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Port of (Last) Call 

It's a Friday night, and I'm splayed on my back in the contemporary minimalism comfort of the cocoon-like Jupiter Hotel, clutching a bundle of $1 bills and mentally tracing the topography of the ceiling's stucco. I could get drunk anywhere, but the bankroll, however, reminds me I'm in Portland.

Over three nights attending MusicfestNW I think I went to more strip clubs than in my five years in Atlanta. And over those nights, I charted many constellations on the ceiling. But what really stands out -- more than the nipples and the array of emptied pint glasses -- is a blue-collar hippie making-the-best-of-it aesthetic and the nonchalance by which Portland makes nice with vice. This is almost more intoxicating than alcohol.

Portland is a drinking town, a grid liberally peppered with bars. What sets Portland's bars apart is that each feels equally welcoming whether its standout is 100 taps, Oregon Pinot Noir, or rosemary pommes frites. You can even eat the city's best brick-sized burritos eye level with shaved snatch at Mary's, Portland's oldest strip club adjoining an authentic taqueria.

What's notable about Portland's strip clubs is that they come across as just another set of neighborhood bars, and the strippers just neighborhood girls. Imagine watching any random girl downing a shot at the Earl and wondering what it would be like to see the tattoos you know she doesn't share with everyone. In Portland, this girl would stand up, pick Tom Waits on the jukebox, then bare it on the bar, saving you all the trouble of courting.

The girls of Portland are portraits on rice paper. Their skin is pale bordering on translucent, the porcelain uniformity broken only by the swatches of tattoos. (The tattoo biz seems to be the only industry more widely ingrained in Portland than drinking and erotic dancing.) The embrace of natural beauty is mesmerizing -- out of a half-dozen clubs, I only saw one set of "enhanced" breasts.

In general, the often overcast, somewhat unaccommodating weather seems to have ingrained an appreciation of what's already available or easily tweak-able. This impression was repeatedly reinforced: from the dearth of bands skewing pop tradition to the McMenamins chain of brew-pubs that were once old high schools and roadhouse taverns, from eating a 1 a.m. bacon maple bar creation from Voodoo Doughnuts to the wealth of custom fruit-and-vegetable-infused vodkas found at Bartini and 820.

Insider outsider spaces such as Dunes survive on loyalty, presenting shows by acts such as the beguiling abstract Icelanders Worm Is Green. Internationally known experimental rockers put aside their airs to sway and swivel behind an unmarked warehouse door.

One of the most surprising things about the Portland scene is that it shuts down at 2:30 a.m. Yet it feels like the city takes full advantage of its operating hours. Sure, I love my MJQ, my Eyedrum, but would it be too much to throw some fruit in a bottle of booze, or maybe a bra around, every once in a while? We can take City Council's lemons and make elderberry- infused lemonade.

Keep one RedEye open. And send all comments, questions, observations and invitations to redeye@creativeloafing.com.

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