A Weekend in Portland

Lewis & Clark alumni help create the city’s unique vibe.
  • Members of the Portland Cello Project.
    Robert Reynolds
  • John Underhill BS ’76
Lewis & Clark alumni help create the city’s unique vibe.

It’s easy to go on and on about the wonders of Portland—the natural beauty, the “green” ethos, the diverse cultural offerings, the hip shops and restaurants, the bike-friendliness— but what it boils down to is this: Portland is one of the world’s most vibrant, livable cities.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Lewis & Clark benefits from its proximity to Portland’s downtown (a mere six miles). And the city, in turn, profits from the college’s students—and later, its alumni—who invigorate the metro area with their intelligence, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Here are a few venues you might want to check out on your next weekend visit.

Are you a foodie?

Eat at Beast

On a drizzly Friday evening in late May, Naomi Pomeroy BA ’97 stood in a gutted storefront around the corner from Portland’s infamous Voodoo Doughnut, shaving truffles over plates of frisée. It was a late-night dinner sponsored by a major tequila label, and Pomeroy was preparing a decadent four-course meal for three dozen intrepid diners using only a chafing dish, two gas burners, a hot pot, and an enormous wood-fired oven.

It was a primitive setup, but not much more so than Pomeroy’s usual kitchen. Beast, her three-year-old restaurant in Northeast Portland, invites 48 diners per night to eat six complex courses prepared, for the most part, using one oven and two gas burners. The restaurant is as notable for richness as for the intimacy of its shared tables: the charcuterie plate includes chicken liver mousse, blood sausage, pork rilettes, steak tartare, and a foie gras bonbon, among other items, arranged in a circle around a small salad.

Pomeroy, an Oregon native, was named Chef of the Year for 2008 by Portland Monthly; Beast was the Oregonian’s Restaurant of the Year the same year. In 2009, Food & Wine named her one of the 10 Best New Chefs in America. This year, she was a finalist for a James Beard Award for Best Chef–Pacific Northwest. She has earned all these accolades despite having no formal culinary training. Her only academic interaction with food was on a Lewis & Clark overseas study program in India. “The program didn’t have a specific focus, so I chose cooking,” she says. The college also played a role in starting Pomeroy’s catering career. “The first actual event that I catered on my own was my Lewis & Clark friends’ wedding—while I was still in college,” she says.

Catering led to one-off public dinners, then, eventually, to restaurants. True to Pomeroy’s roots, Beast feels more like a very nice catered dinner than a formal restaurant. The experience is even warmer at Beast’s Sunday brunch, when, as sunlight streams through the windows and classic pop plays on the stereo, the staff are likely to dance while they prepare plates of beef hash and strawberry crêpes. You won’t want to leave.

Beast, 5425 N.E. 30th Ave., 503-841-6968, beastpdx.com.

Dine at Jake’s Famous Crawfish

It may not be the hippest restaurant in town, but 118-year-old Jake’s Famous Crawfish is definitely Portland’s most iconic eatery, known as much for its impeccable service as for its history. The man in charge of keeping that service running smoothly is John Underhill BS ’76, a 36-year veteran of the hotel-restaurant industry who’s been general manager at Jake’s since 1996. “At Jake’s, I feel more like a steward of the city’s history than a general manager,” he says. “This is where people come to get a true sense of what Portland and the Northwest are all about.”

Underhill got his start in the industry while he was a student at Lewis & Clark, working evenings as a busser, and has been managing restaurants since 1977. “There are no days off in our business,” he says. “Every day you’ve got to be at the top of your game. It’s about representing the grand traditions of Jake’s for a new community of guests each time you open the doors. That’s the responsibility, that’s the legacy.”

Jake’s Famous Crawfish, 401 S.W. 12th Ave., 503-226-1419, jakesfamouscrawfish.com.

Have a Drink at June

Portland is rightly renowned as a center of cocktail culture, with a burgeoning industry of small distillers and obsessive artisans behind every bar. But for a growing crowd of discerning drinkers, there’s just one man to trust with your manhattan: Kelley Swenson BA ’05 was the bar manager at Ten 01, a chic two-story restaurant at the edge of the Pearl District, from its 2006 opening until this summer. As of this August, he runs the bar at June, a new restaurant that focuses on impeccably fresh food, fine spirits, and excellent service. A true lover of fine spirits, Swenson has assembled an astonishing library of whiskeys, tequilas, and European herbal liqueurs. He’s also been known to host visiting distillers for educational public tastings. His dedication to craft has earned him the respect of bartenders across the country, but it’s his warm, humble manner that keeps the regulars coming back.

If you go, order a Cryptic Memo. You’ll like it.

June, 2215 S.E. Burnside St., 503-477-4655.

