Portlanders, as a whole, have been defined and stereotyped by many iconic actions, most publicly in recent months by the IFC show “Portlandia.” In my experience, acting like a “Portlander” is more of a feeling, an abstract state of mind, than concrete actions, but nevertheless, there are many things that most Portlanders have been identified with. Possible actions may include: buying local vegetables at the farmer’s market; busking for cash at said farmer’s market; biking across the Hawthorne bridge wearing ripped corduroy pants, a flannel shirt, and no helmet; meeting one’s friends at happy hour; spending a rainy Saturday (there are many) holed away in Powell’s Books; sampling coffee at Stumptown cuppings; buying lunch from a food cart…the list goes on and on.
But two things that define Portland most of all, aside from the beautiful, 360-day sunny weather and celebrity sitings, are bicycles and beer. Though Portland has the most stripclubs per capita than any other city in America, it also boasts the most microbrews per capita and has developed some of the most innovative bike paths I have ever seen. In the past four months since I have moved back to Portland from stints in Seattle and San Francisco, I have truly embraced the biking and brew culture of Portland. What is better than spending warm evenings on a porch or patio drinking a cold local microbrew or spending gloomy, wet, autumn evenings with the comfort of a warming stout or Pumpkin ale? And arriving at your drinking destination by bike? There are few greater pleasures.
But what has captivated me even more than the titillating, aromatic excitement of tasting a local, craft beer, is my new favorite transportation option: the bike. Though humans have been biking for the past two centuries, bicycling has been re-embraced in the last decade as a legitimate commuter transportation option over the automobile. Though this response was surely a result of rising gas prices, I have discovered many reasons why bicycling trumps driving as the preeminent way to travel. First of all, there is something very empowering about creating your own energy. There is an exhilaration that inevitably comes when pumping one’s legs, a seemingly simple action, and moving at 20 mph. Definitely more gratifying than moving the ball one one’s foot one half inch and moving 20 mph. A artist in New York City has been stenciling the quote, “This one [bike] runs on fat and saves you money…This one [car] runs on money and makes you fat.” It is very true. Why sit for 30 minutes while you commute to work, other than the benefit of listening to NPR, when you could be exercising for 30 minutes instead? I have often found in my commutes and rides in this city, that especially downtown, you can get places in the same amount of time, if not faster, by bike. Sometimes biking is even faster than busing, especially if you can slip through red lights and alongside lines of cars at red lights by virtue of your vehicle’s small frame.
Portland’s embrace of the bicycle has resulted in some of the most innovative bike lanes around, so much so that cities such as San Francisco and Boulder are trying to emulate them. They have been implementing a system of green-painted bike lanes to alert both cars and riders alike that there is a place designated for bikes alone. Additionally, this green extends to a boxed off area at intersections in front of cars so that bikers can get a head start of cars when lights turn green. The development of these bike lanes and holding areas is a sign of welcome to me. Whenever I find that a street has a bike lane, I feel empowered as a bike rider. The lane itself seems to say, “You are welcome here, your vehicle is accepted and wanted, your choices are affirmed, and your fellow city-dwellers share similar road-sharing values.” In Portland, bike lanes have become a utility, not just a commodity or aesthetic ploy. They are truly a declaration of a community’s biking values.
As I have already alluded to, bikes and beer go well together. If one is going to consume more than a pint of beer, it is an attractive option to bike to said beer consumption. Driving there brings up the danger of operating a large motorized vehicle while under the influence of a couple pints. However, biking reduces the danger somewhat. It’s also convenient…most breweries and pubs in Portland are located in bike accessible areas, on major streets in well-inhabited, well-lit areas. While biking through the Clinton Street neighborhood, which is a hub of great eating and drinking establishments, I laughed to myself when I arrived at a four-way stop not at the same time as another car but at the same time as four other bikers! We all stopped with our headlights flashing and gave each passing bicyclist a friendly wave. This is another benefit of combining bicyclists and beer-drinkers—both are friendly to each other’s causes.
This is the point where I advocate for the beery establishments that I have approved of in the last few months, all bike-accessible. First is Bailey’s Taproom. Located at 213 SW Broadway, this site is the epitome of local drinking. It is filled with natural light, a result of floor to ceiling windows. An electronic board lists the 20+ brews on tap, most within the few mile radius of Portland, Oregon, listed in order of brew-type from light to dark. I have enjoyed a local raspberry wheat beer there as well as a sample of a Black IPA (an innovative mix of fruity hops and earthy stout) from a traveling beer-seller visiting from Salt Lake City.
The second site-to-visit is Bridgeport Brewery in the Pearl. This place has an excellent happy hour menu, with $3 pints and good food under $5. It’s also super-local, the brewery itself spewing the distinct scents of mash on the same block as the public house. Also nearby is a similar public-house site, but of Deschutes Brewery from Bend, Oregon to the east across the mountains. It has a similar bustling, pub-like feel and proximity to the Riverfront Esplanade for a post-dinner, twilight ride.
There’s also Oaks Bottom Public House, which I visited on a pleasant summer evening, arriving by bike. This place serves excellent burgers (meat and vegetarian), an outdoor patio, and locally-made Lompoq beer. I remember the featured IPA being quite nice and the vegetarian patty first-rate. The proximity of this pub to the Springwater Corridor (stay tuned for a more in-depth post on this bike-lover’s haven) is also quite nice. After our side-splittingly good meal, we burned off the calories of our dinner by biking back to town under our own power. Though we ran into dozens of gnats per minute as we pedaled along, the sight of a dusty orange sunset framing the lazy river to our left and the emergence of nighttime sounds (frogs, birds, crickets) in Oaks Bottom was soothing and picturesque. Not to mention the relief of cool air whipping at our faces, the transition to a natural setting as a channel for our transport was really something.
Finally, one cannot talk about Portland beer-spots without mentioning the McMenamins enterprise. The business was started in the 1970s by two McMenamin brothers when they opened the Produce Row Café. It remains a family business, but now spans almost 60 different sites. It is a goal of mine to visit every McMinnamins site, and lucky for me that I plan on biking and drinking in Portland for awhile, as the possibilities of McMinnamins visits seem endless. Some sites are music venues, some are pubs, some are hotels, some are remodeled schools or abandoned wooden buildings beyond the Urban Growth Boundary, but each has its unique feel (and sometimes theme!) while still serving the same menu of beers and food. Some names you may recognize are: Historic Edgefield, the Mission Theater, the Crystal Ballroom, Blue Moon, the Bagdad, the Laurelhurst Theatre, the Rock Creek Tavern, The Ram’s Head Pub, the list goes on and on.
So why Portland? Why such an emphasis on beer and bikes when the weather is wet for most of the year and we have to suit up in rain gear? Well, Portlanders like to be stylish and trendy, and there are so many ways to express your individuality and identity while taking your ride out for a spin in public and while holding a brew in your hand. Raincoat, saddlebags, helmet, lights, baskets, bells, crates, IPAs, Pale Ales, Stouts, Reds, Wheats, Belgian style…there are so many ways to express yourself while participating in these two activities. So Ride on!
Note: After I wrote this post in the coffee shop of Powell’s Books, I walked past a book on display entitled Brew to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy by Charles Heying. I promise that I did not rip off its concept in my musings. But now I am intrigued and intend to put the book on hold at the library 🙂