"No longer a jack shack," the marquee of The Paris Theatre (6 SW 3rd Ave., facebook.com/theparispdx) proudly proclaimed for much of December. For more than a decade, the century-old theater had been entered only in a sidelong way, by public masturbators and coupled exhibitionists careful not to make eye contact with tourists in line for doughnuts.
But on Christmas Eve, the first person I saw at the Paris Theatre was Voodoo Doughnut co-owner Tres Shannon, who probably remembers the theater's '90s tenure as an all-ages venue specializing in the disenfranchised, the goth and the punky semi-homeless. The sex dungeons of its most recent owner are gone, as are the sticky theater seats, but the movie screen has been kept.
So on Hurricane Saturday EDM night—one of only two nights the venue and club is guaranteed to be open, alongside '80s night on Friday—the DJ's skittering beats are accompanied by the psychedelic dragon-riding spectacle of James Cameron's Avatar. Both the cocktail menu—a "Snoops T&T" is a Tanqueray and tonic—and the chicken-skewer food menu seem to invite you to ignore them.
But the burlesque past of the Old Town hall has been laid bare, and the many-chandeliered Paris now looks like a strange combination of stained-glass church, table-service nightclub and Folies-Bergère. The back wall is covered in 19th-century ads for all things French, while the middle is a descending arrangement of tables on platforms. At the bottom is the dance floor—lit by the blues and greens of Pandora onscreen—where, for now, a lone break dancer is doing his own flat-brimmed version of a hat dance while a woman offers fist-pumping hype from her table.
It's a slow holiday night downtown, but the 15 or so people holding court in the Paris before midnight all seem mostly to know each other, leading to a heartening sense of community absent in neighboring bars. If Old Town is your country, Paris is your hometown.