My daughters must have worked some voodoo magic on me because donuts was my first thought when I woke up last Sunday morning in Portland. We were in town for the weekend, staying at the Embassy Suites right across the street from Voodoo Donuts, and my daughters wanted nothing more than for us to bring home some sweet stuff in the famous pink box. That’s more than the nothing I was planning to get for them.
What? You say you’ve never heard of Voodoo Donuts?
The bacon maple bar?
The Voodoo doll?
Yeah, I hadn’t either.
I’ve been to Portland a half-dozen times, passed through it dozens more on my way to the coast or to my dad’s house 90 minutes to the south. But not until last weekend did I know that no trip to this city is complete without a baker’s dozen from Voodoo Donuts.
It was 8:20 a.m. We were late. The woman downstairs at the front desk had told me the night before to get to Voodoo between 4 and 6 a.m. to avoid a line like the one we saw the day before.
The things we do for our kids, right? Things that don’t include getting up at 4 a.m. for donuts or standing in a crazy long line. I don’t do that for my kids. I don’t care if the donut was made by Kyle McLachlan, the mayor of Portlandia, himself. But, a respectable 8:20? I could do that, if the line was short.
We should take our chances, I thought. Surely, the tourists weren’t out yet and who else would be wandering all the way downtown this early on a Sunday morning just to get donuts?
“John!” I said, waking my husband up. “We have to get the girls their donuts right now.”
The things we do for our kids.
We were up, dressed, and on the quiet streets of Portland in less than 10 minutes.
Yeah, I said quiet. Eerily quiet.
Voodoo Donuts was one block from the front door of our hotel and I could see as soon as we walked out to the corner that there was no line. What was that concierge talking about? I wonder how many guests have lost sleep over her advice to get up at 4 a.m.?
Woohoo Voodoo! Here we come!
Nervous that a line would suddenly form out of nowhere, we walked straight past Portland’s must-have Stumptown Coffee. There wasn’t a moment to waste and lattes could wait, although maybe not long. We’d seen a crazy long line at Stumptown the day before, too.
Putting our coffee needs aside, we continued the next half block to Voodoo.
“Do you have any change you can spare?” asked a panhandler.
“No sorry, we don’t have any cash.”
“Well you ain’t getting any donuts then,” he kindly informed us. “There’s an ATM next door.”
And it was true. The sign on the door read “Cash only.” Why didn’t the woman at the front desk warn me about this? Who carries cash anymore?
We walked next door. It was a bar with a sketchy-looking ATM so we looked around for a bank. Not seeing any we did the only thing we could think to do and walked back to the hotel where there was a more reliable ATM. We were losing precious time.
Cash in hand, we returned to find a line inside all the way to the door. We could just squeeze inside. At least a dozen people were in line in font of us, but there was plenty of eye-candy to entertain us while we waited: an old-fashioned rotating donut case, a colorful menu, plenty of souvenir merchandise (like pink Voodoo underwear), and an ad for how to order a coffin full of Voodoo donuts. Yeah, enjoy a coffin full of donuts before your donut-clogged arteries put you in your own.
We emerged 10 minutes later with the famous pink box.
Inside, we carried two Voodoo dolls, two maple bacon bars, one topped with Captain Crunch and another topped with Oreos and peanut butter.
So was it worth it? Reluctantly, yes.
A trip to Voodoo is a Portland experience, if not for the donuts, then for the people watching. The line we saw the day before (the one we chose not to stand in) was one big party with a street performer entertaining the folks stuck in the “donut jam” (credit to my husband for that joke — new t-shirt slogan for Voodoo?).
And were the donuts worth it? Reluctantly, yes.
I’m not much of a donut connoisseur so I can’t vouch for whether they’re better than your typical donut or not. But for fun factor and unique flavor combinations, I’d say they can’t be beat.
Plus, we were superhero parents when we returned home with the coveted pink box.
Top tips for a successful Voodoo trip:
- Arrive early to avoid a line. I recommend getting there before 9 on Sundays and before 8 on Saturdays. Maybe even earlier during the busy summer tourist season.
- Bring cash. No cash, no donuts.
- Study the menu before you go. This is a small place with only two registers. That, along with its enormous popularity, accounts for the ever-present queue. Have a good idea what you want before you get to the order counter. The people behind you will thank you.
- Before you leave, cross the street with your pink box and take your picture in front of this…
- Eat your donuts with a delicious, hand-crafted latte from Stumptown Coffee in the same block.