Portland’s Ace Hotel: A Superior Dining Program
The Ace Hotel chain is one of the hippest hotel chains in the country right now. Its new Los Angeles location has received a ton of buzz and Time magazine even proclaimed the company as part of the “next wave” of hoteliers. After staying at the Portland location, I can only hope that the Time’s crystal ball is accurate.
Situated right in downtown Portland, the Ace Hotel oozes cool. From the classic bikes you can rent in the lobby (it is Portland, after all) to the impossibly hip lobby complete with old couches, a beat-up wooden table, and even a vintage photo booth, you’ll appreciate everything this place has to offer. I loved everything about this sparse, but well thought-out hotel. No detail is too small here. Its location is also right by many top spots—including the Pearl District, the Wonder Ballroom, and Powell’s Bookstore—and I delighted in watching the city slowly come to life outside my window every day. “'In Portland, the food culture is so strong that we try to foster what is already good and what ‘could be’ and then get out of the way of ideas that are great.'"
But what’s really impressive about this hotel is its phenomenal dining program. Ace is currently home to Stumptown Coffee, underground bar Pépé le Moko, and a full-service restaurant Clyde Common, each with its own distinct identity, by design of course.
“We consider them part of the whole hotel experience,” said General Manager of the Ace Hotel Donald Kenney in an email to The Daily Meal. “The idea with Clyde Common was straightforward, a convivial gathering place that was unpretentious and had a great bar. The main idea was in the interplay between the public spaces of the restaurant/lobby/coffee shop—they feel connected in a way that elevates all parts while still maintaining a sense of separate environments.”
Portland’s notable Stumptown Coffee is connected to the hotel via a hallway in the lobby where hotel guests and coffee shop patrons are free to mingle. And man, how I wish getting a cup was as easy as walking down the stairs and out of the lobby. If you’re not familiar with the Portland-based company, Stumptown churns out impossibly smooth and delicious concoctions and is a key player in the nation’s current third-wave coffee movement. You’ll instantly fall in love with the shop’s lattes, regular coffee, and be sure to try its Coffee Milk too—it’s like chocolate milk without the typical overabundance of sugar. It’s worth noting that the baristas here are very dedicated to their work, too. At the Pine Street location in Portland, one of their employees made me a latte and then re-made me another one after he felt the espresso art of the first cup he created wasn’t up to par. The first cup was fine, but little details like that make the coffee lover inside of me swoon.
And the relationship between Stumptown and the Ace was born out of a mutual admiration, says Kenney.
“When [Stumptown founder Duane Sorenson] was expanding Stumptown, he recognized the need to showcase his company's passion for coffee on a larger scale, one that can be found by appealing to savvy hotel travelers,” Kenney said. “The serendipitous thing about it is the original intent was, in part, to showcase this great coffee to a larger audience, and in turn it solidified the sense of community that Ace has become synonymous with designing by bringing locals in to the hotel lobby to interact with guests.”
But forget about the (truly) excellent coffee for a moment. The Ace is also home to one incredible restaurant. Clyde Common impresses with casual fare that’s well executed and plated beautifully. I’m a seafood lover, and I had the best halibut of my life at this restaurant. The smooth, buttery fish was tender and something I’m sure I’ll think about for years to come. I also fell head-over-heels for the crisp and tender sweetbreads. The asparagus crab salad, with mustard curry, cucumber, and fingerling chips, was quite possibly one of the most beautiful, tasty, and texture-filled dishes I’ve ever consumed. As with Stumptown, the restaurant seamlessly transitions from the hotel via a hallway, but still feels like a distinct location. Grab a spot up top to people watch, or sit on the ground level and enjoy window views of the city.
If you still have any room left after Clyde Common, it’s worth grabbing a drink at the literally underground Pépé le Moko. It’s around the corner and down a set of steep stairs in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it location, making the dark bar feel almost like a secret place. The atmosphere is what patrons will probably fall in love with most. It’s dark, cozy, and mysterious. The menu is small, but tasty and specialty cocktails dominate. If ice cream is your thing, don’t leave without trying The Grasshopper. It tastes like a Girl Scout Thin Mint in liquid form with a dash of booze. Skip dessert at Clyde Common and opt for this instead if you prefer a nightcap after your meal.
With three outstanding but distinctly different spots, the dining program at the Ace Hotel is a wonderful component of Portland’s vibrant culinary scene.
“In Portland, the food culture is so strong that we try to foster what is already good and what ‘could be’ and then get out of the way of ideas that are great,” Kenney says. “We think of ourselves more as a hub that things happen around rather than a proper restaurant group.”