The “Other Portland” Reconsidered

Dinner view

My early life is a tale of two Portlands. I grew up in and around the city of Portland, Maine. It is a small city of about 60,000 people about two hours north of Boston that features century-old brick buildings, wharves, narrow cobblestone streets, and handsome Victorian houses. Growing up there it had a vibe of being cultured, yet sleepy. There were bohemian feeling cafes, concerts and a good, but small art museum. In the early 1990s I saw “Alternative” bands of the era like Dinosaur Jr. and Belly play at a mid-sized theatre. It was relatively safe and very walkable. All in all, it was a great place to grow up.

Hover, in my mid-teens I fell in love with the “other” Portland (in New England speak), the much larger Portland, Oregon that came into its own in the 1990s as a hotbed of alternative culture and is now the reigning city of hipsterism (besides, perhaps, my current home town of Brooklyn). When I moved to Portland in 2000 I had to explain to people that I was, actually from the “other” Portland (that would be Maine, in Oregon and most everywhere else, speak).  Confusing!

Portland, Maine!

I always felt like Portland, Maine had great potential to be a hotbed for creativity. It’s not terribly expensive to live there, there’s old industrial space that could be available for artists and creative people, there’s an art school and a large public university an a cultural infrastructure in place to support creative people. Did I mention the restaurants are excellent? I always felt vaguely frustrated and let down by Portland, Maine in the 1990s. While places like Olympia, Washington were becoming focal points of DIY culture making Portland seemed to not quite be able to have it together. Bands from Portland rarely toured and when they did seemed to only make it as far as Boston. People barely expressed an interest in touring bands. The local art scene was dominated by cutesy crafts and lighthouse art. Until now.

Back for post-workshop, pre-pizza party cocktails

Cocktails at Eventide Oyster Company

In the early 2000s a few businesses helped usher in what seems to be a new wave for creative people in Portland, Maine. Ferdinand started selling letterpress goods, silkscreen t-shirts and vintage finds. Space Gallery started bringing in shows by cutting edge contemporary artist and hosting emerging and established touring indie rock bands. Geno’s rock club moved up from a scuzzy (but beloved) dive bar to a sprawling new space (it used to be a porn theater back in the day, but hey…), the Nickelodeon Cinema started showing indie as well as second run mainstream films downtown for cheap, and Z Fabrics started selling beautiful, contemporary cool cloth. These places helped breath life into Portland independent culture stalwarts, like Bullmoose Music and helped re-invigorate a tradition like the First Friday Arts Walk.

Serious hipster coffee comes to Portland, Maine

Coffee at Tandem

Returning to Portland on a recent weekend I was surprised at all the new, creative businesses that have opened up and feel like the city is supportive enough of independent, DIY, handcrafted culture to make a go at it. You can now get locally roasted coffee in the Bluebottle tradition from Tandem Coffee Roasters, outfit your inner (or outer) dandy at Portland Dry Goods and David Wood (David Wood has been a leading menswear purveyor in Portland for decades), embrace the prepster aesthetic and support “upcycling” at Seabags, browse hip, vintage, local, and handmade goods at Pinecone + Chickadee, and score amazing vintage deals at Find. Did I mention eating? Try Eventide Oyster Company for craft cocktails and yes, oysters, and Duckfat, which seems to be known the world over, for hearty sandwiches and fries cooked in the restaurant’s namesake (vegetarians beware!).

All of this to say, this past weekend I walked around in a state of quasi-disbelief. What I always hoped for “my” Portland is happening. I’m not quite ready to move back, but I’m looking forward to my next visit. Sitting at dinner at the hippie pizza place Flatbread Company I overheard a member of a bachelor party near us ask in all sincerity, “Are there nitrates in the pepperoni?” To which the waitress immediately replied, “No, of course not, they are homemade.” I had to pinch myself. Which Portland was I in?

