The State of the Lesbian Bar: Portland Sees Popups Replace the E Room

In Autostraddle’s The State of the Lesbian Bar, we’re taking a look at lesbian bars around the country as the possibility of extinction looms ever closer.


Nobody I knew, from the Bay area or not, loved the Lexington over any other bar. But when we heard it was closing last month a collective sigh weaved its way through the queer internet and the feeling of sadness permeated the west coast. Conflicted as we may be, we really feel the loss of our lesbian bars as they continue to be picked off one by one due to gentrification, domestication, assimilation etc.

It happened here in stages, a half-hearted semi-loss that happens while you aren’t really looking until it becomes just one more thing that has changed Portland to the point of unrecognizability.

The Egyptian Club, affectionately known as the E Room, opened in 1995 at the corner of 37th and Division. There were no monthly dance parties bursting at the seams and taking up prime real estate at a major club on a Saturday night like there are today. Owner Kim Davis recalled this time when “people threw eggs at the building and assaulted the women bouncers outside the door.” I wasn’t old enough to go to bars yet, but I was here and going to a gay dance club for the all ages set called The City, which was fraught with its own perils.

In between 1995 and when I returned to Portland in 2004 it’s difficult to discern if there were any other lesbian bars open at the time. Lesbians in their 30s and 40s talk about a bar called Choices, but it was either closed or on the wane in popularity by the time I moved back. There were still several gay bars, that all-ages nightclub was still around, though with a different name in a different location, and there was a coffeeshop that unofficially catered to the gay lady. But the E Room was the only PDX lesbian bar I ever knew, and that holds true for most current local dykes.

Fast forward to 2010 when I’d been back in Portland for six years writing about the local queer community in some capacity, mostly with a blog I started at OregonLive.com and then took independent in 2009 called qPDX. The queer scene in Portland was mixed and scattered and always drama-filled but it was busy, it was full of action, and there was never a lack of events. For over five years I wrote extensive weekend picks posts every Thursday. It was, and is, a major destination for queer women. It’s evident in our Queer Girl City Guide from a couple years ago, where the Egyptian gets only a quick shout out before moving on to a long list of queer-friendly bars.

I wasn’t a regular at the E Room, but I knew plenty of folks who were, and I would certainly drag myself down to the southeast part of town when there was an important event. Like our earlier post about the Lexington mentioned, folks weren’t the friendliest.

Maybe it was because I had a rocky relationship with some of the bartenders’ BFFs/exes, but I don’t think I was the only one that felt uneasy there, even as someone for whom the space was supposed to be safe and comfortable. The 3 room bar was huge, cavernous and dark, with no windows and no natural light. When smoking was banned in bars in 2008 they had a huge cleanup to wipe the nicotine stains from the walls, but it was still dirty. The surly bouncer scowled not just at men or straight people when they entered, but all of us ladies trying to make the space our own. The bartenders weren’t much nicer. The patrons, too, were cliquey. You were either an E Room regular or you were some other queer from some other part of town infiltrating the SE Portland dive. I was part of the queer exodus to North Portland so I was part of this excluded group. A review by Long time PDX lessie on one of my favorite local bar listings, BarFly, puts it bluntly, if not eloquently, with this sentiment I often heard echoed:

The only reason this place has remained open is because IT IS the only lesbian bar in town. If someone were to open a club that wasn’t as dirty, smoky, nasty, and trampy, ER would go down in flames. Ask anyone and they say, “I don’t really like the ER, but it’s the only place to go.” Check out the place on nights of monthly parties. It’s dead. Yes, the staff is friendly…well most the staff-the old timers, the young baby-dykes…they think their $h!t don’t stink.

I, along with a slew of others, hope and pray that a newer, better, cleaner, nice smelling club comes along…..

So I, and many of my peers, had mixed emotions when they began their descent into oblivion.

It began with a betrayal.

