|The Nines, which is Portland, Oregon's latest luxury hotel, is located atop the former Meier and Frank Department Store originally built in 1908.|
Often referred to as the greenest city in the country, Portland, Oregon, is experiencing an urban renaissance that's bringing a different kind of green to its historic downtown. What started as a revitalization of Pioneer Square over a decade ago has spread into an urban renewal of turn-of-the century warehouse spaces, glassy new condo high-rises and elegant city living in areas like the Pearl and downtown business district. Late last year, the city debuted The Nines, its latest and greatest luxury hotel atop the former Meier and Frank Department Store originally built in 1908 and now operated by Sage Hospitality and managed by Starwood's brassy Luxury Collection.
What to expect: Portland has had a very white winter, with more snow days than locals claim to admit. On clearer spring days, the recent snowfall yields spectacular vistas of Mt. St. Helen's and Mt. Hood in the distance, framing a horizon of new condo towers and 20th century banks that dominate a skyline bigger than its half-million population would suggest. The Nines is located on Pioneer Square, home to a fully glass-enclosed mall with tenants like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom as well as newer outposts like Juicy Couture. The location makes for an easy connection to the airport accessed without a single train change via MAX light rail for around $2.50. The first impression: One-way streets, endless rail lines and left-hand turn restrictions make driving to the hotel a lot of work. An all-white façade with miniscule signage points to a single-lane valet area that's more like a loading zone but with a crew of attendants with freshly buzzed haircuts greeting you by name with umbrella in hand. Yes, it's raining again in Portland. What looks like a mini check-in desk is actually the bell desk, which guides you to the elevators that take you to the eighth floor lobby, bypassing floors 1-7, which are partially occupied by Macy's. Elevator doors open to vintage, oversize windows framing spectacular views of the skyline and river. A groovy soundtrack of lounge anthems plays in the background.
Finding your room: A long reception attended by a youthful staff whizzes through check-in while asking the perfunctory, "Where you from?" while actually waiting to hear the answer. The reception and concierge desks face the inner atrium, a towering space surrounded by inward-facing guest rooms and glass rotunda that looks like an Embassy Suites albeit with a great decorating job. We booked our room under the $99-for-99-days special offered in conjunction with the hotel's opening. A quick elevator ride and short walk down a dark inner corridor leads to my modest guest room where it seems the party already started, at least the one experience from all the acoustic noise from the atrium below. In-room amenities: Heavy, black entry doors open to an elegant living space with playful striped carpeting. A king-size bed with tufted white leather headboards is opposite an oversize chaise lounge and two large windows facing the city skyline. Silvery wall fabrics lend a feminine touch as well as beaded-crystal chandelier and pleaded white swag drapery. A survey of the mini-bar yields a treasure trove of gourmet goodies like chocolate-covered hazelnuts, imported shortbread cookies and hand-cut potato chips. Free Wi-Fi, 42-inch LCD TV and premium on-demand movie selection make up for the small closet with poorly positioned safe that takes up any space for hanging a business suit or even more than a few shirts. Bathrooms and details: Our wheelchair-accessible bathroom was lined in white marble with three-sided built-in vanity positioned kiddy corner to the bathtub with hand-shower option. Walls are hung with ornate shaded-sconces and wood-framed mirrors that recall the building's history. The shallow bathtub seemed uninviting. Sadly, on the day we visited the building was without hot water, which we were not advised of even though the outage had been planned. The hotel was nice enough to credit an entire room night for the inconvenience and saved me from using up all the Gilchrist & Soames toiletries.
Hit the club: Forced communal mingling and bad buffets are one reason we usually steer clear of club lounges. But the Club Lounge at the Nines was definitely above the industry norm. Mornings feature a salmon spread, fresh pastries and endless espresso with convenient to-go cups that will save you from hitting Starbucks ( SBUX). Afternoons are less scrumptious with cucumber sandwiches hardened by the air-conditioning, but attended by a concierge who gives great tips on area restaurants and hotel tidbits while pouring a heavy glass of merlot. By night it's sweet-tooth heaven and Mecca for cocktail seekers who come in search of the complimentary Patron or Belvedere and subtle social scene. Two great eateries: Located on the atrium floor, Urban Farmer is the groovy in-house eatery offering all-day dining with an organically sourced menu. The well-conceived space feels like a funky city eatery with wood and stacked-stone walls, high-back chairs slip-covered in natural canvas and freestanding booths. Lunch is a sequence of fist-size salads accompanied by portions of chicken, shrimp or steak. Dinner is more of a steakhouse menu with raw bar and seafood appetizers followed by hefty grass-fed, grain-finished or corn-fed premium beef with porterhouse, New York and filet mignon cuts. By night, the adjacent bar comes to life with dressed-up locals mingling with Cosmo or micro-brew in hand, at least until they hit rooftop Departure Restaurant and Lounge, with its two outdoor patios overlooking the Willamette River and Mt. Hood. What's the real deal? Rooms are easy to score around $100 a night, but mostly interior facing rooms that aren't ideal for light sleepers or early risers. City-view rooms are quieter, if slightly more expensive, hovering around $129. Larger junior suites are available from $229. Visitors should keep in mind that parking is a hefty $36 a night, about the same price as a cab ride from the airport and a lot more than the train with its short and oh-so-green 35-minute rail ride that puts you almost at the hotel's front door.