LGBTQ Travel Guide: Portland, Oregon

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There is very little about Portland, Oregon that isn't LGBTQ-friendly, it is one of the country's most progressive cities after all. Gender and sexual orientation are what you make it, all body types are—refreshingly—embraced and welcomed, and if you're ever going to get a tattoo, this is the place to do it.

The unofficial city slogan, "Keep Portland Weird," remains fully in effect, and a creative, activism-driven hipster culture (as depicted on the delightful series "Portlandia," whose co-creator and co-star, Carrie Brownstein, is openly queer) shapes the city's personality. The Alberta neighborhood, in particular, is plastered with flyers for alt-queer events, from dance parties to (bearded) drag queen engagements, while downtown's Pearl District is a de facto "gayborhood." 

LGBTQ Events in Portland

Pride Northwest presents the annual Portland Pride Waterfront Festival and Parade each June. Celebrating 24 years in 2020, The Portland Queer Film Festival takes place in September, while the QDoc Film Festival—the country's only film festival dedicated to LGBTQ documentaries—happens in spring. Co-founded by longtime Portland resident and filmmaker David Weissman in 2007, QDoc is next scheduled for April 30-May 3, 2020.

Founded in 2017, The Portland Queer Comedy Festival is the country's first multi-day event of its kind. The 2019 headliners included "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Superstore" actor Nico Santos, Scott Thompson (who reprised his beloved lounge lizard character Buddy Cole), and Portland's own Belinda Carroll (the event's co-founder).

The official tourism office, Travel Portland, maintains plenty of information for LGBTQ visitors and locals alike, from events to nightlife.

Tender Loving Empire
Lawrence Ferber 

The Best Things to Do

On Saturday and Sundays, Portland Drag Queen Brunch promises "a brunch you'll never forget" with a diverse cast of oh-so-Portland performers including Nae Nae Dominatrix (a two-time "American Idol" contestant).

Get to know the city via a bicycle tour with Pedal Bike Tours. Since Portland is a microbrewery nirvana, consider their 3-hour, 5-mile Brewery Trail jaunt. If you're more of a craft spirits person, take a walking tour of the female-owned and run Freeland Spirits, which produces an outstanding gin. Opened in 2018 in a former bike shop, their facility includes a full-service bar serving outstanding cocktails and food.

Portland record label Tender Loving Empire and Made in PDX dedicate their sizable storefronts to an eclectic range of Portland- (and Oregon-) made goods, including clothes, home items, grooming and bath products, and food (some spiked with CBD extracts).

For shopping, pay a visit to Magpie, a gay-owned curated thrift shop that's one of Portland's best. Under U4 Men is a 5,000-square-foot emporium selling sexy men’s undies and swimwear, with a barbershop to boot. Meanwhile, you will find modern feminist and nonbinary clothing at Wildfang, a favorite of Evan Rachel Wood.

The sprawling, almost 50-year-old Powell’s City of Books is host to many LGBTQ author guest signings and readings, plus sporadic Drag Queen Story Hours for kids. Take in the shops along North Mississippi Avenue, including Bridge City Comics, located next door to The Meadow, a unique chocolate, salt, and bitters shop. Downtown's Floating World Comics, meanwhile, stocks hard-to-find, self-printed work by LGBTQ creators.

The Best LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

Stag PDX has been a go-to male strip club for 50 years. It also brings in drag queen hosts and, on Sundays, there's a daytime drag queen brunch. Catch even more male dancers, plus dancing and drag, at Silverado, which is split into a nightclub and lounge. CC Slaughters's Rainbow Room Martini Lounge offers a more relaxed environment to sip craft cocktails. For some record-setting fun head to Darcelle XV Showplace. Still performing at 87 years old and holding the Guinness World Record for "oldest drag queen," Darcelle XV and her cast of old school queens turn it out on Wednesday through Saturday nights.

Downtown's "Vaseline Alley" strip, once lined with gay bars, clubs, and bathhouses, is anchored only by a single establishment today, Scandals, which celebrates its 41st anniversary in 2020. Regarded as Portland's gay Cheers, Scandals displays works by queer artists, and also offers Sunday afternoon jazz, karaoke, drag, and a Sunday afternoon bloody mary bar.

Food, drinks, and a monthly French sing-a-long distinguish Pearl District neighborhood favorite Santé Bar, while Old Town's, Hobo's Restaurant & Lounge, belies its name with a brick wall sports bar interior, pool tournaments, and live piano.