E Room owner Kim Davis. Photo by Jamie Francis / The Oregonian

E Room owner Kim Davis. Photo by Jamie Francis / The Oregonian

In the Fall of 2009 rumors began that the E Room would close. For months every event there was the “final” or “last” one. People pleaded with them to accept help in the form of a “Save the E Room” fundraiser. So when the news finally became official and it turned out that they were simply rebranding as The Weird Bar it came as an even bigger blow. The premise that this new venue was for anyone that considered themselves a little “weird” but was “normal-friendly” felt uncomfortable at best and, in a way, a “weird” take on the notion of reclaiming the word queer. They at once insulted their own community while simultaneously alienating them in the name of “inclusivity.” Further explanation of the process did little to help the situation. In a press release Davis explained:

When we first announced the closing we weren’t sure what direction we were headed, we just knew we could not keep doing what we are doing. We were meeting with a developer, and were also involved in conversations with private parties and a business broker. We were weighing all of our options. If our economy was in better shape we wouldn’t have had to make these tough decisions. It seems that so many of our customers are laid off, or have very little work, and this has been very evident over the last couple of years. Please know that we did not come to this decision lightly.

After much deliberation, we came up with a concept which is not completely complete yet. But, we made the decision to go with an all-inclusive venue (not to be confused with a straight venue). But…what to call it? This bar has such a weird layout. It’s such a weird bar. Hey! That’s the name! Weird Bar! We could have some weird drinks, weird promotions…all sorts of weird stuff and nothing would ever have to make sense again! We believe that all people are “weird” in one way or another…our uniqueness is what makes us special…makes us human. So, we would like to invite you to the grand opening of “Weird Bar”, on October 16. Weird Bar will be an all-inclusive space where anyone can be themselves, whatever form of “queerness” that may entail.

Celebrating differences. Enjoying common ground.

Aside from feeling somewhat disingenuous, it was also one of the most poorly written pieces of PR I had ever read, and went to the heart of their inability to successfully strategize as a business or grow with the community. Local fellow queer business owner and activist Stacy Bias responded with this heartfelt message:

I feel “weird” about the only lesbian bar closing and opening up again with the same ownership as straight bar. I get that it’s a niche market that you felt couldn’t sustain you, but there were other options that would have allowed you to be as loyal to your clientele as they have been to you over the years. Regardless, if you knew that you were opening up a new bar in the same space — a new bar that your loyal clientele would feel less at home in, that should have been transparent from the start. It’s like taking an ice cream cone away from your daughter and giving it to your son — when he’s already holding an ice cream cone in his other hand. Straight folks have every other bar in Portland. When the e-room closes, dykes have no focused space left at all.

…they’re throwing the dykes under the bus by not openly declaring their loyalty any longer to the queer community and catering to the so-called “normal” crowd (with, ironically, a bar called “weird.”) Having a conversation with the community about it, saying they’re struggling and need to open it up, being open about the process and giving folks a chance to have their feelings about it would have been a much better choice. It’s a business, yes, but by virtue of being a community gathering place for as long as it has, it isn’t just a business because of the emotional impact it has on the people who have had a safe place to go for so long and might not have it any longer…

We all hated the E Room but, as bad as it was, we were sad to see it go because it was all we had. Once it began operating as the Weird Bar there was really nothing left for us there. All the things we hated — uninviting space, watery drinks — were still there, while the only reason to go, that is was a dedicated dyke bar, was gone. In less than a year, the Weird Bar was closed for good.

The E Room reopened as The Weird Bar. Photo by Jamie Francis / The Oregonian

The E Room reopened as The Weird Bar. Photo by Jamie Francis / The Oregonian

Now, arguably, it is not all we have. On any given day my tired post-30 year old self can turn down numerous invites to this queer party, that gay rock show, a lesbian sing-a-long or a transmasculine artist’s opening show. But there is no lesbian bar. Sure, there’s the Florida Room, North Portland’s de facto dyke hangout that we all pretend to make fun of but run into each other at every week nonetheless. It’s welcoming enough to a diverse queer and genderqueer crowd, along with the rest of hipster PDX. But it is not queer owned and it is not named as a queer space on any level.

Is that important? Perhaps not. When I ask that question of the youngest queers often the immediate response I get is no. They feel accepted in this town and are happy to frequent any bar with a good happy hour menu because they are likely not to be the only queers there.

