The Ritz-Carlton, Portland Brings More Than a Taste of Luxury Downtown

A waterfall-inspired floating staircase, condos for the 1 percent, and, just maybe, some new life in an area that lost foot traffic when construction killed its food carts

By Matthew Trueherz January 23, 2023 Published in the March 2023 issue of Portland Monthly

As far as brand image goes, the gilded emblem of luxury that is Ritz-Carlton veers pretty far from that of Portland. But the brand’s 35-story tower set to open this summer—which casts a shadow over all but three of the city’s skyscrapers—purports to be carrying us into the future, culturally and financially. Luxury, apparently, is booming.

If you valet your car and enter on SW Washington Street, you’ll find yourself in a lobby-as-Forest Park. Entering through the bar on SW 10th Avenue, you’ll find yourself in similarly wooded environs, replete with live trees, timber-clad walls, and drapery to mimic tree trunks.

The Lobby Bar at the Ritz-Carlton, Portland

A floating staircase that bisects the hotel’s ground floor takes inspiration from the mossy basalt waterfalls near Mount Hood. It sits under a botanically charged and crystal-bedazzled chandelier, an opulent replica of Oregon’s tree canopy running the length of the lobby—a city block.

The faux-falls lead to the banquet floor, holding an 8,000-square-foot ballroom designed after Mount Hood. Its carpet is knit with arial topographic photos of the Cascades, and the color scheme is pulled from the mountain’s snowcaps and rock deposits.  

The Oregon aesthetic is a mix of the brand’s recent move to build hotels inspired by the cities they inhabit (Portland being the second, after the Ritz-Carlton, Nomad in New York City) and the project’s biophilic design. HKS, a Dallas-based architecture firm that worked on the interiors, partnered with sustainability consultants Brightworks to fold the building into the city’s Green Loop with ground-floor greenspace; the building is pursuing LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council.

Luxury, of course, is paramount, but Marie Browne, the building’s general manager, insists the new space will be welcoming to all Portlanders. “There’s a sort of mystique around Ritz-Carlton,” she says. “It’s really important to us that the community—everybody out there—feels comfortable to come in and experience something new.”

Outside of the hotel, the building, officially called Block 216, will house a Rolex outlet, office space, Ritz-Carlton residences, and a ground-floor food hall standing in for the food cart pod the building’s construction displaced in 2019. The hall will feature 10 vendors, among them: Prime Tap House, Birria la Plaza, Cake Bar, Kim Jong Grillin’, and others.

On the 20th floor is the Ritz-Carlton signature restaurant, open to the public and helmed by chef Pedro Almeida, who comes by way of the Penha Longa Resort, the Ritz-Carlton’s Sintra, Portugal outpost. There he oversaw three separate restaurants, all of which sport a Michelin star. This restaurant will follow a “new-American” cuisine, he says, and serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner drawing from local ingredients.

Nods to Lewis and Clark and copper touches said to reflect a penny toss responsible for Portland’s naming inspired the décor for the 251 guest rooms. Think alpine earth tones, low-slung furniture, clean lines, money. (Browne: “Obviously, you have to have a quality product to be a Ritz-Carlton.”)

The building will also hold 132 residences. Standard condos range from just under $2 million, to over seven, with units on four penthouse floors carrying price tags far above that.

The going rumors that there’s not a bad view in the building are true.

The 19th floor infinity pool 

The 19th-floor spa, designed for our city’s flower and featuring rose-imbued treatments, will be open to the public. But the “athlete-grade” fitness center and infinity pool with a “hidden mountain lake” vibe are reserved for residents and hotel guests—and, yes, you can see the mountain while you’re sitting in a pool on the edge of the city’s skyline.

Who’s after condos past the $7 million mark? Rumors are circulating of local celebrities moving in. “It’s a small pool of people,” Browne says, “but we do say Ritz-Carlton residences attract the top 1 percent.”

Browne is among many, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, who believe the new building will resurrect a distinctly desolate section of COVID-era Portland. Before opening, the project has taken effect “ratchetting up” the neighborhood, as Browne says, referencing collapsing O’Bryant Square that sits kitty-corner from the hotel and is set to be demolished in 2023. The brick-lined city park, once a favorite picnic area for customers at the bustling food carts, and the parking garage below it have been fenced off since 2018 due to structural concerns.

“The hotel, the offices, the food hall ... it’s going to change the face of that block,” she adds. The Ritz-Carlton, Portland will bring “activities and reasons for people to be down here.”

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