Although Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are the stars of the IFC hit Portlandia, the city where it's filmed deserves its starring comedic role. And it's not just because it has a vacuum cleaner museum, a skateboard museum, a bathtub art museum and a museum devoted to hats.
The so-called City of Roses -- other popular nicknames are Beervana, for having the most brewpubs per capita; Little Beirut, coined by staffers of Bush, the First for its protestors, and Stumptown for all the tree remnants left behind in the early days -- is so quirky that locals just take it for granted. For those still operating under a normal paradigm, here are Portland's top six quirky attractions:
1. The 24-hour Church of Elvis
Like many religious pilgrims, this church/art installation has moved around. Last I checked, it was on Couch Street and for a quarter or two, you can obtain a marriage license, various pop culture trinkets or one-inch pieces of art, all made by its creator Stephanie Pierce. Legal weddings are $25 (you have to call ahead so Stephanie, who happens to also be an ordained minister, will be there), but the "cheap, but not legal" ones are a mere $5.
2. Voodoo Doughnuts
Not far from the current incarnation of the Church of Elvis is another unique wedding venue. At Voodoo Doughnuts, a celebrity doughnut shop thanks to its more than a dozen national TV appearances, you can get legally married complete with doughnuts for 60 guests. This cash-only, 24/7 doughnut shop was started in 2003 by Tres Shannon, a flamboyant one-time mayoral candidate, and Kenneth "Cat Daddy" Pogson to feed the hangover crowd. Eventually, the FDA put the kibosh on their Nyquil, Robitussin and Pepto-Bismo donuts (although the Pepto pink lives on in bright pink boxes), but their signature voodoo donut is still a main draw. Shaped like a gingerbread man, it comes with a pretzel stick in the belly for stabbing and drawing blood, er, raspberry jelly.
3. Mill Ends Park
You can't get married in this city park mainly because bride and groom would never fit. This official park, the world's smallest, is a two-foot circle and, according to legend, houses the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland. It was dedicated on St. Patty's Day 1948 after the light pole, for which it was intended, never appeared. Instead, newspaper columnist Dick Fagan planted flowers and Patrick O'Toole, the colony's so-called head leprechaun, has approved, at various times, such park installations as a swimming pool for butterflies -- it even had a diving board, a horseshoe and a miniature Ferris wheel.
4. The Freakybuttrue Peculiarium
This weekends-only gallery, novelty shop and café features such weird interactive displays as a worm-infested ice cream counter, a Bigfoot you can pet, a neon graffiti room and a surgery room for alien experimenters. Although it's tempting to think "Sparky," the on-display ventriloquist-murdering dummy, is the mastermind behind this house of terror, it was actually started by four friends including filmmaker Mike Wellins of Coraline fame.
5. Reading Frenzy
As much as you gotta love Powell's City of Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world, Portland has an even quirkier bookstore just a block away from the 1.6-acre original. Started in 1994 in the office of an auto body shop, Reading Frenzy specializes in self-published and independent books, comics and graphic novels. It also offers workshops for aspiring artists and publishers, particularly in the anarchist and social commentary vein, as well as art openings, the first being Dishwasher Pete's collection of macaroni and cheese boxes, and its own Show & Tell Press.
6. Food Carts
With more than 600 licensed food carts, many grouped together in so-called pods, Portland offers what must be the world's best street food. Name a country or a cuisine and you're sure to find it at these inventive carts where some of the city's top chefs got their start. Lining parking lots, these international food trucks have become a veritable laboratory for food experimentation from Peruvian to Polish, from Swedish to Samoan. Some of my favorites (at least for names) are Starchy and Husk, Give Pizza a Chance and Kim Jong Grillin'.
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