“Not having a named space helps keep things fresh,” says one such young queer woman, Sarah Hardy. “My dad and [his trans friend] were in town recently and went to Embers [a longstanding gay bar complete with rainbow facade] and it was terrible.” They were unimpressed with the creepy and distinctly non-trans-friendly 80s/90s vibe.

This is an atmosphere and aesthetic that the E Room ascribed to. If they had been better designers, hired younger consultants, could it have become a place where the next generation wanted to hang out? If, instead of rebranding as being more inclusive to a “straight community,” could they have rebranded to reach a wider queer audience, thereby becoming a part of the rapidly changing Southeast Division corridor instead of falling victim to it?

Gentrification aside, this is another reason younger queers seem unenthusiastic about protecting lesbian bars. A transmasculine community member points out that naming a space is necessarily exclusionary and that, for a community invested in intersectionality and multi-faceted identities, this seems counterproductive.

And yet, others do feel like marginalized communities deserve named spaces, even as that definition does and must expand. These queers, often in their late 20s and 30s, do readily admit to a sadness at the death of the lesbian bar… at least without a more open queer bar replacement. And there is an argument to be made that marginalized communities still need named spaces. As much as lesbian bars should, and have, opened their doors to trans clientele and those throughout the gender spectrum, sexism and cissexism are still very much a part of the LGBT community as a whole. Can making a named space for the feminine and/or for women be a stance against such sexism? Local party promoter, DJ and commentator Katey Pants points out that, “…authenticity and desirability is placed in what is masculine in all communities. Thus, things that are not masculine of center and/or fag spaces are seen as stupid, joke worthy, uncouth, silly, jokes, pathetic, etc.” She goes on to say that few people ID as dykes/lesbians anymore, and though she has mixed feelings about those words herself, she is clearly concerned about femme silencing.

Any replacement for a dying breed of bar would look very different. If you’re not willing to grow with the community, accept and cater to trans people, people of color and have a staff that reflects the patrons, you are doomed to die off. But though so many have talked about their visions for a new queer bartopia no one has yet been able to make it a reality. Is this due to lack of business savvy, lack of capital or just plain old Portland apathy? It’s hard to say. One friend even suggested that the owners of the Lexington open up shop here seeing as the real estate is so much cheaper and isn’t every other Californian buying up Oregon real estate anyway? It might as well be us (if we define us as LGBT and not as Oregonians that is).

What about those California, east coast, southern, midwestern and other transplants anyway? As a Portland native, it’s easy for me to feel plugged in to all the queer events taking place. But since the demise of local queer publications (almost in tandem with our bars) it can be hard to keep track of these rotating spaces if you’re less familiar with the party promoters, DJs, event planners etc. And if you’re from out of town, forget about it; no queer parties appear in that Lonely Planet, hip and up-to-date as it may be for a travel guide.

Interestingly, this conversation took place at an event called “Temporary Lesbian Bar” which is the closest thing I’ve seen to a successful recent named queer women’s space in PDX. Started by musician Katy Davidson, TLB is a fairly intimate affair with board games, pizza and conversation as well as a tiny dance floor. “Though the event is clearly not limited to lesbians alone, it feels powerful to set aside a space to encourage women to commune. I purposely keep the volume of the music at a level in which it is loud enough to dance, but also quiet enough to converse,” she says before going on to talk about using to term “lesbian” both ironically and as a tip of the hat to our elders. For even more real irony, actually quite sad, she expounds on women’s spaces saying, “I’m inspired by the longevity of the Lexington Club in San Francisco, for example. Purely from a personal standpoint… Let’s face it, we live in a world now where lines are becoming more and more blurred. In spite of this, women are still oppressed in our country, even in the most seemingly innocuous of ways. Women should have a space! It doesn’t have to be exclusive, but I believe women should be encouraged to interact together in meaningful ways.”

