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Thursday, March 16, 2006
The other side of the Doug Fir Lounge
Some love it. Others think it's another symbol of everything sick, sad and wrong with Portland's metamorphosis from a low-key, comfortable burg to a bulging metropolis. With its Twin Peaks meets Nip/Tuck decor, the Doug Fir Lounge is perhaps an apt metaphor for this city at the dawn of the 21st century. Since it opened in fall of 2004, the bar/hotel/arts complex has been the subject of praise for its creative design and booking and scorned for its expensive menu, the snooty crowds its draws and the competitive tactics it uses to draw high-buzz bands.
My opinion of the place leans more thumbs-down than thumbs-up. A few months after it opened, I suggested that a friend rent two rooms at the Doug Fir's Jupiter Hotel for a bachelor party. The plan had been to hit several bars on Burnside, including the Doug Fir. The rooms would be available for those too drunk to drive home. Our group, which had spent the afternoon and evening playing with firearms in Estacada, was underdressed, in the wrong mindset and entirely out of place among the Doug Fir's smoke-free yupster crowd. One confrontation with the staff later, we fled to Union Jack's and the groom swore off the place forever.
Then last Tuesday morning I found myself on SE Sandy with a few hours to kill and in need of breakfast. I decided to give the Doug Fir a second try. During daylight hours and without a Saturday night crowd clogging the place, I'd be able to get a good look at its log-cabin-in-space decor and score some hashbrowns in the process.
A waitress led me past a row of large, empty booths and placed me at a tiny table within a foot of another surrounded by a group of middle-aged hippies. So far, so bad. I looked over the menu and, as expected, the items were several dollars more than the ones you'd find at your average pancake house. I settled on the "Logger's Breakfast."
At that early hour there was barely anyone in the place. A few hoodie'd hipsters at a corner table cured their hangovers with endless refills of Stumptown Coffee. An older couple was chatting about Symantec with an unemployed tech guru. At the bar, a bald man in an expensive suit was staring at a laptop. Country and western standards trickled in through overhead speakers.
Cramped in next to the hippies, I tried to make enough room to read the Portland Tribune. Had I been placed at one of the vacant booths, this wouldn't have been a problem. The lights over them were extinguished, suggesting they were definitely off limits for the breakfast crowd. Curious...
The meal itself wasn't bad. Standard breakfast fare, somehow less greasy than you might find at an IHOP. The bottomless cup of Stumptown was appreciated but set me back 2 bucks.
I finished up as the hippies, who may very well have been staff members at nearby KBOO, started talking about Bollywood films. Before leaving, I took a look around. The Doug Fir looks great but feels cramped even when its empty. It's no wonder that it fills up quick on weekend nights. While it's a victim of its tiny location, the designers worked wonders. With a gilded moose head, sleek bar and eerie nature murals, the Doug Fir truly does look like a log cabin in space. If it weren't for the size and type of crowd it draws, it would be a great place to snag a nightcap.
If the "playing with firearms in Estacada" bit wasn't a tip off, the Doug Fir is hardly up my alley. I prefer booze-spots where gelling your hair isn't a prerequisite. Still, I'd go back there for breakfast again...if the staff were only willing to open up those booths. I mean, c'mon people, they were going to waste and I needed the extra room.