Along with a new theater, Portland has a new theater district. The Gerding Theater at the Armory, which had its debut performance Oct. 3, is a boon to the Pearl District's existing restaurants, bars and cafes, while new nightspots continue to pop up like mushrooms.
Scoping out some of the Pearl District's newest places, I find a bit of something for everyone, with one common thread. Nothing in this area is cheap.
The chocolate is pricey, the french fries are expensive, and the whiskey is no bargain, either. I'm just going to mention this once, at the outset, so it doesn't sound like I'm carping about prices as I go along.
Strategically located just behind the Armory, the slick new Sweet Masterpiece is designed to drive indecisive chocoholics completely mad.
A huge chocolate cake sits by the cash register. To one side, a bright shiny case displays desserts such as chocolate tortes, carrot cake and fruit tarts. Across the room, truffles, caramels and all kinds of chocolate-covered delicacies are piled behind glass. From a central island you can order espresso drinks and glasses of wine.
I feel like a grown-up kid in a candy store here. After deciding on a sesame-caramel confection and a vanilla cream candy, I look over my shoulder, wanting to ask an invisible parent if it's really OK to order more than one.
My boyfriend looks everything over, only to return to the chocolate cake. He's soon in possession of a gigantic slice, and we sit down to share some sweets in an atmosphere somewhere between an old-fashioned ice cream parlor and a wine bar.
To be honest, I don't think these are the best desserts in town. Still, the selection of sugar-free bonbons, plus vegan and flourless baked goods, will make Sweet Masterpiece a destination for many.
The shop is committed to staying open late on theater nights. And just seeing a friend's face light up at the sight of all that chocolate makes it worth a visit.
Watch your grammar
I'm wary of a business whose name is a verb, but Graze lives up to its title with a menu of small plates and a fittingly wide selection of wine by the glass.
A minimalist dining room has plate-glass windows facing Northwest Lovejoy Street. The room is dominated by a huge portrait of a toy horse tethered to a sidewalk curb, just like the ones that were all over town this summer.
The bar side of Graze wraps around, with windows and a small patio facing Northwest 10th Avenue. Ingredients such as Hpnotiq, Meyer lemon and apricot-infused spiced rum give the cocktail list a trendy look, but the drinks we order are well-conceived and well-executed.
I'm not sure how much difference it makes to me that the brandy in my Streetcar is infused with Rainier cherries, but it's a fine drink. The mysterious green French Surrender is fruity, herbal and well-balanced, and goes nicely with an order of french fries that have been misted with the essence of truffles.
A spot for the young, restless
And then there's Trust … A Lounge. Yes, that is the name of the bar. It seems verbs are already a little passé, and the very latest thing in bar names is abstract nouns (Vendetta opened this summer in North Portland; Victory is coming soon to Southeast Division Street).
With Trust come confessions, and I have one to make. Ever since I was about 9 years old, I've been watching the soap opera 'All My Children.'
A group of the lovely and improbable creatures who inhabit the imaginary Pine Valley, N.Y., have just opened a new bar called Confusion (note the abstract noun). And Trust … A Lounge reminds me a lot of Confusion.
Even the bar's slogan - 'without trust there is no love, without love there is no life,' which is emblazoned on the cocktail servers' tank tops - sounds like a line from a daytime drama.
A friend and I stop by Trust on a Thursday night, and after walking down quiet Northwest Everett Street, we're surprised by how full the small bar is. It's not overflowing, but there's a velvet rope out front, just in case.
We find a seat at a table in the corner. After a while, a young man sits down on one of the chairs at our table. His face is evenly tanned and his Tom Cruise eyebrows appear professionally styled.
He doesn't say anything to us, just stares straight ahead. Maybe he's preoccupied with trying to figure out whether the husband of his long-lost sister really killed the man who turned out not to be his real father?
We only stay for one drink. I know I said I wouldn't mention it again, but the whiskey here is really expensive.