Drinking champagne in a rustic cabin; eating at a greasy spoon in black tie regalia; discovering vintage Gucci in a faded thrift store: sometimes it’s contrast that makes for the most exquisite experiences in life. A far cry from the flash decor and rigid service of a few years ago, high-end hotels now must balance a quest for opulence with the knowledge that true comfort is one of the rarest luxuries there is.
The Hi-Lo Hotel in downtown Portland understands this. Launched in June 2017, the 120-room Autograph Collection property offers an experience reflective of the growing worldwide hotel trend that sees grandeur mixed with accessibility.
Designed by Orlando Diaz-Azcuy Design Associates, Arris Studio Architects, and Portland-based OMFGC and Jessica Helgerson Interior Design, Hi-Lo both reinvents and pays homage to its 1910 building—the first concrete structure in Portland, known first as The Railway Exchange Building and then, when restorations began in 1962, as Project Cinderella.
Certainly, the building’s humble foundations are visible throughout the Hi-Lo renovation. Bare, cracked concrete walls flaunt modern art in the lobby and suites, while plush carpeting splices coarse hallways on each floor. Grey, almost-industrial bathroom tiles are offset with golden taps and shower heads; reclaimed wood walls from the local Pioneer Woodworks may contain nail marks, but also state-of-the-art entertainment systems. And Hi-Lo’s lobby perfectly telegraphs its desired aesthetic with polished concrete floors and light streaming through floor-to-ceiling windows, hitting green velvet chaise lounges and swinging benches suspended from the ceiling with leather cords. Brass finishes and friendly service warm the corner of the ground floor at the hotel’s easy-drinking Lo Bar.
The accompanying restaurant, Alto Bajo, continues to pay homage to Hi-Lo’s namesake juxtaposition of soft and harsh, rough and splendid. Offering modern Mexican fare, the menu was conceived by celebrated Oaxacan chef Iliana de la Verga and is now overseen by Chip Barnes, a veteran of the now-closed (and Michelin-starred) Moto in Chicago. In an environment of gleaming wood, woven seating with leather piping, and—again—concrete columns, dishes imbue both comfort and freshness.
The ensalada de betabel is a quintessential beet and goat cheese salad done right, the peppery crunch of beet and radish offset by sweet, melting triangles of kiwi and a sticky citrus dressing. Chile poblano relleno features a large pepper that pours open with spinach, nuts, and nuggets of cheese on a smoky, tangy tomato base. And the restaurant’s signature mole sauces offer to coat a range of proteins, from lamb loins to freshly harvested seafood. Desserts are eye-rollingly good, especially the cajeta flan—made from goat milk—which tastes like dulce de leche when it’s all grown up and ready to take on the world.
Hi-Lo refers not only to the balance of rare and common, but also that of high culture and local products. The hotel dedicates itself to showcasing the talents of producers in Portland and its surrounding regions in every facet of the property. Guests can discover some of the city’s finest flavours without leaving their rooms, either by ordering a bottle of commissioned Hi-Lo Cuvee from Chehalem Winery or by nibbling on pillow chocolates (in the shape of the Hi-Lo logo, of course) by Yen for Chocolate. Washroom amenities were specially created by Maak Lab, a local maker of plant-based soaps.
We live in an age of abundance. Seeking the finer things in life now means experience, memories. Hi-Lo Hotel recognizes this and caters with aplomb.