Officially designated as "all-inclusive," southeast Portland's Crush Bar mixes things up with burlesque and cabaret, queer polyamorous dating socials, a drag open mic, jockstrap dance parties, and pub fare. To the Northeast, Local Lounge is described as a "community bar" hosting monthly jazz, bear, and reggae nights. Speaking of bears—and leathermen, daddies, cubs, and friends—they migrate north of Alberta to North Portland's Eagle Portland, where every Monday is underwear night.

Farm Spirit
Courtesy of Farm Spirit 

The Best Places to Eat

You'll find many openly LGBTQ chefs and restaurateurs in Portland, along with a destination-worthy food scene. James Beard Award semifinalist and "Top Chef" contestant Gregory Gourdet heads up The Nines hotel's superb pan-Asian venue, Departure. Sarah Schafer's Pearl District fave, Irving Street Kitchen, serves up spectacular New American fare that perfectly fuses hearty staples and bright flavors. The namesake gravlax is a must!

Chef Elizabeth Golay and wife Sheila Bommakanti (a former civil rights attorney) opened a brick and mortar location of their successful South Indian food cart, Tiffin Asha, in 2017. Serving delicious, inventive dosas and small plates, most dishes are available in gluten-free and vegetarian iterations. Vegan, organic, and raw food rules at Theresa Keane and Willow O’Brien's Pixie Retreat (which has three locations), while chef Cyrus Ichiza gives pan-Asian dishes a completely vegan makeover at 3-year-old teahouse and restaurant Ichiza Kitchen, which he runs with boyfriend Ryan Wythe.

One of Portland's most coveted fine dining spots, Farm Spirit, is also vegan. Everything served in the eight-course Cascadia tasting menu is sourced within 100 miles, and changes monthly (or more often, if an ingredient is unavailable), while the alcohol-free bespoke beverage pairing—part of Portland's zero-proof trend—is well worth the splurge.

For an omnivorous experience try James Beard Award-nominated chef Justin Woodward's Castagna which offers two tasting menu options. Its adjacent natural wines bar, OK Omens, serves up delicious comfort food with international flair.

Proud Mary Avo Toast
Lawrence Ferber 

Portland has an incredible craft coffee scene—Stumptown was born here, after all—and as such Melbourne-based Proud Mary chose Portland for its first location outside Australia. Proud Mary's java is more-than-one-cup worthy, and the food menu is just as good. Avoid the insane weekend brunch crowds and wait times by going before 9 a.m. on weekdays.

Southeast Asian fare is also represented at Pok Pok—a chain of Thai restaurants run by James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Andy Ricker. Gado Gado, opened in June 2019 following a successful two-year run as a pop-up, adds aromatic, sometimes spicy, Indonesian-Chinese fare to the mix.

Openly gay, Seattle-born baker Tim Healea has been satisfying gluten and pastry cravings since 2008 at his Little T bakeshops, with a line-up of incredible bread, croissants, brownies, cupcakes, tarts, and more. Small batch, high-end doughnuts are also in fashion in Portland: seasonal flavors rule at Blue Star Donuts, which also offers a CBD-enhanced variety or two, while Nola Donuts has perfected beignets and offers a cronut-inspired "La'ssant."

Of course, no Portland visit would be complete without a food pod experience, and Hawthorne Asylum features around 25 carts including St. Louis-style barbecue at Bark City BBQ.

The Duniway
The Duniway 

Where to Stay

A hipster institution with an excellent Pearl District location, the ACE Hotel is just a block from gay bar Scandals, Tender Loving Empire, and Powell's Books. Opened in 2017, the 321-room, pet-friendly Duniway hotel features an outstanding lobby-level restaurant, Jackrabbit, from "Top Chef Masters" winner Chris Consentino, an indoor pool, and 11th-floor bar and terrace that's open in summer months.

Across from Pioneer Courthouse Square, the 319-room The Nines occupies a historic, 110-year-old building and is home to a more-than-400-item art collection curated by former Andy Warhol associate Paige Powell, modern steakhouse Urban Farmer, and chef Gregory Gourdet's Departure.

Also downtown, the 120-room Hi-Lo opened in 2017 and shares its historic Oregon Pioneer Building with the 140-year-old Huber's restaurant. The lobby's small gift shop includes exclusive collaborations with local designers, breweries, and artisans, from clever Portland-centric T-shirts to room scents to microbrews, the latter of which can also be enjoyed in Hi-Lo's CRAFTpdx restaurant and lounge. Hi-Lo offers a special Pride package, while 297-room The Porter, which boasts an indoor pool and whirlpool, programs some LGBTQ events, often with venerated local drag personality Poison Waters.