When it comes to retail therapy, some folks look to New York or Los Angeles to cure what ails them. I, however, usually find my shopping muse in Portland, Ore. The fact that the city has no sales tax is reason enough for me to shop in Portland. But the city’s combination of high-end retailers and eclectic independent shops also means that there is no lack of retail options in this riverfront metropolis. Additionally, the city’s burgeoning culinary scene, with its emphasis on fresh, local foods means that there are plenty of ways for me to fuel up during my search for shopping nirvana.
A Superior Room at The Nines exudes a Tiffany & Co. ambiance.
Travel agents, admittedly, may have found that Portland’s limited inventory of luxury hotels has made it a challenging sell for top-tier clients. But all that has changed with the opening of The Nines, a Starwood Luxury Collection property, located adjacent to downtown’s popular Pioneer Square.
The Nines opened in October in the historic Meier & Frank Building, a former department store that once served as a magnet for Portland’s socialite shoppers. Clark Gable even sold ties here before finding fame in Hollywood. When I heard that the hotel sits on top of a five-story Macy’s, I knew that my pocketbook was in for a long weekend workout.
I pulled up to The Nines in true Portland style — on the MAX Light Rail, which runs directly from the airport into downtown, costing me less than three dollars. Travel agents need not worry: Portland offers plenty of transportation options for high-end travelers, but the irony of using public transportation to arrive at a luxury property has a uniquely Portland feel. In fact, in a city with a strong commitment to eco-friendly practices and the unofficial slogan "Keep Portland Weird," it seems almost disrespectful not to take MAX Light Rail.
I passed Macy’s, with a promise to return, and headed to The Nines’ street-level entrance where several bellmen directed me to the eighth-floor lobby. "Lobby" really isn’t the correct term for this area; it’s more public meeting space than hotel reception. A seven-story atrium soars above the space, and the hotel’s interior guestrooms all have windows that peer down into the social happenings below. A glass skylight above spills natural light throughout the area, which houses the reception desk, as well as a chrome-and-steel bar, a steak restaurant and various seating lounges.
The lobby, and the entire hotel in fact, houses a series of incredible public art installations, which I later found out were hand-picked by curator Paige Powell, a longtime friend of Andy Warhol. Powell commissioned various Portland artists to design an exhibit that includes a total of 419 pieces. I was particularly taken by the dramatic "Bird Song" chandelier, an 11-strand, 30-foot hanging structure that uses glass, steel and LED lights to demonstrate the audio waves of 11 birds from the Pacific Northwest.
As Kristin, the front desk manager, checked me in, we chatted about books and our favorite shops. She gave me recommendations for several Portland restaurants I should try. When I told her I might eat at the Urban Farmer, The Nines’ steakhouse restaurant, she raved about its onion soup.
"I was just dreaming about it last night," she told me.
Upstairs, I took a second to view the lobby from above and was amazed at how it transforms itself depending on the viewer’s perspective. At eye-level, it had a certain coffeehouse-chic aesthetic, but from above it felt more like an art piece — all right angles and geometric shapes.
Inside my room, the white decor and frosted turquoise accents gives a Tiffany & Co. vibe. This is a pet-friendly hotel, but I think I’d probably be afraid to bring my four-legged family into this pristine white environment. Mostly, I was fascinated by the chandelier-style lamps, and I frequently found myself playing with the strands of crystal beads that accent much of the room’s lighting fixtures.
About to head out, but with Kristin’s recommendation still ringing in my ears, I found the cowhide seating at the Urban Farmer overwhelmingly inviting, and I stopped for a late lunch. The restaurant did not disappoint and I was charmed by its unique touches. The deconstructed onion soup, with its broth poured from a tea kettle, lived up to Kristin’s recommendations.
Soon, however, the lure of all the shops that sit within walking distance of The Nines proved too great a lure, and I left the hotel’s luxurious cocoon to venture out in search of shopping bliss.