Nine at The Nines

Portland’s reputation stands on three equally sturdy, undoubtedly artisan legs — craft beer, foodie paradise, and general weirdness. So, when my youngest daughter begged me to take her to Portland for her ninth birthday, I wondered if I could engineer a trip to the Rose City that appealed to a child — there are children living there, after all.

My daughter’s main impetus for the trip revolved around her love of books and future plans to become a librarian. In her mind, Powell’s City of Books was good enough reason to request an entire weekend in Portland. But, this isn’t my first rodeo and I knew we might need a couple of other things to fill the time. Plus, I wasn’t sure I could afford the consequences of spending 48 hours at Powell’s — even the two hours we spent there resulted in a huge pile of titles she couldn’t live without including the second installment of “Warren the 13th” by creator and illustrator Will Staehle and author Tania del Rio.

Before I filled an itinerary with stimulating activities, we needed to secure lodging. I’ve stayed in and love many of downtown Portland’s boutique hotels from Hotel deLuxe inspired by Hollywood’s golden age, to the urban art-clad Kimpton Hotel Vintage Portland, and the historic Sentinel adorned with portraits of forward-looking thought leaders. But, for a girl’s weekend celebrating my baby’s ninth birthday? Only The Nines would do.

We were greeted by concierge service that took our bags while we rode the elevator to the 8th floor reception desk to check in. Formerly the flagship store for retail dynasty Meier & Frank, the décor reflects the notion of being “dressed to the nines.” As we traversed around the corner from the elevators to the reception desk, we encountered glass cases displaying garments made of wire and other “unwearable” materials. Nude black and white manikins strike elegant poses, causing a few raised eyebrows from my daughter, but she was just as quickly distracted by the jewel box of colors and light radiating from the seven-story atrium serving as not-your-average lobby. Chairs and sofas of every color, shape, and size beckoned – and we tried them all. My little writer-in-training took meticulous notes on each seating option.

Our corner room on the ninth floor (obviously), streamed with light. Long crystal beads trickled down from the corner ceiling lamp spotlighting a luscious chocolate cake, made in-house specially for the birthday girl. First things first, we cut ourselves a big slice of cake. The pristine white linens and tufted headboard glowed in contrast to the warm-toned walls and drapes and “Tiffany”-blue sofa and pillows. The airy bathroom with white marble floors and countertops featured fluffy robes, a fantastic corner shower, and a blue vanity stool perfect for getting dolled up. My daughter immediately took a shower and commenced lounging in a cushy robe.

The next morning, we headed for a plate of house-cured salmon lox and bagels at Mother’s Bistro, a Portland dining institution owned by Chef Lisa Schroeder. An eclectic mix of chandeliers, gilded mirrors, window seats, and gauzy curtains softening the light from huge windows encompassing two exterior walls sets a comforting vibe. Fortified, we set off for the main event – a morning spent browsing the shelves at Powell’s.

Two hours and a heavy bag later, we emerged from our tome-filled euphoria in need of a recharge, so I took my girl for a stellar hot chocolate at Courier Coffee just around the corner. It’s a local haunt, a blink-and-you-miss-it type of place. I was introduced to it by Third Wave Coffee Tours during a previous trip. A macchiato and a canelé are my go-to choice. The hot chocolate starts with scoops of pure chocolate wafers in a cup that are melted by hot milk. They don’t normally sweeten it, but for kids, they will deign to add in some house-made vanilla syrup for a perfectly balanced beverage.

After a reading rest back in our room, we grabbed a quick bite to eat downstairs at Urban Farmer Restaurant located in the lobby atrium. The make-your-own bloody mary bar was filled with jars of house-pickled vegetables; my daughter enjoyed building me a first-rate bloody mary, stealing a few pickled mushrooms for herself before eating her less adventurous chicken strips and fries. We needed energy for our next stop – The Oregon Zoo.

A fifteen-minute ride on the MAX and we arrived at the Oregon Zoo stop. We were looking forward to seeing the elephant lands exhibit, a newly completed habitat for the zoo’s Asian elephant society. They certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves traipsing around through mud wallows and playing in the 160,000-gallon pool. We both thought the zoo train was a bit of a bust as it doesn’t circle the property, but merely goes a few minutes at a very slow pace then back the way it came. The Insect Zoo exhibit, however, was a big hit with my little explorer who’s love of nature shows has made her an expert on six-legged species.

Leaving the zoo, we exited the MAX at Providence Park and hoofed it to Salt & Straw for ice cream. As it turns out, that is fairly long “hoof” and we were somewhat dismayed when we arrived only to find a line out the door and around the block. Apparently, everyone else had the same idea on that sunny Saturday. A second before despair set in, an employee informed us that if we wanted to simply purchase a prepacked pint (instead of a cone), we could go straight to the front of the line. Brilliant! We sauntered to the front of the line, snagging a pint of almond brittle with salted chocolate ganache, and took it outside to savor while the suckers in line looked on with what we imagined was longing and deep respect for our pro move.

Later that evening, I was having trouble rousing the birthday girl for yet another walk to eat dinner. We did have a huge chocolate cake to sustain us, she pointed out. I finally convinced her to rally, promising a menu of Vietnamese specialties at Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen less than five minutes away. We were salivating at the possibility of fresh shrimp spring rolls, green papaya salad, and pho or maybe tom yum soup. Unfortunately, we encountered a line out the door. Foiled again! And no pro move could save us this time.

Backing up a couple of doors, however, we stumbled upon Portland Food Hall – a collection of several eateries in one space not unlike Pine Street Market. Newly opened, it appeared fortuitously undiscovered. We bellied up to the bar at Aiko Ramen and ordered two steaming bowls of unctuous slurping bliss. My daughter informed me how much more she enjoyed her simple bowl of ramen than the fancy meal we ate the night before. Lesson learned.

The next morning dawned with sunny promise. After gorging ourselves on Blue Star Donuts, we decided to enjoy the weather with a 25-minute walk across the Hawthorne Bridge to our final experience at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI). From the second she donned her visitor bracelet, my inquisitive scientist enthusiastically immersed herself in the exhibits, checking out the insect lab, the paleontology lab, and the watershed lab. But, when she discovered the chemistry lab, she found her home. Staff have set up multiple stations for kids and parents to conduct experiments mixing, pouring, and testing effects of various kid-safe chemicals from light-sensitive paper to making flubber.

On the ride home that afternoon, I asked my daughter to journal some notes about her birthday weekend experience and include her feelings. The last bullet point reads, “Felt= very very very very special.”


Extra Tips:

  • For well-mannered kids interested in a refined experience, treat them to The Russian Tea at Headwaters located in the Heathman Hotel (reservations required; adults $38, children $16).
  • Try a premium cup of drinking chocolate at Cacao with locations on S.W. 13th Avenue and at The Heathman on SW Salmon Street.
  • Cool off at free kid-friendly fountains: Jamison Square’s wading pool, Director Park’s gentle bubbling fountain, and the ever-changing fountain jets at Salmon Street Springs.
  • For younger kids, head to the Portland Children’s Museum near the Oregon Zoo.
  • Still want a brew pub experience? Deschutes Brewery’s Portland Public House is a relaxing place for all ages.
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