The makeshift DJ booth at Temporary Lesbian Bar

The makeshift DJ booth at Temporary Lesbian Bar

TLB has fulfilled this need in a very successful way that feels more like a neighborhood bar than other events, and I understand the sentiment that perhaps an everyday establishment is unsustainable even if I, personally, wish I had a place to go whenever I want rather than having to wait for a very specific 4 hour window once a month on Saturday evening. Certainly, it seems, anecdotally, that queers in Portland spend enough money on food and drink that we could hold together a bar/cafe/restaurant if we really rallied behind it. But maybe it owes more to an increasing cultural inability to concentrate, a kind of collective attention deficit, that the lesbian bar can only survive in popup form. Even lesbians in their 40s such as Caryn Brooks seem to think the move is a good one. “I think it’s actually more vibrant now than it was when there was a lesbian bar,” she notes. “It’s nimble, able to respond to geography and demographics. There’s no going back.”

But nimble also implies a level of instability, inconstancy to me, a comfort that I might miss, even as I sit here with 20 Chrome tabs open and the television on. And then there’s the anxiety that comes from not being able to keep up, unsure if you saw the right Facebook invite and needing to go to every event just so you won’t have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) if you can’t get out at the exact time everyone else is.

Even if you are in the know and ready to party, you might not want to wait until 10pm on a Saturday to feel like you are among your people. Taylor Hatmaker, former Autostraddle Tech Editor, doesn’t like that everything has shifted to a “get fucked up one night a week at this special party” model and would welcome a place where you can get a drink or a cup of tea at any time. A bar may revolve around alcohol to some extent, but not every dive is necessarily a major event (which most besides TLB seem to bill themselves as) where there is added social pressure and a concentrated air of consumption that is distinctly not your local queer Cheers. Also, that place where everybody knows your name is more likely to be queer owned than a normally straight club whose goal is to be make money off of drunk queers jumping toward frenzied bartenders in search of their third double over giving back to the community by hosting a youth resource center fundraising drag show. As terrible as the decor may have been, these were things the E Room did.

Here’s where I’m going to let myself get a little nostalgic, at least the kind of nostalgia that comes from things you weren’t there for, like how I always complain that I’m sad I missed the 70s because they sounded, like, so rad (according to my aunt, my mother and the Lesbian Herstory Archives). Because we, as individuals, may not have a particular connection to a particular lesbian bar that has gone under doesn’t mean that the death of the lesbian bar, in general, isn’t a tragedy. Clearly, I had my own issues with the E Room. I thought it was dirty; I thought the bartenders were mean; I was appalled by the website and the corresponding paint job. Straddlers have had similar thoughts about the Lex. But there is a whole history of the lesbian bar that we have already missed and, in writing this article, I have discovered some of that, and with it a whole new sadness.

The LGBT history of Portland, Oregon is rich and surprisingly old for such a “young” city. A 1999 documentation of a Gay Portland Walking Tour introduces us to the vast number of bars that catered to the gay and lesbian population throughout the 20th Century. Clearly bars have helped build community. Highlights include The Milwaukee Tavern (1535 W Burnside though address since renumbered) which was “fingered” in the 1964 vice reports of Chief of Police McNamara as being a lesbian hangout:

The reports noted that it was frequented almost entirely by women who “dress like men, act like men, and are believed to be from areas outside Portland.” Owner Edna Jordal was a widow at the time of the Portland City Council hearings in December 1964. She had worked previously at the Transfusion Inn, a notorious lesbian dive located on Southwest Front almost at water level. The only employees at the Milwaukee Tavern were women. One, the manager, was identified in the records as “Miss Lewis” who had “served eight years in the service with an honorable discharge,” and the other a young woman of 22 who moonlighted in the evenings following her day job at Meier & Frank.

Then there was the The Buick Café (1239 SW Washington) a little place to grab some nosh downtown that late 40s/early 50s Police Department’s Women’s Protective Division claimed by frequented by lesbians who took up space at the Music Hall, a nightclub on 10th and Stark. A precinct report stated that this group tried to pick up ladies at the club and, upon failure, moved to the cafe (not a bad tactic if you ask me) adding, “these women were recently ousted from San Francisco for their actions and are, apparently, confirmed lesbians.” So even then the California exodus to Oregon was a thing.

