Welcome to Portland, Oregon: the land of books, brews, and babes who wear glasses. Though we’re slowly working our way toward tomboy world domination, Wildfang couldn’t be prouder to live in the City of Roses—a city that brought you The Simpsons, Elliott Smith, Powell’s Books, the NyQuil Glazed Doughnut, and coffee so good it’s like the beans were roasted by Zeus himself. While PDX has become somewhat of a hotspot in recent years (thanks to unofficial ambassadors Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen), there will always be a few local secrets that continue to fly just under the radar.
Also known as the Shanghai Tunnels, few know that there’s actually a hidden labyrinth of underground passages snaking their way beneath the streets of downtown. Officially, they were built to deliver goods directly from ships docked in the Willamette River to the basements of hotels and bars in Old Town; unofficially, they are rumored to have been used for the kidnapping and illegal sale of able-bodied men to sea captains in need of sailors (a practice that became known as shanghaiing). Though most of the tunnels are now closed to the public, there are still a few businesses that give a cheeky nod to this part of Portland’s history. First, there’s the aptly named Shanghai Tunnel bar where you can post up underground and pretend you’re sipping on some white lighting and getting ready to run from the prohis. Or, there’s Old Town Pizza that sits above the tunnels in what was formerly the Merchant Hotel, where the long-suffering ghost of Nina (Nye-nah) will haunt you as you wolf down slices of pepperoni pizza.
While we promise not to turn this into a list of Portland’s spookiest sites, we couldn’t leave off the supposedly haunted Witches Castle. To make a long story short, around the mid-1800s there were two dudes, Mortimer Stump (or was it Stump Mortimer?) and Danford Balch, who were both living on some land in what is now Forest Park. Well, everything was going great until Mortimer ended up falling in love with Danford’s daughter and that’s when sh*t hit the fan—let’s just say, things did not end well. But while those dudes didn’t survive, the Balch house did and remains there to this day. The large stone structure endures as an eerily beautiful site for hikers making their way through the gorgeous trails of Macleay Park… and the occasional hang out spot for up-to-no-good high schoolers out past curfew.
Stepping Stone Cafe
In a city that lives to brunch, how can we choose just one cafe, you ask? But you can’t beat a joint that serves brunch ’til 3 am, like a syrupy haven after a long night of karaoke. Who wants Fourth Meal or soggy late night drive thru when you can go to bed with a tummy full of cinnamon roll french toast or hash browns smothered in cheese (The Dilemma)? Or, for those who show up with enough liquid courage, there’s always the Mancake Challenge—a daring feat in which a brave human attempts to down 3 thirteen-inch “mancakes” for the glory of having their photo added to the Stepping Stone Wall of Shame. Not for the faint of heart. “You eat here because we let you,” says their menu. We couldn’t agree more.
The Chapman Swifts
Don’t be fooled, this isn’t like listening to your grandpa wax nostalgic about that one time he spotted a red-bellied woodpecker in the back yard—these swifts take bird watching to the extreme. At some point during ’90s, all the Vaux Swifts (a.k.a. cigars with wings) got together and decided to take up residence in the large chimney at Chapman Elementary School. Since then, each year during the month of September, hundreds of spectators gather on the lawn around sunset to watch these birds do their thing. Think of it as Top Gun if Tom Cruise and Anthony Edwards were birds. Buckle up, Maverick—we’ve got bird watching to do!
Probably one of the coolest things to happen in Portland since Mayor Bud Clark opened up his raincoat and exposed himself to art, Rigsketball is a gloriously rad product of the city’s tight-knit, thriving music community. Each summer, 32 Portland bands go head-to-head in a street-ball tournament played on a regulation hoop attached to the back of a graffitied tour van owned by And And And’s Bim Ditson (the mastermind behind Rigsketball). This year’s winner Who’s the Ross went up against bands like Thanks and Hustle and Drone; Past participants have also included Typhoon, Starfucker, and Con Bro Chill. According to Ditson, the tournament (which has been known to get pretty competitive) has only fostered the spirit of community and led to some unexpected collaborations off the court. Bands and basketball? We say, hell yeah!
And the rest…
Ask any true Portlander (you can spot them by their lack of umbrella, by the fact that they know Couch Street is actually pronounced ‘cooch’, and by how little prompting they need to chant the chorus to “Bust-a-Bucket”) and they could rattle off at least a dozen other Stumptown gems to add to this list. Whether it’s The Unipiper (think Darth Vader on a unicycle playing flaming bagpipes, NBD), the insanely extensive CD collection at Multnomah County Library (we kid you not, it’s epic!), or the nude beach on Sauvie Island, one things is clear—Portland rules.
Welcome to Rip City, Wildfangs!