What is it? The best hotel in the Pacific northwest of the United States, if Condé Nast is to be believed, and a self-professed “beacon for creative types”. To understand the 100-room hotel fully, you have to know what it was rather than what it is, because the Sentinel feels a little disjointed, having started life as two buildings – the Seward Hotel and Elks Temple – that don’t quite align.

So why is it called the Sentinel? “Walk around the East Wing along 10th and Alder and look up,” advises the in-room liter­a­ture. “See those robots along the roof look­ing out toward the future? Those are senti­nels. Sentinels are visionaries. They remind us of you.” Beyond the flattery, there is no explanation as to why William Christmas Knighton attached “robots” to the Seward Hotel when he built it, in 1909. But they are conversation pieces.

What are the rooms like? Dark colours, heavy wood, old-world charm. Pop culture artwork on guest-room walls, large prints of the Velvet Underground, John Coltrane and Twiggy in public areas.

Rooms on the executive floor, the sixth, have terraces that overlook Portland and would no doubt be a pleasant place in which to watch the world go by if half of Oregon wasn’t consumed by wild fires, ash falling from the sky, as was the case when I stayed. The note advising me to “limit the use of your terrace until the smoke has cleared and the air quality has improved” was a nice touch.

Chinatown for history, Forktown for food – Portland, Oregon is full of surprises

The Room At The End Of The Hall is a room at the end of the hall on the sixth floor in which coffee, soft drinks, snacks and news­papers are available at all hours. It’s doubtful the leather sofa and armchairs here are used much, though, given the size and comfort of the guest rooms back along that hall.

What is there to eat? I’m glad you asked, because Portland is known for its food carts (those in charge of Hong Kong’s food trucks should have paid a visit), and just across Alder Street are more than 20 of the best.

Jake’s Grill – which serves a “mean Bloody Mary” with its meat – is in the East Wing of the hotel and was opened in 1994, but feels far older (in a good way), and a large Starbucks stands next to the reception – after all, we’re not far from Seattle, birthplace of the coffee chain.

But you’ll be itching to get over to those carts, which include a branch of respected Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Thai chicken and rice), although any queue will point to a decent alternative.

What lies beyond this house of vigilant robots? Portland is very walkable, half-sized city blocks making it seem positively Lilliputian, and the hotel will help you rent a bike if you don’t feel like hoofing it.

The city is known for its artisanal spirit and a directionless wander is bound to throw up a curiosity or two. Portland does have a home­less problem, though, although refuge from the panhandlers can be found in the tranquil­lity of the Japanese Garden (a 30-minute hike from The Sentinel, in wooded hills to the west of the city) and the Lan Su Chinese Garden (a 30-minute walk in the other direction, towards the Willamette River, and built by artisans from Suzhou, Jiangsu province).

What makes pinot noir the king of grapes?

If you have motorised wheels, Multnomah Falls, Mount Hood and Willamette Valley wine country make for more substantial day trips.

What’s the bottom line? Rooms start at US$159 a night; chicken and rice from across the road at US$9.50.