Dinty Moore's, a lesbian bar in the 1970s, c. 1967

Dinty Moore’s, a lesbian bar in the 1970s, c. 1967

In an amazing web/mobile app local history project called the PDX Social History Guide I discovered a treatise on lesbian spaces by Portland State University Professor Ann Mussey. Aside from her stories about collective living experiments, which hopefully I’ll get to in another article some day because I once thought I’d do a PhD on the subject, she also discusses early lesbian bars such as Magic Gardens and Dinty Moore’s.

They were important to her because there weren’t other public places where women could dance, hold hands, flirt, but even then she says it wasn’t the only thing happening. There were their own quasi-public collectives and get-togethers. Women have always wanted more than bars. But we still want bars. And the way Murray describes the Dinty Moore dive, with it’s wood paneled walls and piles of liquor bottles reflected in the giant mirror, is a place I wish I could have seen. And though she readily admits that some might have, rightly, called her a “class tourist,” her community was also necessarily invested in creating mixed class spaces.

Then there was Magic Gardens, which was owned by a woman and tended by gay twins. Even then, these spaces didn’t last. Magic Gardens turned into a strip club, and though it was not, as it was to Mussey’s naïve young mind, a strip club specifically for women, it has maintained itself as one of the most female-friendly, worker-managed strip clubs in our erotic dance fueled city. Now even this form of the business is going under, as it is set to close at the end of this year.

Mussey also talks of the Rising Moon, which was owned by lesbians, and which had issues with racial tension and a leafleting campaign by lesbians of color who believed they had been unfairly targeted in carding. She speaks of the Tasha’s, The Ramp, 316 and others which were all short-lived and imperfect. So there has never been just the right place for all queer women to sing Kum-Ba-Yah together, but we have continued to desire a place to be, have worked toward a space to be together even in our differences. So what happens when these places, as problematic as they may have been, disappear altogether?

In some ways, nothing. We continue to have places to gather in both physical and virtual spaces and, goddess knows, we never have a lack of things to say. Conversations around queer women’s topics, which are vast and contain multitudes, happen everywhere all the time. But one of these should, perhaps, be a mourning of our loss of lesbian space, the lesbian bar, and what that means. Certainly we should be documenting it, and projects like the the Unknown Play Project are doing just that. Even as we struggle to move forward with new understandings of queer women and how we want to congregate and collect there is a powerful history that can feel missing. This juxtaposition of past and future has been felt in a lot of ways recently; I am thinking here of our recent roundtable on the passing of Leslie Feinberg, whose stories sited the bar as a place of beginning, understanding, butch/lesbian/trans/genderqueer life. We can grieve for what it stood for while simultaneously moving on.

As long as we keep making our own spaces.


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Profile gravatar of Alley Hector

Alley Hector is a writer and Web Developer based in Portland, Oregon where she has lived since the dawn of queer time. Past projects have included editing Just Out magazine and founding and editing local queer news and events blog qPDX.com. When she's not pursuing nerdy hobbies you can find her enjoying a microbrew at a vintage arcade or running around town on her little 80s Bridgestone road bike. Get in touch with Alley on Twitter or Instagram.

Alley has written 20 articles for us.

27 Comments

  1. 0

    That was a really well-written article.

    I think the problem is that people like the idea of woman-defined spaces these days, but they don’t always support them (as we’ve seen with In Other Words bookstore recently). I think that despite the facts staring us right in the faces, there’s a false sense that equality has been achieved in both gender identity and sexual orientation. I mean, the fact the that term “lesbian” is used ironically by some queers as kind of a joke points to a certain bias in itself.

    That being said, I never felt comfortable at lesbian bars even though I’m 40 and I’m old enough to have some overlap with the “old school” lesbian generation. I never felt like I was a part of that culture. I never felt comfortable with the gender rifts that I observed between (what were then referred to as) “lesbians and gays.” I also never liked the militant strict exclusion of gay men in some lesbian bars. Why can’t I hang out with my gay male friend in a safe space? I have to believe there were others like me who felt the same way.

