So, I finally got a chance to take a vacation and really I felt obligated to knock off one of the last American cities I hadn’t seen yet; Portland (Los Angeles, San Diego and Seattle are left). Now with any vacation to visit family, you’re going to have to negotiate time, interests and other bits and bobs. With all that said, Portland is a beautiful city, surrounded by some of the most picturesque nature, but it is absolutely fucked to get around (by car). As usual I’ll be writing about record stores, food and things punks might want to know about. The one thing I missed was the Japanese gardens, but since we’re heading back to Japan again next year, I’ll have to make do with a garden in Japan.
This was a different trip for us as we typically are on our own and beholden to no one else. This time we did have Kate’s brother and sister-in-law to hang out with, who did show us some of the lesser known options in Portland – which didn’t really differ from what the Internet, guidebooks and YouTube videos told us – there’s lots of great options for food and beer, some great record stores for punk and hardcore, and some great short, or long, commutes to nature. Oh yeah, everyone telling you it rains all the time was true for our visit – except for the day we arrived and the day we left. Maybe we brought the rain? Sorry, Portland. Here’s my take (and a map).
So there’s a ton of record stores, some good, some overpriced, some reasonable. I was lucky enough to hit up five different stores in my time in Portland. Landfill Rescue Unit, Exiled, Jackpot, Black Water and Tomorrow Records. Each had their own niche and were all worth visiting for punk and hardcore – except Tomorrow which was overpriced for almost all the stuff I was looking for. Of note was a “first pressing” of Damaged for $150 on the wall. Other records were priced 20-40% over where they should’ve been to be moving. I did spy some relatively obscure reggae, but wasn’t really motivated to buy anything at those price points. And yes, I know I missed Green Noise, 2nd Avenue and Crossroads. Next time!
Landfill Rescue Unit was probably the closest to my tastes, having a huge selection of punk and hardcore 7″ EPs to dig through – all at reasonable prices. There’s two kinds of record stores, ones that are priced to move stock and constantly turn over stuff, and ones that are happy to sell at a more inflated price, and rely on profit to make their ends meet. Landfill is definitely one of the first types. Not to say they didn’t have anything – I bought the most of my trip here – including a Really Red “New Strings for Old Puppets” as well as a grip of Japanese hardcore. Well worth it.
I hit Exiled Records next as it’s a short drive – and I will say that Hawthorne St., where Exiled is, has a cool vibe (probably due to the extensive gentrification…) Exiled was set back from the street in a strip mall so it’s easy to miss, tucked away in the corner. Exiled had some deep cuts – but not as much stock as Landfill – worthwhile for a visit. We ended up picking up a Sister Double Happiness 7″, Colin Newman (Wire) solo LP and The Ex and Tom Cora LP.
That evening we hit up Jackpot Records to pick up some re-issues (Poison Idea and Wipers). With some more digging I’m sure there would’ve been more to grab, but the used-to-new ratio was low on the used side, which is what I’m usually digging for. Jackpot also has the Portland Record guide brochure, which gives you a sense of how spread out the city is, so if you hit it first you can grab that and probably have a killer time just browsing. Also, the brochure is not entirely comprehensive.
Black Water Records was the final must-hit for me (of course, if you’re not as laser focused on punk and hardcore as I am, your mileage may vary). It was well worth the visit as it paid off a bunch in having a few records that I had been looking for for a while – in particular a Zoe 7″ and The Minds 7″ that I thought might be more plentiful in the Pacific Northwest.
Also, Powell’s bookstore is fucking overrated. Great selection online, but in their downtown store, I was underwhelmed with the selections. Actually, I think the branch on Hawthorne was better…
So I didn’t see any shows in Portland while I was there, but I imagine Black Water Bar and the Twilight Bar would be your best bets if you didn’t know anything else. However, this being the Internet, you should probably check out the PDX show guide: https://pc-pdx.com/show-guide/ – it’ll give you a better idea of who might be playing where when you are there.
So Portland is well known for the food trucks and we ate really well without breaking the bank. Sizzle Pizza had a good metal quotient (and the pizza was actually good New York style slices). Pok Pok was excellent thai food that was fairly priced for a highly regarded chef. Cascade Brewery had a great selection of sour beers (holy shit, they were too many to choose from) and each of them were great tasting. Salt and Straw ice cream was good enough to visit twice. Almost every restaurant we went to had at least one vegetarian option, and often went beyond to have several vegetarian and vegan options. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you shouldn’t have a problem eating in Portland.
So in short, Portland was as good as people had described? My determinant is usually answering the question “would I live here?” and the answer is, well, maybe. Driving is a really annoying feature in Portland, it was bad enough for me to say no – but I didn’t take public transportation, so maybe it’s better? Judging from how many buses and trams I saw, I’d say it’s not likely. However the beer alone was worth it, so I might. I think I’d have to go back again to answer that question definitively.