The cultural window between something being cool and something being a clichéd commodification of cool is very, very brief. And, of course, it’s all a matter of opinion.
In this age of über-quick, Internet-powered popular culture, the window’s only gotten smaller, to the point that trends hardly even matter any more in many senses and contexts. Remember how long cupcakes were the cool new culinary trend that no one could get enough of? The pie trend came after but couldn’t enjoy nearly as much time basking in the warm glow of near-universal, Hey-Ya-esque societal approval before being deemed too cool to be cool (ice cold?). The internet—admittedly a beacon of light in many ways for a world seeking to open up communication and, hopefully, through that opening, understanding—makes us all jaded bastards.
But it’s nice, every now and then, to open one’s self up to the merits of coolness, even when we all know full well we’re boarding a hipster boat that’s long been sinking. Who says we can’t strike up the band and enjoy the ride all the same? They did it on the Titanic!
Case in point, our recent stay at Ace Hotel Portland. Yes, it unabashedly hits all the primary hipster notes; yes, it’s leaning heavily on a bygone era for its visual cues; yes, it was directly parodied in a Portlandia sketch, during which ultra-hipster staff hands out complimentary turntables and antique typewriters to guests.
But I like old typewriters and turntables; I like fashionably dressed, friendly staff; I like a hotel that doesn’t lift its visual aesthetic from some faux-granite-covered version of ancient Greece or a cheaply made Victorian era England; I like harkening back to a time when things were built to last. If I just decided that I don’t like that stuff simply because the overall artisan hipster Gestalt is made fun of or just more pervasive than it used to be, wouldn’t that be disingenuous? Any trend or genre or…anything, really, can go over the top and some would argue that the whole creative culture has gone there and then some, but that doesn’t mean we like the things we like for bad reasons.
Also, I guarantee Fred Armisen + Carrie Brownstein have stayed at the Ace and I bet they totally liked it. We certainly did.
The Portland hotel was the second to open, after the inaugural Ace in Seattle, opened in old Salvation Army halfway house in 1999 by friends Alex Calderwood, Wade Weigel, and Doug Herrick. The Portland hotel—opened second in 2007 with the help of Jack Barron—now serves as headquarters for Ace, who has outposts in Palm Springs, New York, Panama, London, and LA, the latter of which opened at the start of this year.
I’d describe the overall aesthetic as WWII military-industrial-speakeasy. Which, correct, makes very little sense. But, if a post-humous idea board were made for the Ace Portland, it’d definitely include heavy wooden sliding doors and window guards; accents of industrial hardware; army blankets and army green upholstery; dog tags; colonial libraries with roller ladders; witty signage wrought in old world fanciful fonts; random nautical nods; and yes—turntables and typewriters.
Below, all that stuff.