When it comes to crazy, Portland, Oregon has few equals. It is a place where you can visit a museum of velvet paintings, participate in a World Naked Bike Ride, spot a unicycling bagpipe player, or get legally married at a doughnut shop.
Among the city’s fun spots is Casa Diablo, the ”world’s first vegan gentlemen’s club”, where customers can have a veggie burger while watching the dancers get down to their non-animal-based g-strings. So essentially Portlandy, change there is given only in $2 bills.
Portland proudly claims to have more strip clubs per capita than any municipality in the USA: one for every 11,000 residents. The city outranks Las Vegas, New Orleans, and San Francisco, and even Tampa, a city that also claims to be the country’s strip club champ. Portland has more strip clubs than churches and twice as many as it has public restrooms.
When Oregon adopted its constitution in 1859, it included a very vague, open-to-interpretation statute (Article 1, Section 8) that reads:
”No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatever.”
For its entire history Oregon’s Supreme Court has vigorously defended its free expression in all forms. The city’s first established strip club goes back more than 60 years. In 1954, entrepreneur Roy Keller purchased Mary’s Club, a Portland piano bar, and began featuring exotic dancers. Rebranded in 1965, Mary’s club became Portland’s first official topless bar. Over the next two decades, more ”topless” establishments opened in the city, one of which featured Courtney Love.
In the 1970s, the Star Theatre featured X-rated films plus strippers on stage for live sex shows. After showing the classic film Pumpin’ The Poop Chute, the city sued the club’s owner for violating its obscenity statute. The resulting case took nearly 10 years to resolve, when the state Supreme Court determined that these shows fell under the Oregon’s free expression clause:
”In this state, any person can write, print, read, say, show or sell anything to a consenting adult even though that expression may be generally or universally considered obscene. Appearing nude or exposing one’s genitals in public, can be a form of expression under Article 1, section 8. These protections extend to the kinds of expression that a majority of citizens in many communities would dislike, physical acts, such as nude dancing or other explicit sexual conduct.”
Such protections allowed strip clubs and live nude entertainment to flourish in Portland throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Portland increasingly turned to zoning laws, but even those are slanted in favor of the clubs. Again, the courts held that Oregon cities cannot zone adult businesses differently than other businesses and a club cannot be denied access to a location solely by the nature of its sexual content.
Most cities relegate strip clubs to industrial zones far from city centers and require that they be at least 1,000 feet from churches and schools. Not Portland, where for years, my neighborhood had an adult bookstore with an arcade with private rooms and glory holes across from a junior high school.
The strip club Dancin’ Bare in my Portland neighborhood of Kenton is up for sale, one more victim of the financial strain from the state-mandated COVID-19 shutdowns. The Dancin’ Bare is noted for two things: being leered at by the famous Paul Bunyan statue directly across the street, and its cheeky name, which, if you don’t get the pun, is helpfully diagrammed on the exterior sign.
Willamette Week once wrote of the club:
“Mustachioed members of the young broletariat take the MAX here to swill Colt 45 and Old Crow with a wink. They sit at the bar next to your dirty uncle with the IROC Camaro and get a panoramic view of all three stages…while a young lady with a feathered neo-mullet and Pokémon tattoos bares it all just one cut into Lynyrd Skynyrd’s greatest hits.”
The property is adjacent to a MAX Light Rail transit station. If you want to save a piece of Old Portland from becoming another luxury condo building, the property can be yours for $1million.
One afternoon in 2011, I disembarked the MAX train at my Kenton/Denver Avenue station. I stood at the crosswalk a few feet from Dancin’ Bare. It was there that I encountered a lavishly corpulent, terribly tan, orange-hued, middle-aged woman, sitting in a wheelchair, smoking a cigarette. She was altogether completely naked. I thought to myself:
“Oh my… I would really love to witness her act when she is done with her break!”