Clubbing and bar-hopping among Portlanders tends to take place all over town, with a couple of clusters in the traditional downtown gay nightlife hubs of Stark Street and, a few blocks away, Old Town/Chinatown. But you'll find plenty of GLBT-popular hangouts elsewhere, from mixed venues on the diverse and hip East Side to trendy restaurant-lounges downtown, the Pearl, and in the leafy Northwest/Nob Hill area. Here's a look at some of top Portland venues with the gay and lesbian community. For tips on cruise-y venues around town, check out the Portland Gay Bathhouses guide.
In the cool Belmont Street area Portland's East Side, Aalto Lounge (3356 S.E. Belmont St., 503-235-6041) is one of several gay-friendly but mixed hangouts in this part of town catering to a decidedly artsy, singularly unconventional crowd. The bar takes its name and aesthetic inspiration from Finnish designer Alvar Aalto, its interior feeling very minimalist and relaxed—Sunday nights have an especially strong GLBT following. This is an excellent spot to meet a friend for a glass of wine (there are about 18 available by the glass) or a pint of local IPA before dinner along nearby Hawthorne Boulevard, or perhaps pre-clubbing downtown.
Adjacent to a similarly cavernous warehouse space called Branx, see-and-be-seen Rotture (315 S.E. 3rd Ave., 503-234-5683), pronounced "roh-tur-ay," is one of the city's favorite alternative dance clubs. It's the site of arguably the most famous gay party in Portland, Blow Pony, a cruise-y and fun queer blowout that's held every fourth Saturday at this multilevel space in Portland's Central Industrial East Side (just across the Morrison and Burnside bridges from downtown). Blow Pony has been known to feature celeb DJs, including Hedwig's John Cameron Mitchell, and the crowd is pretty well impossible to pigeonhole—you'll see and meet all kinds here. At other times, Rotture/Branx hosts live bands and presents other DJ events, and the crowd pretty typically runs toward a mix of gays and straights.
A bright, cheerful bar and grill in the similarly bright, cheerful Northwest/Nob Hill/Alphabet district, very gay-friendly Cafe Nell (1987 N.W. Kearney St., 503-295-6487) is a great spot for eating and drinking, day or night. It's notable for weekend brunches (including a renowned house Bloody Mary served with skewers of shrimp, chorizo, cheese, and pickled veggies), bourbon toddy (perfect on a rainy day), minted apricot juleps. And the French-meets-Northwest menu is full of wonderful dishes, too, from classic moules-frites to baked mac-n-cheese with Nueske's thick-cut bacon. In warm weather, grab a seat on the patio.
One of Old Town Portland's long-running stalwarts in the arena of gay nightlife, C.C. Slaughters (219 N.W. Davis St., 503-248-9135)is actually two bars in one—the main nightclub, CC Slaughters is a dark, rambling space with a small but potent dance floor, loud music, and a fun, mixed crowd of revelers—some of the city's best DJs spin tunes here. Adjacent, the glam Rainbow Room Lounge is a mod, elegant space that's perfect for sipping a sophisticated cocktail and carrying on a conversation. CC's has no cover charge except for occasional special events and parties. It's especially popular midweek for dancing, and there's also a popular Sunday T-Dance. The crowd tends toward male, 20s and 30s, and fairly flirty and fun. In the same area are Hobo's and Darcelle XV Showplace, the famed drag lounge.
Among the many Portland nightspots that you could describe as gay-straight catchalls, the attractively furnished and intimate Crush Bar (1400 S.E. Morrison St., 503-235-8150) is one of the most eclectic and fun. It's a wine bar with very tasty food (served late—note the delicious mac-and-cheese), a low-keyed lounge, and a terrific option for bargain-priced happy hours (they run till 7 p.m. most nights, and until midnight on Tuesdays). Closed on Mondays, this happy little corner bar and bistro caters to a truly eclectic bunch, including lesbians and gay guys but also plenty of straights. It's in a hip part of Southeast Portland—close to Hawthorne, Belmont, and Inner Southeast—making it a good bet for cocktails before or after dinner or clubbing in the area.
"That's NO lady...That's Darcelle XV and Company." Some say Darcelle and her merry, naughty cast of voluptuous cohorts have been entertaining Portlanders since the Truman administration. There's sketchy evidence that Darcelle arrived in Portland with Lewis and Clark. In fact, Darcelle XV (208 N.W. 3rd Ave., 503-222-5338), a hammy over-the-top performer with self-effacing wit and a good heart (she's raised huge sums of money for local charities) has been a fixture in Portland's gay scene since 1967. Roughly 10 performers make up the cast at this longtime favorite hangout, where zany, off-color Vegas-style revue shows are presented Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. No tour of the city's lively downtown gay circuit is complete without a visit here.
Part of the reason regulars love Departure Lounge (525 S.W. Morrison St., 503-802-5370) is, without a doubt, the dramatic rooftop location. This lounge and exceptional Pan-Asian restaurant is situated on the 15th floor of the swanky Nines Hotel, and the kitchen is helmed by openly gay chef Gregory Gourdet, and especially on warm evenings, it's a favorite destination for cocktails and snacks. The patios enjoy views of the downtown skyline and surrounding countryside, as far as Mt. Hood on clear days. Inside, Departure has the sleek, retro look of a '60s airport lounge—the whole place is quite sexy, inside and out.
This handsome tavern in the up-and-coming Central East Side caters to a broad slice of Portland's cocktail-loving population. Although Dig a Pony (736 S.E. Grand Ave., 971-279-4409) isn't a gay bar specifically, you'll nearly always see "family" inside this long-ago drugstore, sipping old-school drinks like the Pink Moose with spicy tequila, muddled lime and grapefruit, agave nectar, and bitters. There's a wonderful selection of bar snacks, too—like house-cured bacon with salt-baked peach and bourbon-maple glaze, and a fried chicken sandwich with fresh mozzarella. Note the short but well-chosen list of wines by the glass. The crowd tends toward the young-ish, artsy, and erudite.
