Gus Van Sant and 10 Counter Cultural Sights of Portland

Gus Van Sant’s skater-boy psycho-thriller Paranoid Park is hitting the film fests this fall and it’s shot entirely in the director’s own stomping ground of Portland, Oregon. The film—partially shot on Super 8 and cast entirely through—won the 60th anniversary prize at Cannes this past spring. Like many of Van Sant’s films, it closely examines the inner workings of teen angst, using Portland’s counter cultural scene as a backdrop.

But openly gay Gus is just one of many prominent alties roaming the rainy City of Roses. Other PDXers include Matt Groening, Ken Kesey, Chuck Palinchuk, Stephen Malkamus, Todd Haynes, not to mention members of Sleater Kinney, The Shins, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Pink Martini, and Built To Spill. The following is a list of sights that give Portland its edgy vibe.

1. Nicknamed Paranoid Park and later novelized by Blake Nelson, the SE Industrial Zone’s Burnside Skate Park was illegally built by renegade skaters and later sanctioned by the city. It’s almost hidden underneath the Burnside Bridge, which makes it hard to find. Spectators watch as prep-meets punk in a Portland ritual of extreme showmanship.

2. Disjecta is an East Side gallery/performance space that hosts a regular series of local notable artists, like filmmakers Gus Van Sant, Matt McCormick, and Vanessa Renwick, each of whom presented a piece of music they love which was later discussed and debated. They’re presently in search of a new home. Keep an eye out for them! Blue Sky and Nine Gallery shows emerging homoerotic artists like Dahlquist. Many locals are represented, also, including Ann Kendellen, Gus Van Sant, Edis Jurcys and more. PDX Gallery is another arty fav of Van Sant. The space is run by his friend Jane Beebe who used to live down the street from him on Glisan, and showcases some of the best contemporary art in PDX.

3. Going to Portland without visiting Powells Books is sacrilege. Not only is it the largest independent used and new bookstore in the world, but its counter culture section is one of the largest you’ll ever see, with a slew of titles by Portland artists, writers and activists. It’s one of Gus’s favorite spots in all of PDX.

4. Featured as the flophouse in Gus Van Sant’s Drug Store Cowboy, the rakish Ace Hotel is a newly converted warehouse (the younger sib to Seattle’s Ace Hotel) smack dab in the middle of the Pearl District, where Van Sant shot his first feature film Mala Noche when the neighborhood was considered the area’s Skid Row. The boxy mural-covered rooms have comfy loft-like beds covered with wooly Pendleton Mills bedding, and plied with iPod docks and Czech-made turntables. The lobby-adjacent Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Clyde Commons restaurant are indie scenes unto themselves.

5. Portland’s revamped 60’s mod rock-and-roll roadside Jupiter hosted the wrap party to Van Sant’s Paranoid Park and hosts a major arty party ever year called Affair At The Jupiter. It boasts compact rooms festooned with mirrors and woodsy murals. The attached Doug Fir Lounge hosts weekly parties and indie acts.

6. Portland has always been a foodie city (James Beard sprouted from here after all), but when 27-year old culinary troubadour Gabriel Rucker opened his maverick eatery Le Pigeon last summer, the local food bloggers (and national magazine critics) gushed with admiration. Van Sant was recently spotted in the tidy space. The décor’s rusticity is driven home by a farm menu that’s uncharacteristically hedonistic for Portland.

7. When Portland’s favorite restaurant couple Michael Heeb and Naomi Pomeroy (Family Supper) suddenly divorced and closed shop last year, Michael skipped town for Seattle, but Naomi showed loyalty by laying low and hosting underground dinner parties (one of which was attended by Van Sant and his coterie of hot gay Belgians) to help pay for her new eatery, Beast, where Van Sant was also recently spotted. Recently opened in September, Beast is bathed in greys and pinks, with a black chalkboard wall marked up with chef’s notes and the nightly menu. The exposed kitchen lets Naomi show off her warm personality while she prepares local seasonal fare. Revenge dining never tasted so good.

8. Across the street from Mary’s Club, Portland’s oldest (and most ironic) strip club, sits the saucey little restaurant-lounge Saucebox, formerly run by Naomi Pommeroy, but recently handed over to gay PDX power-restaurateur Bruce Carey. Though Gus Van Sant guest DJed Saucebox’s We Aren’t DJs night, the regular crowd comes for the pu pu platters, Kyoto duck with ginger broth and other Asian fusion delights.

9. There’s nothing particularly alty about Van Sant’s favorite Italian restaurant, which is also one of the closest to his loft. Piazza Italia is an old school Italian joint with a few tables out front and nightly special comfort classics like pasta with clams, osso bucco and ravioli with spinach and ricotta draw in a regular crowd.

10. Blue Hour is a French expression (l’heure bleue) describing the hour between daylight and darkness. It is also one of Van Sant’s favorite NW restaurants. It’s been doling out dishes like sautéed skate wing and grilled veal chop for seven years solid and the chef there, Kenny Giambalvo, sold Van Sant his loft apartment.