    So I can’t say I’m missing “lesbian bars” per se, but I do think it’s important to have a safe space for socializing. Speaking as a queer party producer, I do get tired of having to explain what a “queer safe space is” to bars not owned or run by queer people. I’d also like to see the money go to queer business owners. Additionally, lesbian or gay bars have always been more than just bars, but have often served as our community centers. The disappearance of those spaces where queer women/lesbians feel welcome is definitely a loss to that segment of the LGBTQ community. However, I think greater cohesion with the LGBTQ community can only be a benefit to all of us. Therefore in the spirit of moving forward, I prefer the idea of a woman-owned queer bar. The clientele gets to decide whether that bar sways in one gender direction or another on any given night. I think it’s needed and I’d like to see more of it.

    PS. I hated the E-Room. It’s the only place I’ve DJed where I ever got heckled off the stage.

  2. 0

    Oh man, so this older lesbian community member who, for a long time ran our local LGBT newspaper shared my article and, though I wish I could get all her folks to comment here I fear they won’t. So they are talking about all these past lesbian bars and there isn’t really much find-able about them on the internet so I just wanted to echo them here. I’m learning about:

    Other Side of Midnight
    Aaron’s Place ?
    The primary Domain
    Ruby fruit cafe (At first I read this as Ruby Fruit Cake and I thought it was so great. Alas still not bad AND we did use to have a mostly women’s queer night called Fruitcake so my mind must just be blending all my many years of queer establishments together. There have been a lot) apparently also called or a part of Zorba the Greek’s?
    927
    Code Blue (popup)
    Rising Moon (on Burnside)
    Brew Sisters
    Mountain Moving Cafe

    (assuming those last 2 were more coffeeshops/restaurants?)

    Then there’s so much more commentary I wish could share if folks wanted to be public 😉

    • 0

      Club 927? Rubyfruit Café? Yes, I remember those from the 1980s. But I’m an old person now (71). Still I remember one Halloween party at the 927 when one stunning woman came as a Playboy Bunny. You could audibly hear the necks SNAP as she walked by. People were willing to have events besides just drinking. The dancing was good too. Besides “temporary” bars, how about the “Lesbians 4 Lesbians” dances that happen occasionally at Embers? “L4L” is worth going to. Of course, we elders have eRah and other groups too, but still no Lesbian Bar.(sigh!). In Eugene, The Wayward Lamb DOES have tHERsday dances on the first Thursday of the month with a “gatekeeper” to keep out the creeps.

      • 0

        Yeah what is Embers up to these days? I’m not up on what they’re doing but glad to hear there is a women’s night. That’s the thing, there are plenty of queer nights that might be lady centric (my current favorite being Lez Do It at Dynasty) but no dedicated bar. Still, I feel lucky to live in generally accepting Portland that is also full of nightlife options.

  3. 0

    So what’s the story with this flight from the terms ‘dyke’ and ‘lesbian’ anyway? I feel like I missed a memo and it’s super frustrating. I spend a decade in adolescent denial, finally figure it out (oh my god if i’m a girl then my sexuality makes sense!) and now apparently it’s uncouth to identify as a gay lady?

    I get the distinct sense that a ton of cis queer women think of this as ‘moving on’ from something that was insufficient for them. But they moved on before women like me got in, and we never had the numbers or social capital to make our own spaces and maybe never will.

    It stinks. It hurts. I’m bitter and shouty about it.

    • 0

      My interpretation – it’s more about naming of general events, not of individuals’ identities. There are so many of us who don’t identify as lesbian – maybe because they’re bisexual, maybe because they’re outside the gender binary. (Or both, hey-ooooo!)

      So it’s not saying lesbians are bad, but rather that they’re not the only queers in town.

      • 0

        Oh indeed, because lesbians have always so embraced the “gender binary” and all the feminine things that society has defined as “woman.” Not like you, so queer and brave and (most importantly) not a woman at all!

    • 0

      I feel like the death of the lesibian has been greatly exaggerated. There are more people who are queer but not exclusivly gay/lesbian than there are lesbians, so with more people being feeling comfortable enough to be open about about their identities it makes sense that a smaller percentage of the queer community identifies that way. I don’t get the sense that people who truly identify as lesbian are dropping the label. I just think that now that more options are readily available a lot of people have found that “lesbian” is not a perfect fit for them.

