In recent years, rooftop lounges have become the hottest boites in cities with large populations and lively social arenas. New York, Miami and Los Angeles have open-air hotspots aplenty, making the already rowdy nightlife scene even more so. So it was interesting to see Portland, Oregon, a mid-sized city not known for its chichi bar scene get in on the action. In April 2009, The Nines Hotel, a LEED-certified property in the historic Meier & Frank building, opened Departure Restaurant and Lounge. It has become the go-to spot for anyone wanting a great glass of Oregon Pinot Noir under the stars.
A special elevator transports guests to the 15th floor. Upon entering the 9,000-square-foot space you feel as if you’re in the lounge of a luxury yacht. A teak bar sits below a massive windshield skylight. Sailcloth panels abound. An expansive nautical mural encompasses the entire dining area. Supple white leather booths surround geometric teak tables. A small stateroom is available for private parties. It’s elegant yet sporty but if you stay indoors, you’ll miss out on the beauty of the Northwest.
Two open-air patios off the main dining room offer a relaxing place to enjoy a cocktail and small plates. Recline on colorful metal chairs as you admire the spectacular views. On one side is Mt. Hood and a portion of Downtown Portland. On the other, Mt. St. Helens and the Willamette River. Breathe in the clean air and let out a sigh.
One would expect a nautical-themed restaurant to serve hackneyed seafood. But Executive Chef Gregory Gourdet had something else in mind. Gourdet prepares innovative Asian dishes, drawing inspiration from Japanese Izakayas (small drinking establishments that also serve small plates) but also reinterpreting Malaysian, Laotian and Thai fare. The Zensai (starters) are flavorful. But the Kushiyaji (skewered meats roasted on Japanese charcoal) are the true standouts. Try the Harami Goma Tare. The wagyu skirt steak with black sesame sauce is divine. The bar has an extensive wine list but also serves Asian-inspired cocktails. My Shy Geisha is one of the best. A combination of sparkling sake, Croft pink port and tonic, it’s a real treat.
Will Departure start a trend of rooftop bars in Portland? One can only dream.
525 Southwest Morrison Street
Portland, OR 97204
Shandana A. Durrani has been a magazine editor and travel writer in New York City for 19 years. Her work has appeared in numerous publications and websites including Condé Nast Traveler, Glamour, Cigar Aficionado, Wine Spectator, Silverkris, Haute Living, NYMag.com, Jetsetter.com and Justluxe.com. She is the author of "Day Trips from New York City" and the co-author of "Insiders' Guide to New York City."