Old-World Elegance

There’s a long tradition of hotels creating magical spaces for guests—here are two shining examples.

The Benson

A historic jewel glimmering on the edge of downtown Portland, the Benson (309 SW Broadway Ave, 503-228-2000, coasthotels.com) combines classic and contemporary with memorable panache. Known as the New Oregon Hotel when it opened in 1913, this 12-story landmark was developed by Simon Benson, a lumber baron and philanthropist whose taste for opulence still echoes from every beam.

Stepping inside the lobby feels like emerging from a Titanic-era time machine. Original Italian marble floors gleam beneath your feet, and a classic coffered ceiling shimmers with Austrian crystal chandeliers. The pillars and walls are built from a rare—now extinct—Circassian walnut, reflecting Benson’s fancy for fine lumber. The plush period-style furniture, including a towering gilt mirror at the foot of the grand staircase, creates an inviting milieu.

Opposite to the lobby in the Palm Court Bar, an antique cuckoo clock has sat in this spot since the hotel’s opening. It’s a favorite destination for cocktails, cuisine, and conversation. A couple of times a week, a grand piano is rolled in for highly popular live jazz performances. Also beloved among Portlanders is the hotel’s scene-y full-service restaurant, El Gaucho, a clubby steakhouse featuring nightly live flamenco music and a cigar lounge.

Comfort and class are of equal importance at the Benson. “We want to create an environment where people feel welcome,” says Jane Parker, director of sales and marketing. “When you walk through those doors, the lobby still reflects the same standard of elegance from the time it was built.”

Mark Spencer Hotel

Steps from the Pearl District in the historic—and increasingly trendy—West End, Portland’s oldest hotel, the Mark Spencer (409 SW 11th Ave, 503-224-3293, markspencer.com)—established in 1907—blends historic charm with modern luxuries.

Just off the small but inviting lobby, guests can lounge in a variety of settings from a cozy library to an airy, Euro-inspired atrium. The library offers complimentary coffee and freshly baked cookies each afternoon. The nearby atrium hosts nightly wine tastings and a 24/7 espresso station. Preserving the hotel’s architectural history, rows of small dining tables are surrounded by original brick walls adorned with poster-size prints of European city scenes from the Portland Art Gallery.

For a stunning view of downtown’s skyline, guests can head up to the new rooftop bar accessed from the hotel’s sixth floor, or opt for some shaded outdoor tranquility downstairs in the English garden-style courtyard. –Lauren Kershner | photos from the top by Paul Wagtouicz; Courtesy Mark Spencer Hotel