Streetcars also have played a prominent role in the Pearl District's evolution from an industrial landfill and stomping ground for hustlers and junkies — local indie filmmaker and resident Gus Van Sant shot 1989's Drugstore Cowboy here — to a trendy loft and condo-laced enclave.
The Pearl is still home to much-beloved Powell's City of Books, which sprawls up to four stories high over an entire block and claims to be the world's largest independent bookstore. But now, it's also a place where a waiter at the Tea Zone & Camellia Lounge serves Virtual Buddha tonics while sporting a "Genius by Birth, Slacker by Choice" T-shirt — and where a century-old warehouse, reborn with recycled materials as the Ecotrust Building, shelters such tenants as Patagonia and the Wild Salmon Center.
Over the river
Whether they're on foot, rental bike or public transportation, most Portland visitors without cars confine their civic expeditions to downtown and other areas west of the Willamette. But tourists who venture across one of the 10 bridges that span the river in or near the city center will gain an even better appreciation of the town's decidedly quirky DNA.
One popular loop extends about 3 miles from the Steel Bridge at the northern end of Tom McCall Waterfront Park, site of a former freeway, across the Willamette and down the walkers-and-bikers-only Eastbank Esplanade to the Hawthorne Bridge.
Along the way, Lower Burnside Avenue has gone from industrial zone to a still-gritty magnet for foodies and indie music fans. They can chow down on lamb BLTs and beef-cheek bourguignon at Le Pigeon, catch a cult favorite at the Doug Fir Lounge — described by a critic as "Paul Bunyan's vacation home in outer space" — and crash next door at the retro-hip Jupiter Hotel.
Here, tattoo artist Joe Bass can create anything from a modest rose to an elaborate underwater scene for a fee of $100 to $125 an hour, but the valentines to his adopted hometown are free.
"I'd been in the airport about 45 seconds when I decided to stay," says Bass, a father of two teenagers who moved here from Arizona four years ago. "You can bike or ride the bus everywhere, there's a park on every corner, and an underground perspective permeates everything."