is home to the highest number of breweries in the world. I sampled beers at McMenamin's Grand Lodge (3505 Pacific Ave., Forest Grove; 503/992-9533; www.thegrandlodge.com), and tentatively tasted American-brewed sake at Sake One sakery (820 Elm St.; Forest Grove; 800-550-7253; www.sakeone.com). At 820 (820 N. Russell St.; 503-284-5518; www.mintand820.com) I guzzled an array of thrilling cocktails prepared by lesbian mixologist Lucy Brennan, and at Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs I enjoyed even more luscious libations. I sipped Stumptown coffee from the bike-thru window at lesbian-owned Black Sheep Bakery Cawfeeshop (833 S.E. Main St.; www.blacksheepbakery.com), and luscious hot chocolates at gay-owned Cacao (414 SW 13th Ave.; 503-241-0656; www.cacaodrinkchocolate.com). I also drank my fill at club Holocene (grrrl eye candy heaven [1001 SE Morrison; 503/239-7639; www.holocene.org]), and at the Doug Fir (830 E. Burnside St.; 503/231-9663; www.dougfirlounge.com), where hipster girls check out the bands and each other.
Portland charms are irresistible. I'm scheming ways to return to this confident, eco-passionate, enthusiastic, and energetic city that really knows how to kick back and have fun. Is it love? I think it might be. You tell 'em, Loretta.