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OUTBOUND: Weekend in Portland, easy and affordable
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

At two hours by car or three via train, you don't need an excuse to visit Portland - just a sudden urge. The Rose City has always been a quirkier, littler version of Seattle and it still is, but it's undergone a trendy makeover and can now rival any of its West Coast counterparts with chic hotels, nifty cocktail pads, and a bevy of outstanding restaurants that utilize local produce and Oregon's fine microbrews. Portland is a comfortable year-round destination for Gay travelers, hosting its annual Pride festivities in June and the drag extravaganza La Femme Magnifique International in September, and it's also a prime locale for solo Gay travelers to meet new friends - visit www.travelportland/lgbt for more information. And don't forget, there's no sales tax down there, making it a great place to blow your holiday bonus or IRS refund. Here's how I recommend spending your next weekend in Portland.

STAY
Hotel Modera
515 SW Clay, www.hotelmodera.com


Away from the passing crowds, yet within walking distance to everything in Portland's compact downtown, is the newly established Hotel Modera. A revamped Days Inn, this 174-room suite property represents what the city is all about - tranquility, moderateness, comfort, and notable pleasant surprises. At 5th and Clay, it's steps from Portland State University, performing arts theaters, financial district, and free-zone light rail service - a perfect location whether you're in town for work or play. Rooms and/or suites are neutral in decor with modern touches and include soft beds, firm pillows, micro-fiber cotton robes for in-room use, LCD cable television, iPod docking stations, complimentary wireless, nightly turndown service, and Italian-imported Tarocco bath products made from antioxidant-rich blood oranges. My only complaint, and it's minor, is the Wolfgang Puck coffee is notches below Starbucks or Stumptown - again, it's minor, but worth mentioning to those craving a cup of java in the morning. The lobby is open and contemporary, offering gratuitous chair massages on select afternoons and wine tastings (for a small fee) on some evenings. A courtyard with firepit seating is a terrific area to mingle or unwind during mild weather. And talk about gracious, Hotel Modera provides two flatscreen computers in the main lobby and two additional Macs in its 24-hour business center, which proved to be incredibly beneficial to someone like myself who travels without a laptop. Rounding out the amenities are free passes to 24-Hour Fitness (across the street) and Alaska Airlines miles redemption, so have mileage number ready when scheduling your reservation. A restaurant-lounge named Nel Centro is set to open in April. Visit Hotel Modera's website for current specials or packages.

EAT/DRINK
Urban Farmer
525 SW Morrison, www.urbanfarmerrestaurant.com


One of Portland's most talked about new restaurants is Urban Farmer on the eighth floor of The Nines luxury hotel, and I can easily confirm that it's worth every ounce of buzz. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner favorites with subtle twists, this is where hipsters and self-professed foodies are flocking to - many of whom arrive in pods shortly after leaving the office or en route to an evening concert. For lunch, a pressed BLT sandwich with sea salt-dusted chips and white bean soup did the trick, washed down with three different of kinds of beer (from the many in their stable). For dinner, I'd start with the charcuterie plate or caramelized onion soup and then move onto a signature steak from either grain-, corn- or grass-fed cattle that comes with your choice of sides - ditto for regionally-grown lamb, chicken, and fish. Dessert selections include apple crisp, butterscotch sundae, banana cream pie and carrot cake, all from scratch. The restaurant-bar, boasting a large amount of space with not a single television in sight, has an affordable happy hour menu that includes wagyu beef sliders, cheese plate and roasted nuts - a nice spot to end a shopping mission accomplished. Urban Farmer's atrium setting is unique, as is its intimate library and stylishly propped "living rooms," the food is marvelous and flavorful, not to mention a gathering locale for the city's uber cool Gays and straights - thus, it deservedly landed on SGN's list of top restaurants in our Best of Travel 2008. Sprint, don't walk, to Urban Farmer.

50 Plates
333 NW 13th Avenue, www.50Plates.com


The concept at another city newcomer, 50 Plates, is to offer food influenced by different regions of the USA. Located in the very happening Pearl District, home to Portland's short list of Gay bars, the restaurant serves familiar dishes like mac 'n' cheese (with chicken-stuffed pasta), Cincinnati-style chili, clambake, Miami slammer, dirty rice beignets, Carolina pulled pork, po' boy sandwiches, chicken pot pie, pan roasted fish on clam chowder mash and a meat and potatoes of the day. Desserts follow in similar fashion, from the downright yummy bananas foster (with banana ice cream) to the gooey s'more fondue to the "damn fine" slice of pie ala mode (homemade, of course). What I loved most about 50 Plates is its fun energy, especially on the bar menu, where daily specials take things to a whole other spirited level - Manhattan Mondays, Every Day is Fat Tuesday, Whiskey Wednesdays, Thirst Days, and Thank God It's Fry Day! The ambiance is cozy and the layout is spread out in three intimate sections with high bar chairs and booths. 50 Plates is where to get a sumptuous comfort meal or an inventive cocktail in a non-pretentious atmosphere.

Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill
2926 NE Alberta Street, www.albertaoyster.com


If the idea is to detour from downtown for an evening, a not-so new yet recently renovated hangout is the Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill in the developing Alberta Arts District. Here, the vibe is sexy, the decor is scarlet red, the clientele ranges from neighborhood familiars to restaurant industry folk, and the food is an array of fresh seafood and hearty meat selections. On the night I visited, I was in the mood for a good burger and Alberta Street's offering with warm blue cheese on a ciabatta bun was on the money - thick, juicy and cooked not a second beyond my preference. Oysters are the specialty at this restaurant, where diners are seated at two-party tables or at the L-shaped bar, and the variety includes shelled delicacies from Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia. Other entrees are grilled halibut, house smoked duck ravioli, wild Oregon mushroom risotto, braised pork cheeks, and a five-course sampler called "Chef's Whim." The service was genuinely friendly, prompt and helpful - they recommended a series of restaurants throughout Portland for me to try next. My experience at Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill was further enhanced by a handful of locals who struck up a conversation with me as if I'd been a longtime member of their social circle - that instant acceptance was priceless.

RELAX
Spa Chakra
455 SW Hamilton Court, www.avalonhotelandspa.com


Every weekend getaway - near or far - needs to include a relaxing massage, simply because you deserve it. On the Portland waterfront, you'll come across the Avalon Hotel and Spa tucked in the back of an off-exit road. It may seem as if you're in a suburb, but in reality downtown Portland is five minutes from the lobby and a 10-minute ride aboard light rail. Unlike some spas that operate in cramped spaces, Spa Chakra appears to have an abundant amount of it - almost too much - providing guests with ample room to soothe during a much-needed pedicure or to enjoy a pre-treatment cup of fine tea. Locker rooms were also quite roomy. My treatment consisted of an extensive Vichy shower and body polish, one being a bath/light massage combo and the other a detoxification service that left me itchy for days afterwards as the treatment continued its run (I had some serious toxins). I added a full massage to my visit that allowed a strong-handed therapist to penetrate deeply into collected layers of stress. I felt shiny and new, and slept like a baby that night - it really makes a difference to rid yourself of bad toxins and unneeded stress, and in Portland this is where to do it at. Facials, body wraps, anti-aging retreats, Queen for a Day (all-day package, leans more feminine) and a massage/facial pairing cleverly named "fassage" are other treatments available at Spa Chakra, which made SGN's list of top spas in our Best of Travel 2008.
 

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