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Travel + Culture

Key Notes: Ace Hotel, Portland, Oregon


A converted flophouse in what was, until the mid-1990s, a hard-knock enclave of drifters and grifters, the new Ace Hotel restores a much-needed edge to Portland’s downtown. Renovations have preserved the best of the building’s attributes—think original hardwood floors and claw-footed bathtubs—but the imposing 1912 edifice now houses 79 sleek, angular guestrooms best described as “bunker chic.” Ace touts itself as a “European-style hotel,” meaning its rooms range from youth-hostel-like bunk-bed shares (complete with bathroom and shower down the corridor) to corner suites.

the ace hotel

The Ace Hotel’s bustling lobby.


Portland’s hip quotient has been rising steadily over the past 15 years, but the city still hovers under the radar. The Ace, in contrast, makes no bones about seeking international relevance while remaining proudly local, and as such, it signals the emergence of a new urban self-image. (It’s only fitting that Seattle, Portland’s alternately beloved and reviled big brother, is home to the first Ace Hotel.)


The hotel’s overall aesthetic is nothing short of stunning, from big statements (worktop spaces created from salvaged wooden boards and reconditioned army field desks) to small details (tiny manila envelopes stamped in red with the words “MAID TIP”). The claw-footed bathtubs are almost too beautiful to use, and the laundry bags are definitely too beautiful not to steal.

And then there’s the location, less than five minutes by foot from the Pearl District, Portland’s gallery-and-shopping mecca. Powell’s, America’s best and largest bookstore, is even closer. The Living Room, a new cinema screening independent and foreign films, lies just across the street.


The inevitable (and reasonably faint) street noise came as no surprise, although the drunken 21-year-olds wandering through the halls (and, occasionally, into the wrong room) certainly did. But the only true disappointment was the slightly-too-hipsterish staff, whose froideur provided a real jarring note.


Grant Achatz, Jake Gyllenhaal, Björk, location scouts up for the weekend from L.A., architects from Berlin and Melbourne, the ghosts of Frank Lloyd Wright and River Phoenix.


Absolutely—earplugs and attitude in hand.