Hot tickets

Experience the Portland Cello Project

A first encounter with the Portland Cello Project can be overwhelming. The ensemble of eight cellists (plus as many as eight more at hometown shows) produces a huge, gut-shaking wave of sound that sweeps over its eclectic partnering musicians—solo singers, choirs, rappers, drummers, and even a ukulele chorus—and pulls the audience into its warm embrace. The concerts last two to three hours and generally feature 15 to 20 new arrangements, nearly all of them penned by Douglas Jenkins MAT. ’05.

Jenkins and some cellist friends started the Cello Project as a lark in October 2006. Since then, they’ve raced to keep up with an increasingly busy schedule, which now includes about 100 shows every year. Despite this, Jenkins still teaches English as a second language at Franklin High School. ”My manager and booking agent have told me I have to stop, but I really like teaching,” he says. Jenkins is joined in the project by two fellow Lewis & Clark alumni: the group’s youngest member, Sonja Myklebust BA ’06, and its most frequent collaborator and hometown emcee, Adam Shearer BA ’01 (see below).

Jenkins draws from a broad range of styles for his compositions. The project’s repertoire includes “We Are the World,” the theme to Super Mario Brothers, and Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.” Anything is fair game, so long as you wouldn’t expect to hear it played on a dozen cellos—the project’s most requested single is a thundering rendition of Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” which Jenkins has played so many times that he now refuses to perform it.

Why cellos and not, say, accordions? “The cello’s a better instrument,” Jenkins says. “It’s easy to relate to.” Apparently so: The project, which has released three albums, plays around the country. In early August, they performed at Millennium Park in Chicago. “When we started, we said, ‘Let’s bring the cello to places you wouldn’t normally see it, and play music you wouldn’t normally hear on it,’” Jenkins says. He’s been true to his word.

Find a Portland Cello Project concert near you at portlandcelloproject.com.

Rock Out With Weinland

The sad-lullaby style of Weinland (pronounced “WINEland”), Portland’s most popular purveyor of folk-rock ballads, owes everything to the high, gentle crooning of lead singer and founder Adam Shearer BA ’01. Originally named John Weinland (“when we signed our deal with our label, I dropped the John from the name to give the project more of a ‘band’ feel,” he says), the band has deep Lewis & Clark connections: Ian Lyles BA ’05 plays drums, and he was preceded in the role by drummer Andy Parker BA ’99. Weinland has released two albums and toured nationally, and the band will open for the indie-pop stars the Decemberists at Portland’s MusicfestNW in September.

Hear Weinland at weinlandmusic.com.

Love a find?

Feel the Beat at Rhythm Traders

The events that led Brad Boynton BA ’90 to found his “drummer’s toy store” began in his first week as an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark. At New Student Orientation, the young drummer got his first taste of African rhythms from Obo Addy, a master Ghanaian drummer and L&C music and dance instructor. “Once I saw what he could do with one drum it almost made me want to throw my drum set away,” Boynton says. “That really got me hooked.”

Although he majored in sociology/anthropology, not music, Boynton played in the college’s symphonic and jazz bands and wrote his senior thesis on contemporary music in West Africa as a tool for understanding urban tensions. Before applying to graduate school, he decided to give fieldwork in Africa a try. “I wanted to see if I really enjoyed eating with my hands and sleeping under a mosquito net,” he says.

In Ghana, Boynton lived with Fulani nomads; learned to brew millet beer; lived with a series of drummers; and apprenticed with drum carvers, learning the entire drum-making process from cutting down a tree to stretching the antelope skin. “I realized that I was already doing what I wanted to do,” he says.

At the end of his apprenticeship, the village elders presented Boynton with his own set of drum-carving tools and asked if he would market their drums in the United States. When he declined for lack of capital or experience, they offered to front him a shipment of drums. And so Boynton opened African Rhythm Traders on West Burnside Street in 1992.

It took three months to sell that first shipment. “What got me over the hump the first three months were the Africans themselves,” Boynton says. “A lot of Ghanaian musicians discovered me and helped sell the drums.” As the Ghanaian drums sold, he bought djembes, then congas, then CDs and books, and so on until he was selling drums from all over the world.

Eighteen years and three moves later, Rhythm Traders is a percussionist’s paradise. Its nearly 4,000 square feet encompass every musical tradition imaginable—walk around and you’ll find log drums from Guinea, handmade bells, and even a donkey jawbone from Peru. And if you don’t know how to play the jawbone, Rhythm Traders will teach you, in single or group lessons and frequent concerts, seminars, and master classes.

“Education has been a cornerstone of my business from the very beginning,” Boynton says. “A lot of those events are free—we feel students need inspiration and role models.” Looks like they have one.

Rhythm Traders, 3904 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-288-6950, rhythmtraders.com.

