I recently visited the Pacific Northwest and have decided to review it, because.
Seattle = A-
Seattle is second only to the astoundingly fascinating Atlantic City as my favorite city in America. I have been there once before, years ago, to see Ryan Adams and Oasis play in concert, and this return visit has only reaffirmed by admiration. The waterfront is beautiful, each area of the city has something of interest to offer (from the spectacular International District to the Locks in Ballard to Fremont's Gas Works Parks and antique mall to even Capitol Hill's indie shops), and even the touristy areas such as the Pike Place Market are tolerable. What makes everything particularly special is how it's hung onto a vintage aura of its World's Fair past much more visibly than Chicago and New York. The only downside that I encountered was the needlessly confusing public transportation.
Food is what largely motivates my city explorations. The clear winner in Seattle, found at the pinball-filled bar Shorty's, was the Number 3 - a hot dog with cream cheese, tomatoes, and peppers which is the most delicious goddamn hot dog I might ever have eaten, rivaled only by the chicago-style dog at Hot Doug's. Other exemplary finds were the meatloaf sandwich at the tiny basement deli Bakemans, the giant porchetta sandwich at Salumi, and the dessert offerings at High 5 Pies. This was the location where I finally had my first slice of cherry pie, which was quite fitting considering this is Twin Peaks country. My one big miss was the bourbon butterscotch pie at A La Mode Pies, whose path I unfortunately was not able to cross.
Also of note were some nice gas station selections. Though nothing could compare to the one and only chocodile of my life which I discovered on my last trip, I did come across RC cherry cola, Mexican Pepsi, and Australian licorice in the regional flavor of marionberry, which was a nice touch.
On a final note, the city includes a nice array of indie theaters including the Cinerama (one of only three in the world, I believe) and the historic 7 Gables and Harvard Exit Theaters. I have never encountered cinemas quite like those, as both are holed up in what resemble big old houses. Hard to explain, but some of the best ambiance I've experienced in a movie theater.
Portland = C-
I am probably being too harsh on this city, as it does have some wonderful things to offer. The gargantuan Powell's City of Books, for instance, where I finally attained a copy of The Glove of Darth Vader. And that collectable store down the street which had packaged Dino Riders figurines. And yes, there is also the impressive Ground Kontrol arcade, the ice cream heaven that is Salt & Straw, and a vast array of food carts - the Grilled Cheese Grill offered my favorite item, a grilled cream cheese, nutella, and banana sandwich. Praise can also be heaved upon the fried chicken at the Screen Door and the breakfast options at the Byways Cafe. And then I guess there are the bridges, which are pretty pretty.
But then there is the combination of dreadful public transportation and massive overflow of traveling punk kids. Every moment I thought I was starting to enjoy Portland, I would just need to attempt to travel a short distance to dip back into my pit of rage. Whereas I received nothing but kindness in Seattle (save for, strangely, the staff at the Egyptian Theater), I dreaded any amount of interaction here.
There are indeed cities that I would visit Portland over if forced into the opportunity - Vancouver and Washington D.C. come to mind - but that is because those other cities are boring. Portland offers a few bright spots, but is also perhaps the only city which actively makes me angry.
These thoughts have led me to evaluate my current place of living, which amounts to -
Minneapolis = B+
I most certainly gave this city an A- upon moving here in 2004, but the loss of Rock & Roll Ray, the Uptown Bar, and the pre-renovation Uptown Theatre have left their marks. Regardless, we still have the best repertory film scene that I have encountered (even over New York, but that might be because I wasn't paying enough attention), with the Heights and the Trylon in particular being able to stand alongside the very best theaters in the world. The art museums are nice, the food scene is pretty great, the Mall of America is the Mall of America, and the public transportation isn't so mediocre once you consider that it runs a hell of a lot later than Portland's. A big downside is the terrible filmmaking community at large, but who knows, maybe every city is this bad on average.
I like Minneapolis.
The only cities which I would hand out an A to would be Kobe, Tokyo, and Atlantic City. I am also quite fond of Shenzhen, Osaka,
(2015 Update: scratch those two & add in Florence and San Francisco to round out a Top Ten)
As long as I'm reviewing things . . . ice cream played a big role in this Pacific Northwest journey, and I realized at one point that I had tasted ten different flavors why not a ranking?
1. Strawberry Honey Balsamic (Salt & Straw, Portland)
2. Whiskey (Kiss Cafe, Seattle)
3. Honey Lavender (Mandy Moons, Seattle)
4. Rhubarb Crumble (Salt & Straw)
5. Sea Salt & Caramel (Salt & Straw)
6. Olive Oil (Salt & Straw)
7. Coffee & Bourbon (Salt & Straw)
8. Pear & Bleu Cleese (Salt & Straw)
9. Vanilla (Byways Cafe, Portland - it came with a delicious Strawberry Rhubarb pie)
10. Strawberry (Mandy Moons, ranked last because it was supposed to be Strawberry Balsamic)