Long before Oregon Pinot Noir had achieved minor cult status, vintners would routinely meet around the wooden tables at Nick's Italian Cafe in McMinnville to quaff wine, sup garlicky minestrone, and swap news.
These days there's a choice of watering holes in what's become the liveliest burg in the western Willamette Valley. Taste away in the historic downtown, then venture to the small town's fringe to see the world's biggest wooden airplane.
McMinnville is about 36 miles southwest of Portland. From I-5, take exit 289 and follow Tualatin- Sherwood Rd., then turn south on State 99W; drive about 25 miles, then turn east on N.E. Third St. to get downtown.
Bistro Maison Cassoulet to croque monsieur, served in a cozy vintage home. INFO: $$$; closed Mon-Tue; 729 N.E. Third St.; 503/474-1888.
Nick's Italian Cafe Prix-fixe dinners served on mismatched plates and paired with an extensive wine list. INFO: $$$; closed Mon; 521 N.E. Third St.; 503/434-4471.
Red Fox Bakery Choose from the always-changing chalkboard menu. Come early for artisanal breads, pastries, and pizzas, plus eggs Benedict in the a.m., then return for Spanish tuna salad on multigrain bread for lunch. INFO: $; closed Mon; 328 E. Evans St.; 503/434-5098.
NW Wine Bar Try wines from near and far by the sip, the flight, the glass, or the bottle, and savor small plates in this roomy, stylish enoteca. INFO: Tasting fee varies; 326 N. Davis St.; 503/435-1295.
Panther Creek Cellars One of a handful of wineries with tasting rooms right in town, Panther Creek is known for its superb Pinot Noir. INFO: Closed Mon-Tue; $5 tasting fee; 455 N.E. Irvine St.; 503/472-8080.
Found Objects Every corner of this boutique is filled with an eclectic mix of antique and new gifts and home accessories. The prices are as appealing as the goods. INFO: 512 N.E. Third St.; 503/474-3711.
Evergreen Aviation Museum A soaring gallery filled with historic aircraft, from a Russian space capsule and sporty home-builts to the massive Spruce Goose. INFO: $12; 500 N.E. Captain Michael King Smith Way (off State 18); 503/434-4180.
Hotel Oregon This McMenamin brothers' property gets much of the credit for pumping up the volume in downtown McMinnville. The renovated 1905 hotel offers 42 rooms, most with shared baths. Enjoy a drink or a meal in the open-air rooftop bar, the cellar bar, or the main-floor pub, with its view of Third Street passersby. INFO: Rooms from $50; www.mcmenamins.com; 888/472-8427.