Keep Portland weird. It’s not just a slogan. It’s a way of life. I take it as a compliment. Portlanders embrace the idea, though if you’re not comfortable with the word weird, quirky is an acceptable substitute. Portland is weird. The people are off kilter the city itself is odd, with unusual architecture and art, a nontraditional layout and more bridges than you can shake a stick at. Bridge City. That’s another popular nickname for our weird and quirky little town. Well, little. That’s a word that doesn’t quite work as a descriptor. But I digress.
Take my night last week, for example. I hadn’t had a night out in a while and, since the wife and kids took a weekend beach trip, I had the evening to myself. I hopped the Max from Milwaukie (in itself a strange aberration from the traditional and more accepted spelling of Milwaukee in Wisconsin) where I was visiting a friend, all the way out to Pioneer Square (where plenty of weirdness can be observed. On this day, a juvenile African American man was rapping on top of one of large walls surrounding the Square while a man carried a THE END IS NEAR SIGN on front of the Square Starbucks). From there, my journey continued to NW Portland where plenty of weirdness resides.
The artsiest part of Portland, NW 23rd, and it’s surrounding streets are replete with everything from organic popcorn shops to places like Salt and Straw (home made ice cream with a dash of salt), art galleries, toy shops and tons and tons of restaurants. My destination was a place that had been recommended to me but was, to that point, unknown to me. I love checking out new places to eat, so, I was down. A Delicatessen called Elephants was the place. I was going to meet up with some friends there, most notably, the duo that forms the new wave band (and properly Portland weird) Camp Crush. This was before I was going to venture out, later for karaoke. A truly Portland night was in the works.
I got there early, as I am wont to do.
I’d never been before, obviously, so I thought I’d take a look around before my friends arrived. My first thought was that the building, right there on North West 22nd, reminded of an old-world épicerie or a European market. But, aesthetics tell only part of the story.
Founded in 1979 on the core values of Excellence, Stability and Unity, when Elephants Delicatessen originated, there were no specialty food stores in Portland – and few in the rest of the country. Elephants Delicatessen paved the way in gourmet innovations—innovations that we now take for granted. They were the first to offer Portlanders fresh pasta, cheeses from around the globe, pesto sauce, chocolate truffles, homemade bread, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and fresh, ready-to-go, delicious food at a deli counter. They focus on flavorful food, customer service and aesthetics.
It’s definitely a cool place to be. There’s a small bar with a limited beer, wine and liquor selection, a terrific daily specials section (on the day in question it was an absolutely divine brisket), and plenty of art on the walls to keep your attention while you eat. I, of course, cater towards the hot sandwiches or the pizza. The Rueben is to die for, the pizza is delightfully greasy and the burgers and fries are out of this world.
On the healthier side, there’s a great soup and salad bar as well. There’s also a place to purchase knickknacks and souvenirs. Handmade soaps, candles, stuff like that.
It was a beautiful late summer day, so, I grabbed an outdoor seat—one of those wrought iron numbers, painted in a happy red—and made sure to order before the close of Happy Hour (3-6) because I’m nothing if not frugal. My friends showed up. Haven’t seen these folks in forever. We sat.We talked. Good friends, good company. We ate, we talked about music, we talked about all the good ways that Portland has changed and all the ways that it stays weird.
One of the best things about Portland is that you don’t need a car to get around effectively. This isn’t weird, this is, in fact, quite normal. Where the weirdness kicks in is what you encounter and experience while you’re not driving.
Said goodbye to my friends and left Elephants and heading towards downtown Portland towards Portland State University. My ultimate destination was the ultra-weird karaoke bar Suki’s, which I’ve discussed in this space before, so, I won’t do it again. Just know, it is sufficiently weird. And it’s very Portland.
But, my walk—I chose to walk this time. I love the fresh air and I need the exercise—was awesomely weird. As I wound my way down closer, I saw a guy playing his electric violin, backed by a cymbal crashing monkey. I saw a kid skateboarding off the back of a pickup truck, Marty McFly style. Numerous tattoo parlors (outside one was a man dressed up like a wolf), and, outside Powell’s City of Books, there was a flash mob.
Of course, none of this even shook me up. This s Portland where weirdness reigns. It’s delightfully wonderful and, somehow, comforting. I’m always reminded of how great and quirky and lovely this great city is. Portland, Oregon. I love it for everything it is—including its perpetual weirdness. And then, I got into Suki’s, and it all came together. I love Portland. It always keeps me on my toes.