Last of the Late Summer Outfits

Leather and Lace II

Vintage coach handbag from my mom, lace dress from Target, Jeffrey Campbell shoes

I know that summer will end eventually. I know that some of you wish it would just hurry up and go already, so that we can get on with the crisper weather, cooler temperatures and new outfits for la rentree.  But I feel I am finally settling into summer and doing what I can to maximize the waning warm, lazy days: filling them with bike rides and backyard barbeques and early morning iced coffee with friends. I’ve even decided its a time to try out a few new looks:

Mixing Lace and Leather:

Lace and Leather

Daring to wear shorts to work and trying to put a “le petit noeud” in my button shirt, which apparently all the celebrities did this summer:

Holding on to summer sun

Shirt from H&M, shorts from Asos, Nat et Nin bag, Swedish Hasbeens sandals (also apparently the one way sigh is my crown)

Backyard BBQ style with Guess vintage denim:

Backyard BBQ Style

Guess vintage denim dress and vintage leather belt, bought at Mystery Train Vintage, Minnetonka moccasins

One note: the necklace I can’t stop wearing was made by Charlene, whose creations you can find on her Etsy shop Ayun Jewels.  I love her work!

Are you holding on to summer style or anxious for fall?

A Block of the Flatiron on a Snowy Day

While I love the Flatiron building for its iconic New Yorkness I’ve never though much about the neighborhood. Working near there for a year now I’ve been meaning to write about my discovery of the square block of West 18th and 19th streets between 5th and 6th avenues. The places on the avenues I could do without, but once you step off of them there’s a wealth of interesting and surprising places to behold. I’ve been meaning to write about this little block for quite sometime, but now that I’ll be leaving my job in Chelsea next week to go back to working in Brooklyn I decided to take a walk on a snowy lunch and enjoy these places one more time.

City Bakery Pretzel Croissants: Worth the Price.

Nearly every Friday morning (and other mornings too) around 11 my stomach starts to rumble and often I give in to the temptation to reward myself with a crispy, yet chewy, salty and delicately buttery Pretzel Croissant from City Bakery. Home to unique, delicious, heavy on the butter and also on the wallet backed goods, City Bakery is famous, but somehow I had never really paid attention to it until I started working in the area. They are known for their hot chocolate, but I will warn you: it’s a meal in itself. Choose wisely: pretzel croissant OR hot chocolate. And I just got word today they have started to make chocolate croissants again after four years of not. It looks like I might be leaving the neighborhood just in time!

Paper Presentation is located just a few steps closer to 6th avenue from City Bakery. It runs the length of the block between 18th and 19th streets, so it’s also great to wander through and avoid elbowing through the crowds on 5th or 6th avenues. All kinds of great things: stickers, paper plates, cards, envelopes, handmade folders and portfolios, supplies for crafting and scrapbooking… I could look in here all day.

Note card dispaly at Paper Presentation

Seals at Paper Presentation

If you’ve crossed through Paper Presentation to West 19th street you can easily find my two favorite stores, almost facing each other. On the south side of the street is a store on the second floor with big, wide windows: Idlewild Books. I was delighted to discover this cozy, welcoming bookstore devoted to travel books, foreign books in translation, and books in French, Spanish and Italian. They also offer language classes and will order you any books they don’t carry (and possibly offer you a discount on it!). I would go here and browse the shelves when I was feeling particularly homesick for Paris. Granted, you might pay a bit of a mark up for a Livre de Poche, but that price is worth it for a little bit of escapism.

Idlewild Books, where I buy more books in French than I can ever possibly read.

Speaking of escapism of another kind, on the north side of West 19th street is Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit. They have an excellent selection of wines organized by region, cooking taste, price and other themes. The staff will never look down their nose at you. The best part is that even if you choose the lowliest $9 bottle of red wine they cheerfully print out tasting notes for you. I feel like I enjoy everything I buy there more because it’s just such a pleasant experience!

Even Bottlerocket Wine and Spirit's facade is inviting

There’s many other delights tucked into these streets, most notably the Japanese answer to Ikea, Muji, and the chidren’s book emporium Books of Wonder and the Cupcake Cafe, but I will leave you to discover them. However, if Paper Presentation didn’t provide what you were looking for there is also A.I. Friedman for office supplies, framing, art supplies, and office furniture.

Pantone color storage boxes at A.I. Friedman

A collection of stylish desk lamps

Finally, though it takes you a little off the block, for that perfect accessory you are looking for, cross 6th avenue, walk down to 17th street and pop into Pippin Vintage Jewelry. They also have a tiny house behind their store full of vintage home goods. You will feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale cottage in the middle of Chelsea.

Pippin Vintage is tempting and very reasonably priced!

And what to wear for a walk around the block in the snow? A girl detective outfit, legwarmers and high heel boots, of course.

Snowy day girl detective