    • 0

      Let me explain: although “lesbian” simply means a woman with a same-sex sexual orientation, the word “lesbian” has long had connotations like ugly, undesirable, can’t-get-a-man, shameful. And now those connotations have been embraced and owned by lesbians themselves, in the name of progressiveness and inclusiveness. Also progressive: when lesbians (again, those with a same-sex sexual orientation) feel the need to make themselves sexually available to males who “identify as women.” I have such pity for young lesbians today, but also cannot believe they will stand for it forever.

  4. 0

    “Weird Bar! We could have some weird drinks, weird promotions…all sorts of weird stuff and nothing would ever have to make sense again!” is like . . . what you’d get if for some reason as an eight-year-old I’d been assigned to invent a concept for a bar. SURPRISED IT DIDN’T PAN OUT.

  5. 0

    I love the label lesbian and even dyke I think it’s so sad that the words are rarely used anymore. I think it’s great that people have more appropriate words for themselves, but it’s almost like there is a shame in identifying that way. Like it’s not modern enough. I feel like you don’t see that with gay men. I don’t know. The poster above made me think about it.

    For me the E Room wasn’t a problem because it wasn’t inclusive, it was just such a terrible hole in the wall dive bar. I was young and fresh from LA. LA is more of a club culture and in general the bar scene in Portland is a bit hard to adjust to in comparison. There were a couple dance floors but the hole energy reeked of a lonely small town gay bar with bad music. Definitely no place to spend your Friday or Saturday night and it certainly couldn’t hold a candle to the trendy establishments catering to gay men.

    • 0

      “I love the label lesbian and even dyke I think it’s so sad that the words are rarely used anymore. I think it’s great that people have more appropriate words for themselves, but it’s almost like there is a shame in identifying that way. Like it’s not modern enough.”
      YES THIS. Where I’m currently living people sort of look at you funny if you don’t identify as queer or sexually fluid/flexible or pansexual/bisexual or whatever the hell else. So I’ve become VERY strong in my identity as a lesbian woman, a homosexual, a 6 on the Kinsey scale, etc. I didn’t go through everything that I did in coming out as a LESBIAN just to break under the pressure of where I live right now.
      That said, dyke is exclusively a lesbian term, and it bothers me on a primal level that it’s been used by non-lesbians a lot recently. No no no. Don’t use it if you’re not a lesbian thaaaaaanks.

  6. 0

    The problem with lesbian bars, as I see it is thus:

    Think about regular bars. You have your neighborhood bars, you have your college bars, bars that serve beer that taste like piss, bars you can’t walk out of without paying a $200 bill and a $50 tip. What do they have in common?

    They all cater to a clientele that belongs to a certain socioeconomic class. Your neighborhood bar will reflect the sensibilities and purchasing power of the people who live in that neighborhood, as will your college bar whose clientele is college kids who are most probably have limited incomes and probably only want to play drinking games anyway, and bars only Wall Street investment bankers can afford, and in each case the quality of service will vary accordingly.

    Lesbian bars, on the other hand, have to cater to the lowest common denominator, income-wise, because there aren’t that many lesbians in the first place, and even fewer upper-middle class lesbians. And in the absence of all inclusive regular bars, lesbian bars can survive because they are the only alternative to any and all lesbians, but once all-inclusive bars with a friendly attitude towards LGBTQ people are available, they will inevitably chip into the lesbian bar’s customer base.

    This dilemma to me is most obvious, for I’m a Turkish-American lesbian who divides her time traveling between Istanbul and the US. In Turkey, we have no such thing as queer-friendly regular bars. I’ve been going to this underground lesbian bar for years now, for it is the only place for me to be openly gay, and endure its pissy beers and smokey atmosphere and claustrophobic design, where as in the US, which I’ve been visiting and part-time living in for a decade now, I’ve only twice been in a lesbian bar, for I belong to a socioeconomic class that is somewhere between middle and upper middle (lower upper middle?), and I don’t have to put up with mugs with grease stains on them and the hostile attitudes of the barmaids (who, let’s face it, wouldn’t behave like that if they were getting better tips), so I don’t. When I’m in the US I’m usually in NY where I have a small apartment, and there are plenty of decent bars that I can afford and won’t kick me out for dancing with my girlfriend. sure, there will be the occasional idiot who will whistle or catcall, but I don’t let that bother me.