A darling among Portland's many hip music clubs, the retro-chic, and gay-popular (though predominantly hetero) Doug Fir Lounge and Restaurant (830 E. Burnside St., 503-231-WOOD) is attached to the similarly hipster-frequented Jupiter Hotel, several blocks east of Burnside Bridge. The dark and sexy basement lounge presents many of the nation's top alternative acts, including quite a few queer favorites (Bob Mould, Bitch & The Exciting Conclusion, Ferron, and plenty of others). Upstairs, the restaurant serves extremely tasty mod-American fare.
Up in North Portland, and conveniently just off of the Lombard Street exit of the I-5 Freeway, the raffish Eagle (835 N. Lombard St., 503-283-9734) is not only the northernmost gay hangout in the city, it's the region's favorite gay bear bar, the official home of the Oregon Bears. It's also a pretty raucous and sexy spot, with porn on the video screens, and cheeky parties like Jock Strap Twister, L.U.R.E. (Leather, Uniforms, Rubber, Etc.), Bearly Naked Billiards, and so on. Whatever your particular style of dress, unless there's a theme party, the Eagle is pretty much "come as you are", and very welcoming of all ages and looks. The Sunday late-afternoon barbecues are great fun.
A cross between a gay supper club and a laid-back neighborhood tavern, Hobo's (120 N.W. 3rd Ave., 503-224-3285) has been a fixture in Old Town/Chinatown since the 1980s, and over this entire period, it's drawn a colorful parade of community members, including plenty of straight allies. On warmer days, you can dine or drink in the peaceful courtyard, and from Wednesday through Sunday, there's piano cabaret in the lounge. Other draws here include a pair of pool tables and a long bar that's often packed for weekday happy hours.
Always an interesting venue for anything from album-release parties to dance parties to happy hours with great food, Holocene (1001 S.E. Morrison St., 503-239-7639) attracts a diverse bunch nightly and glows an especially radiant shade of pink for the monthly Gaycation parties (held on Fridays). These queerilicious, lesbian-centric events led by DJ Chelsea Starr have great dancing, live performances, and an unpredictable—yet consistently inspired—vibe. The space is in the Central Industrial East Side, just across the river from downtown, and near other homo-hipster hangouts like Rotture, Dig a Pony, and Doug Fir Lounge.
The Local Lounge (3536 N.E. MLK Blvd., 503-282-1833) is just what the name implies: a relaxed and friendly hangout that's geared especially toward neighborhood folks but quite welcoming of all, whether gay or straight. It's in the heart of Northeast Portland, close to the hip and inviting restaurant strips along North Williams, the Mississippi Avenue District, and the Alberta Arts District—a perfect location for drinks before dinner or dancing after. There's an extensive menu of sandwiches and bar food, along with an interesting mix of cocktails, and beers on draft.
Part of an impressive group of restaurants with lively bar scenes run by gay restaurateur Bruce Carey, hip Saucebox (214 S.W. Broadway, 503-241-3393) is noted for its popular happy hours, delicious Pan-Asian cooking (hamachi and avocado with ponzu, tapioca dumplings with chicken, braised pork cheeks with fried yucca root), and ornately colorful cocktails—the Patron gimlet, SBX Volcano (with 151 rum and other rums, orgeat, citrus, hibiscus, and several other fruits as well as spices). The slick, contemporary space pulls in a young, see-and-be-seen crowd. Of Carey's other restaurants, Bluehour is another big favorite with gay A-listers.
With a refreshingly cheesy name that hints at its age (it opened in a different space along Stark Street in 1979), Scandals (1125 S.W. Stark St., 503-227-5887) moved into a prettier space and morphed from semi-tragically sullen locals' joint to genuinely festive and friendly video cruise bar. It's a relatively intimate spot with a friendly staff, and the crowds here range from sparse early in the week to packed to the rafters on weekends. It's a still a notch below trendy, which means that although you will find plenty of cute guys in here of all ages, you rarely will encounter attitude. A good bet after work or for the last call. Expect plenty of back-and-forth among Scandals and its neighbor, the Roxy Diner.
The lovably racy and slightly scandalous Silverado (318 S.W. 3rd Ave., 503-224-4493) has been a stalwart of Portland gay nightlife for many years, and it's become even more popular since it moved in 2008 to a much larger and more impressive downtown space a 10-minute walk from its former Stark Street location (which still has a couple of popular gay bars). The bar has two sections: you enter into the main club, where a few hunky (and generally quite hung) strippers dance (they're permitted to strip down completely naked in Portland) on stage and in a small cage to one side. It's usually pretty packed in here on weekends, and even on weekdays, this is one of the better-attended gay hangouts in the city, drawing not only guys who love to watch guys dance, but also plenty of others (women and tolerant heteros are perfectly welcome). The main room leads to a small but charming patio area that's a bit quieter and is also a popular place to mingle. From here, you can access a smaller, more laid-back bar which has a pool table, a long bar with stools, and several tables and chairs.
A chichi, gay-owned cocktail lounge in the trendy Pearl District, Vault Martini (226 N.W. 12th Ave., 503-224-4909) is a handsome space with comfy sofa seating, a dark bar, ample sidewalk seating in warm weather, and a memorable drinks menu that features dozens of martini variations as well as plenty of other cocktails. There's also light bar food (spiced goat cheese with sun-dried fruits, charcuterie and cheese plates, flatbread pizzas, s'more fondue), served late. It's a short walk from downtown's Stark Street gay bars and Old Town/Chinatown's gay scene.