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Another Portland Blog

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

 

Potheads, tummy aches, horny yuppies and cold-blooded murder- another New Years Eve in downtown Portland

I wasn't feeling too hot on New Year's Eve. I'd already turned down one invite because of my grumbling gut. Around 11, I had a choice to make: stay home and watch Dick Clark or risk the chance of "soiling myself" in a crowded bar. Considering how crappy 2006 had been up until that point, I decided to take a chance. If the worst case scenario presented itself, it would have served as the perfect end to the previous 12 months.

I'm proud to say my bowels decided to behave themselves on Sunday night. A New Years Eve miracle! A colleague and I started out our abbreviated evening in Pioneer Square, where, once again, City Hall had failed to whip up some cash for a proper municipal celebration. Just like last year, there were plenty of people hanging around anyway, effectively proving that New Years isn't something you can buy in a store...or with taxpayers' dollars. Perhaps, it's something more. Regardless, i don't think anyone's hearts grew three sizes in the square that night. Maybe their lungs did though, if they were lighting up cigarettes. Pioneer Square's shiny, new smoking ban went into effect at the stroke of midnight.

We didn't stick around until midnight to see if the two cops guarding the Christmas tree were going to start pulling Marlboros out of revelers' mouths. Instead, we began a foolhardy quest to find a bar without a cover charge. At the Benson, the entrance was covered over with what appeared to be black garbage bags. Classy. At the London Grill next door, a bouncer explained that the hotel was having a "private function" as women in bright red wigs staggered around in the background. From there we pointed ourselves towards 2nd Avenue, where a line of people were waiting to pay $20 to get into Kell's Irish Pub. We balked and headed towards Burnside when a pair of dueling bagpipers began playing. Bagpipes? Hmmm...maybe Kell's celebration was worth $20 after all.

We turned back but found the bagpipers regulated to the alley around the corner. Had the staff kicked them out? Did they have anything to do with Kell's shindig? We didn't stick around to find out. With only minutes to spare until midnight, we wound up at the doorstep of the Shanghai Tunnel, where a doorman seemed determined to drag us down to his level.

"This is where I spent New Years Eve last year and the year before that and the year before that," he told us, shaking his head and blocking the door.

With two minutes left and lines blocking the entrances to every bar on the block, we gave up. Because the place was filled to capacity, he couldn't let us in. While everyone inside argued over what time it was and began competing countdowns, we watched another frustrated would-be patron pack his pipe. The staff of the Shanghai decided not to cut away from a kung-fu movie on the bar's televisions so no one could really tell when midnight hit. Next door, someone sputtered "HAPPY NEW YEAR!" into a microphone. It was good enough for the guy with the pipe. He lit up a bowl to ring in the new year as the doorman shrugged. We headed from the entrance to the tunnels all the way up to the Portland City Grill.




Up on the thirtieth floor, we found no less than six huge bouncers in tuxes filling the hallway. Neither of us was dressed to the nines but they didn't seem to care. They checked our IDs and suddenly we were thrust into a room filled with "beautiful people," most in suits or cocktail dresses, all of them drunk. Someone handed us party hats and I ordered a gin & tonic to silence my aching stomach. Dozens of mini-soap operas unfolded all around us. To the left of us: a guy hanging onto his girlfriend for dear life as the room spun all around him. To the right of us: a desperate housewife eager to get her husband back home and into the bedroom for some sloppy lovemaking before he passed out. Hurrying him along by downing his Corona herself, she all put shoved him towards the elevators. Across the bar: a gorgeous girl angrily spent an hour typing text messages into a BlackBerry. So this is how the other half lives.

We stayed up there until closing, just long enough to listen to the spotless bartenders rant about their tips, as they counted up a silver pot full of bills. "I worked my ass off for those people," one spat, looking over a debit receipt. "And no tip! No tip! You don't come into a bar like this and pull that kinda crap."

We tipped 20%. Sorry it couldn't have been more, guys, and sorry the tab wasn't higher. The two of us have bills to pay. We rounded out the evening with a pit stop at the Virginia Cafe. While some may balk at its surly staff, I think it's downtown's best bar because of its reasonable prices and mixed crowd. It's a high class dive that still serves Miller Hi-Life and you can feel the history oozing out of the 80+ year old woodwork. I don't know much of that history but the Virginia was a known hangout of the once underaged mistress that turned Neil Goldschmidt's name into a four-letter word. It's a place that has seen things. Some of them I'm probably better off not knowing, no doubt.

We finally went back to the Smart Park around 2:30. Looking down 4th Avenue, we spotted a row of squad cars and caution tape blocking all the lanes. I figured a crash was to blame.

The news today told a different story. A 20-something had been shot dead in a drive-by outside one of the clubs down the street. Had we coughed up the cover charge at Kells or gotten into the Shanghai, we might have been wandering past at the time of that ugly, unfortunate tragedy.

Maybe I should have listened to my gut and stayed home on Sunday. Or maybe, by behaving itself, it somehow kept us out of trouble. I guess my stomach works in mysterious ways. Happy New Year, lower intestine!

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