Get Inked at Icon Tattoo Studio

Body art is mainstream in Portland: the city has more than 100 tattoo parlors, and full-sleeve tattoos are a common sight on moms at local playgrounds. Getting a first tattoo has become a rite of passage for many Lewis & Clark first-year students, who take the Pioneer Express downtown, design in hand, in search of an artist who’s good with a needle.

One of those ink-seeking students was Melanie Nead BA ’03, who ended up at Icon Tattoo Studio, which was then owned by Dustin Ranck. “For my first tattoo, I brought in a design that I’d drawn. Over the next two years or so, I drew tattoos for people at college, and they got them done at Icon,” Nead says. “When I went in for a touch-up a couple years later, the owner said, ‘I think the things you draw translate really well to tattooing—have you thought about being a tattoo artist?’ I said, ‘Not me, I’m going to be an English professor.’”

But after graduating, in the midst of a “postcollege nervous breakdown,” Nead asked Ranck to train her. “[Tattooing is] really, really hard to learn and to get good at,” she says. “It takes years, which I didn’t realize when I got into it, but I’m so glad I did.”

Now Nead owns Icon, where she specializes in lovely, intricate designs inspired by botanical illustrations, the work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí, and her own backyard chickens (she’ll give a discount on any chicken-related design). A professorial career is the last thing on her mind. “I’m working with people in such an immediate and real and physical way—it’s very different than being an academic,” she says.

Icon Tattoo, 813 N. Russell St., 503-757-0705, icontattoostudio.com.

Shop at Radish Underground 

Of all the chic shops in the West End—Portland’s latest flourishing shopping district—the chicest is Radish Underground. Owned by Celeste Sipes BA ’00 and her high school classmate Gina Morris, the boutique is full of sharp dresses (including a few from Sipes’ own line, Aster Park), one-of-a-kind jewelry, and accessories made from recycled materials.

Sipes got into fashion on an impulse after trying her hand at filmmaking and event production. “Aster Park was launched during one 15-minute conversation with my grandma,” Sipes says. “She walked into a fabric store in Minnesota that had been open in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. It closed in the ’80s and reopened for one week in 2006 to sell off all of its stock. My Granny asked if I wanted all the fabric to start a line … and there I was with 600 bolts of vintage fabric.”

Radish Underground, 414 S.W. 10th Ave., 503-928-6435, radishunderground.com.

It’s show time!

See a Show at Performance Works NorthWest

Linda Austin BA ’76 didn’t set out to become a dancer. “When I was a theatre major at Lewis & Clark, the comments I got were, ‘Your physical work is better than your vocal work.’ But I never had dance lessons as a child or even in college,” she says. Then, when she moved to New York after graduation, Austin discovered what she calls “dance that challenged the norms of dance.” She soon found herself debuting her own work at St. Mark’s Church in Manhattan, and she hasn’t stopped making new work since. Her dances vary from moody solos in warehouses to delightfully silly group works. She directs the Boris & Natasha Dancers, an always-changing troupe of male nondancers—including poets, newspaper reporters, and one politician—who never let gracelessness get in the way of a good time.

On a trip back to Portland in the late 1990s, Austin ran into Jeff Forbes BA ’78, a prolific lighting designer who has designed some 30 events and productions per year in Portland since 1980. They met at a play at Imago Theatre, where Forbes is the resident designer. The two soon started dating cross-country, and in 1998 Austin moved back to Portland. In 2000, the couple purchased a former Romanian Orthodox church on Southeast Foster Road, near the southern edge of the city, to build a performance venue. “To clear it out to make a studio, we had to rip out the altar,” she says. “We kept two of the pews.”

Although Performance Works NorthWest, as the space is now known, is a limited venue—the backstage area doubles as the living room of Forbes and Austin’s apartment at the back of the building—it’s incubated many of the city’s most interesting and innovative dancers and theatre companies. “The initial impetus was to support my work, but we couldn’t resist using it for other things,” Austin says.

Now Austin and Forbes are looking to expand, kicking off a drive to raise $750,000 to build a new, two-story venue on the site of Performance Works—one that will end the chaos in their living room. “We hope to expand to become a producing organization,” Austin says. “There are gaps in Portland’s art scene that we want to fill.”

Performance Works Northwest, 4625 S.E. 67th Ave., 503-777-1907, performanceworksnw.org.

Check Out Mississippi Studios

Ask Portland lovers of acoustic music where they most like to see a show, and they’ll likely tell you it’s Mississippi Studios. Started as a tiny recording studio in 2003 by Jim Brunberg JD ’06, a multitalented musician, producer, and entrepreneur, the venue was soon booked nightly.

Brunberg continued to run the business while he studied at Lewis & Clark Law School. “I needed to use my brain a bit, and I wasn’t motivated enough to better myself without some kind of institutional inspiration,” he says. “I had heard that L&C has the best environmental law program, and I ended up being lucky enough to study under some of the smartest people in the field.”

