The following is a tale of two girls’ adventure in Portland, Ore. This story starts with my very young self when I lived in Seattle, initially establishing a love for the Pacific Northwest. For my girlfriend’s birthday, we decided to visit a new city to the both of us for a week, the City Of Roses: Portland.
On our first night there, we set out in search of Mexican food at a popular spot in the eclectic Hawthorne district, ¿Por Qué No?, to find ourselves overwhelmed at the very minimal room to even stand, and instead headed across the street to another restaurant and tequila bar called Dingo’s.
Apparently this was a matter of fate, as we were not the only lesbian couple there. Our bartender had fantastic style: fitted shirt, fitted pants, relaxed and unbuttoned cardigan, Macbeth kicks, complete with a shaven head that she sported very confidently and very well. One non-Utah margarita, a heavenly signature concoction with grapefruit juice, was enough for us to strike up a conversation with the bartender about other girl bars around. Our conversation went something like this:
“Hey, could you give us the scoop on the girl bars in town? We’re not from here.”
“I haven’t seen you two around.”
I thought, “Great, we’re on their radar already and we’ve only been in this city for a few hours.” I couldn’t decide whether that was a good thing or not. But she was helpful at listing which bars to visit on each day we were in town.
Interestingly, I hear from out-of-towners about Salt Lake City’s more close-knit queer community than most cities, but an exchange like that leads me to reconsider, with more similarities than differences in comparison to other cities.
The first few days we spent downtown, in the Hawthorne district and on 23rd Avenue, observing. There was absolutely more diversity in every way one could imagine, among both the queers and the non-queers. People seemed more open and comfortable about walking down the street holding hands with their partners than most are here in Salt Lake City. But then again, the overall vibe of Portland seemed much less quick to judge than in Utah. The queers “blended in” more in Portland than here in Utah.
That was something I’d been considering plenty since our trip. While more shades of gray with the different characters occurred in Portland, there’s something to be said about the lack thereof in Utah. My theory is that because of the staunch opposition we face with mainstream culture in Utah, there are many, many more of us here who are not merely a shade of gray, but who stand out from the crowd, and intentionally. Maybe not so much while walking down the street, but in our places of work and school and in our social groups, and I think there are more members of our queer community who act as activists in their daily lives by being out, and open, armed with well thought-out opinions on equality instead of taking a backseat, wallflower position and hesitating to speak up when the situation calls for it. Yet another reason to love my city.
The Egyptian was the girl bar to not overlook, as everyone recommended prior to the trip. Upon arrival, we discovered that it had unfortunately closed its doors for good. When the weekend came we enlisted the help of our three fabulous local guides of the night, Bryan Swasey, Joel Schatzman, both originally from Utah, and Aldo Perez, who works at Crush, a chic wine bar and another gay hangout in Portland.
We ran the night that Friday, our first stop at The Saucebox in downtown Portland, a swanky bar with a restaurant attached.
It was ultra-contemporary. Very clean lines in the design, my kind of design bliss. Near the front entrance was a female disc jockey, lesbionic, it turned out. She was scheduled to DJ the next night at Blow Pony, one of the best queer dance nights in Portland. One of the more interesting and daring design features of The Saucebox was giant block Helvetica type across the 50-foot wall that stated, “HEAVYSUGAR,” no space, no punctuation, clean, white, bold letters on an earthy brown wall.
The cocktail menu was lavish, the food menu was a very local/organic focused, adventurous, artisan creation, but the vibe was not something I’m often fond of. With one step into the place, there was a noticeable air of slightly pretentious energy- it wouldn’t have surprised me if somebody had mentioned that my socks totally clash with my outfit, or something similarly frivolous.
From The Saucebox we abounded toward one of Portland’s oldest gay bars, C.C. Slaughters, and its attached Rainbow Room Lounge in Chinatown, northeast downtown Portland. From what experts were suggesting, C.C.’s was the queer club to visit in Portland. The Rainbow Room was the side of C.C.’s to have a seat, enjoy a signature martini and engage in good conversation in a posh environment: casual vibe, smiling staff, and beautiful décor.
The alternate side was C.C.’s club, supposedly the climax for our nightlife adventure in Portland. Put frankly, I was more impressed with the Rainbow Room. C.C.’s was fine, but not much more than that. It was like Club Sound had transplanted to Portland, but without familiar faces and with less enjoyable music – techno remixes of Top 40 songs, not the most fun to dance to. However, I did appreciate their coat check, which needs to happen at more bars and clubs in Utah.
It was much smaller than Club Sound; if I had to guess, it was about a third or a fourth the size. Even at that size, while the dance floor itself was packed, it seemed like a less than stunning turn out, as the surrounding areas of the club were relatively spacious, even on a weekend night at midnight.
Nevertheless, the crowd seemed to be having a good time and we definitely enjoyed ourselves, but shortly after, we called it a night.
We did our best to “keep Portland weird,” and I came close to collapsing into a fish and chips coma during our stay. In the end, I decided that while there was no lack of things to enjoy in Portland that Salt Lake City doesn’t offer, the trip also served as a good reminder that there is also a lot to be proud of in our growing City of Salty Lakes. So keep it up Salt Lakers, you’ve made one columnist more than proud of her city this month!