Cabins on Mount Hood are booked through the spring. The Springsteen show at the Rose Garden is sold out. You didn’t think to make a reservation for four adults, three kids, and a baby for Sunday brunch at Mother’s Bistro because, well, you’re on vacation... right? To top it off, you only have one weekend to take in the extraordinary Portland, Ore., and can’t imagine running half a marathon from sight to sight, not to mention running half a marathon at all (which, by the way, is sold out, too).
Though it may seem impossible to sample every aspect of the Northwest’s vibrant capital in one trip, there is one place — a diamond in the rough of sorts — that offers it all: Doug Fir Lounge on East Burnside. If you can’t book a cabin stay at Timberline Lodge, find a show worth seeing, decide on a spot for dinner, or walk two blocks without forgetting which side of the river you’re on, this is the spot for you.
History and Design:
Located eight blocks east of the Willamette River on Burnside, the busy street that splits north and south Portland in two, Doug Fir Lounge serves as an aesthetic tribute to the history of the area. Burnside was once used as a skid road, enabling loggers to "skid" logs down to the river and load them onto boats (this is where the term "skid row" came from). Now, although logging has become a somewhat outdated industry — outpaced by electronics, food and beverage products, and machinery — the Doug Fir monumentalizes Portland’s 19th-century culture with its woodsy façade and interior.
The design, created in 2004 by internationally renowned architect Jeff Kovel (the W Hotel in Seattle; Nike Camp Victory in Eugene), brings to mind a Jetsons-style urban ski lodge, with outside walls clad in logs and an interior beautifully overlaid with textured woodwork and glass. Sleek and cozy have never occupied the same space so well together.
On ground level you will find the restaurant, bar, and outdoor fire pit. Downstairs, it is another world entirely: this is where the "lounge" is situated, an enclosed wood-paneled music venue with a center stage, full bar, and high concrete ceilings for optimal surround sound.
Inspired by rock 'n' roll hotels like the Phoenix in San Francisco, co-owners Mike Quinn and John Plummer wanted to build a similar space but provide the missing link — an actual music venue located within. Marketing director Frank Rinaldi describes the structure as a sort of "subterranean lodge," offering great food and comfort along with an edgier underground attraction.
The Doug Fir Lounge hosts 28 shows a month, 20 out 28 of which feature nationally touring artists like the Alabama Shakes, M83, and the Thermals. The Doug Fir fosters a relationship with bands by serving as an "incubator for acts," sending many groups on to perform at larger venues around the Northwest. The Doug Fir partners with Monqui, a major importer of music that has served venues in the Northwest since 1983. Monqui has brought music giants such as MGMT, Matt Costa, and the Steve Miller Band to Portland. Since partnering with Monqui, the Doug Fir Lounge has been named one of the top 40 music venues in the country by Paste Magazine.
Though music is a huge part of the Doug Fir’s appeal, it is not by any means the main draw. "Most tourists," Rinaldi explains, "are not necessarily here for a band, but to see good music in an iconic venue."
He describes three general demographics of visitors: the show crowd, the weekend bar scene, and the travelers. Whether you come to tap your foot, meet your friends for happy hour, or check out a true cultural landmark, Doug Fir should be a stop on your route.
Quinn and Plummer envisioned a high-end diner when first designing the Doug Fir menu. It would be a place to bring your kids during the day, enjoy happy hour before a show, or linger in the bar before heading home for the night. Since its establishment almost a decade ago, the restaurant has become nearly as popular for its food as for its music.
Brunch is served from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Choose from the Logger Breakfast (eggs, hash browns, bacon, and hot cakes), the Cascade Scramble (wild mushrooms, fresh herbs, shallots, and Gruyère), the French Connection (egg-soaked brioche with bourbon-currant compote), and other staples. For lighter fare, try the Organic Maple Granola with dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds, and fresh fruit warm or cold with vanilla soy milk or yogurt. Local ingredients include the bacon (Mueske’s), toast (Grand Central Bakery), and house-made pork or veggie sausage.
For lunch, enjoy a Portland po'boy sandwich with Willapa Bay (WA) oysters; beer-battered Pacific cod and french fries; the chicken meatball pasta with whole-wheat penne and crimini mushroom cream sauce; or one of four refreshing classic salads.
For dinner, try the grilled Idaho trout, prepared with lemon butter and hazelnuts; the apple brandy-injected double-cut pork chops; the wild mushroom farrotto; or the ever-popular Fir Burger (Painted Hills beef or a mushroom patty).
Happy hour food items served 6 p.m. untll last call every day include smoked tomato soup, fried Willapa Bay oysters, the Patti Smith Melt, and house-made beef or veggie chili with Tillamook Cheddar and jalapeño cornbread.
Doug Fir serves Deschutes Mirror Pond Ale and Bridgeport Kingpin Red, both brewed in Portland, as well as chardonnays and pinots from the Columbia and Willamette Valleys. House drinks include everything from a classy Doug Fir Bellini prepared with orange flower water to the Burnside Boilermaker ("shot of Old Crow Whiskey and a bottle of PBR, period").It's $4.50 for microbrews and $4 for house wines during happy hour.
As recently as the early 2000s, "Lower Burnside" (not a real district though increasingly deserving of its own label) was considered a run-down, somewhat rough part of town. With the introduction of Doug Fir into the area, the neighborhood has blossomed into an energetic cultural hub, offering charming stretches of boutiques and cafes. Le Pigeon, a French restaurant just down the street, won a James Beard Award in 2011 for Rising Star Chef.
Doug Fir is also conveniently located on one of the busiest main streets in the city, offering quick and easy transportation to and from downtown. Though Burnside only runs away from the river on the east side, you can easily hop on a bus or walk a few blocks south and be redirected to the west side.
Perhaps most remarkable — and, coincidentally, in closest proximity to Doug Fir — is the Jupiter Hotel, right next door. The Jupiter has nurtured a symbiotic relationship with Doug Fir since its establishment, and at one time even offered a $50 room special after midnight, encouraging sleepy show-goers to wander through its doorways. The Doug Fir continues to provide room service to Jupiter Hotel guests, and, in turn, the Jupiter advertises Doug Fir events and promotions on its website.
For the 2013 calendar of Doug Fir Lounge events, visit the calendar on their website. The business has announced the launch of a brand-new website, to be expected sometime this spring or summer. The new site will include a virtual tour with interactive floor level maps, a blog, Tumblr, and Instagram feeds. For the latest updates, follow @DougFirLounge on Twitter.
Special thanks to Frank Rinaldi, director of marketing, and Justin Riedl, general manager, for their time and expertise.
For more info about traveling in Portland, visit our Portland Travel Guide.