Brunberg gutted the building in 2008 and reopened a year later with more room and a liquor license. Now more fans than ever flock to North Portland for the best acoustic shows in town.

Mississippi Studios, 3939 N. Mississippi Ave., mississippistudios.com.

Catch a Movie at the Roseway Theater

Portland has an unusual number of independent movie theaters, but most are at least a little threadbare. Not so at the Roseway. Built in 1924 and renovated in 2008 by Greg Wood BS ’93, the 340-seat facility offers state-of-the-art sound and super-crisp digital projection (often in 3-D) on its enormous single screen. Wood, who managed a theater in Camas, Washington, before taking on the Roseway, has attracted fans to his theater not with the usual blend of cult classics and indie hits that keep other locally owned theaters afloat but by taking on the big chains on their home turf: big-budget blockbusters like Star Trek and Iron Man. And here’s the best part: tickets are just $7 ($9 for 3-D films), well below the going rate at the nearest multiplex. Wood’s success in Portland has even caught the attention of billionaire Paul Allen, who hired Wood this summer to take over management of the historic Cinerama Theatre in Seattle. “Don’t worry,” says Wood, “the Roseway isn’t going anywhere.”

7229 N.E. Sandy Blvd., 503-282-2898, rosewaytheater.com.

Adding to your art collection?

Gaze at Bullseye Glass

In Portland, art is also industry. On the factory floor at Bullseye Glass, brawny men scoop bowls of molten glass from white-hot furnaces, roll the glowing globs into sheets, and fling them into a cooling oven. It’s a loud, hot, sweaty scene that hearkens back to an earlier era of manual labor, and for good reason—Bullseye, the world’s leading producer of fusible art glass, uses manufacturing techniques that originated in the 17th century to produce sheets, blocks, and rods in every imaginable color.

The man in charge of developing new ways to use that glass and teaching them to artists is Ted Sawyer BA ’92, a rangy artist who, with his lab coat, wild hair, and safety glasses, has the manner of a very friendly mad scientist. “My job is to tell people everything I know,” he says, and he knows an awful lot. While he studied ceramics at Lewis & Clark, Sawyer tried his hand at biology and chemistry. He’s been a painter, designer, art critic, photographer, and carpenter.

At Bullseye, where he’s worked since 1997, Sawyer oversees an extensive education program, including the production of instructional videos, on-site classes, and an annual convention, in addition to the production of 20 to 25 custom fabrication orders from artists and architects. Current projects include heavy glass benches for a local development and an 18-foot cross for Baylor’s medical center in Houston, but many are far more complex. “We’re doing things no one has done before,” Sawyer says. “It’s a very challenging position—and it’s one that I enjoy because it makes use of everything I know how to do.”

Sawyer is also a working artist who shows his work—mostly abstract, kiln-formed glass panels—at Bullseye’s gallery in the Pearl District. The relish with which he approaches his work at Bullseye is apparent in his art. “The specific feeling I want to transmit is the kind I would have on a day when there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on and I know I’m going to get to experience it,” he says. “For me, it’s not very abstract at all.”

See Sawyer’s work and that of many other glass artists at Bullseye Gallery, 300 N.W. 13th Ave., 503-227-0222, bullseyegallery.com.

See Michael Metz’s Work

A Portland native, Michael Metz BS ’78, is one of many ceramicists trained by Professor Emeritus Ken Shores. But Metz, a full-time artist known for shapely vases and bowls adorned with metallic blooms, has maintained a closer relationship with his former teacher than most: “He now uses my kilns, and I fire and help glaze his recent work,” Metz says of his 81-year-old mentor. Metz, who lives across the river in Vancouver, has earned kudos of his own, including an award for Best of Show for New Members at the 2008 Oregon Potters Association showcase—the largest such show in the country.

See Metz’s work at metzstudio.com and at the 2011 OPA conference, April 29–May 1, 2011, at the Oregon Convention Center.

View Morgan Madison’s Work

Ted Sawyer isn’t the only Lewis & Clark alumnus working in glass. Morgan Madison BA ’99 casts bright, multidimensional glass panels that look like a Mondrian run through a blender. His work is inspired by urban design and Northwest landscapes. “After college I traveled until I was broke and ended up back here in Portland in search of some kind of art-related job,” he says. “I ended up getting hired at Bullseye Glass to cast sheets, and I couldn’t help but fool around with the factory scraps. One thing led to another, and I slowly built my own studio.”

See Madison’s glass art at morganvanmadison.com or by appointment at Heidi McBride Gallery, 3570 S.W. River Parkway No. 313, 503-887-3093, heidimcbridegallery.com.

Ben Waterhouse BA ’06 is assistant arts and culture editor for the Portland newspaper Willamette Week.