    So the solution seems to be that either lesbian bars should find a way to both allow non-lesbian or non-LGBTQ people to patronize the establishment without alienating their queer customers (I’ve been to such a place in Portugal, where the place was all-inclusive but had such activities that heteros who couldn’t stomach seeing queer-y stuff would not come in anyway), or come up with an additional function that also provides additional source of income (I heard of, but never been to, one such lesbian bar in Greece that also brewed beer and uzo, which they served at the bar and sold to markets and liqueur stores).

    AND they should lose the attitude too.

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      I love the idea of an alternative revenue source like having a bar that is really a venue for a certain liquor, food or even other product. I think this could work especially well in Portland that prides itself on being a foodie town (including beer and cocktails) as well as requiring bars to serve food as part of its liquor laws (which, consequently, makes a lot of really excellent bar food and happy hours)

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    So chiming in from a conversation about this article on Facebook I just wanted to make sure I noted that there were a lot of great people involved with the E Room. It has its problems clearly outlined above but I certainly don’t want it to come across like I never had any fun there and certainly not that there weren’t great people involved in putting on events, often for charity etc. I mean here are some Flickr albums from days of yore to prove that the E Room did, indeed, have some weird, sexy, hilarious good times (I mean Catitude people remember?!?!)

    https:[email protected]/sets/72157621845841762/
    https:[email protected]/sets/72157622571464902/
    https:[email protected]/sets/72157622684552143/
    https:[email protected]/sets/72157622872163429/

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    On the subject of some people not wanting to use the word “lesbian” anymore, I thing a lot of it stems from internalized lesbophobia. For the longest time, I avoided the word because I only ever heard it being used in negative contexts e.g “not all feminists are hairy man-hating lesbians/ dykes”.

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    God, the E-Room was terrible and such a dirty awful bar with SUCH a shitty layout, but I was still sad when it closed, even though the final events were also terrible and I wanted to print off their re-branding statement and light it on fire. I don’t know if you remember me or not, we met a few times at Crave and the like before that ended as well. I think Taylor is right, the weekly/monthly events are fun, but they’re not a community space, but on the other hand, I think part of why lesbian bars often fail is that they try to be all things to their community. It’s hard enough for a place to be good at one thing (e.g., making food or being a good bar), let alone ALL the things the queer-lady community could possibly wish for.

    I had a lot more thoughts about all of this but they’ve mostly been banished from my head with the news about Magic Garden. I hadn’t heard that they were closing and now I’m just super sad and kind of disbelieving. 🙁

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      Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings about Magic Gardens. A friend of mine who works there really believes it to be the most freeing, queer, best place to work as a dancer and is devastated that it is closing and not sure if she will continue to dance, or even really could anywhere else. I think the closing date is maybe Dec 27th. Some of us might try to go the night of the 23rd, Tuesday. It’d be cool to have a big queer contingent that or one of its last days.

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    In what seems like way, way back in the olden days of lesbian culture in Portland I worked at both the Primary Domain and the 927. I’m now in my early 50s and I suppose it comes down to the facts. When I was in my 20s Portland was a fairly inhospitable place for lesbians. Off the top of my head I could name at 12 gay men’s bars from back then. But the lesbian community was different. What I saw the bars as was a meeting place where you’d find someone to partner with and then you both just dropped off the bar scene.I’m not making a judgement call, just stating the facts, ma’am. Also,I didn’t own either bar but financially it was a touch and go situation. There just wasn’t enough weekday activity to keep it going but to be open only three nights couldn’t cover the rent. Being realistic, shit changes. It was very important back there in the 80s that we could have a space to hang out, mostly safely, where dudes wouldn’t be a problem and we might find a cute girl to hook up with. So much has changed since then. I don’t know that I would feel compelled to try and find a lesbian bar even if the wife ditched me and I had no prospects. Different times for better or worse.

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