It's the last show at Darcelle XV Showplace on a muggy Friday night. The audience is a mixed bag: a birthday party in the center, friends of a drag queen near the wall, a posse of bros in the back.
In the front row is the only bachelorette in the house. It's an unusually poor turnout for Darcelle. The bachelorette's name is Lindsay, and she's from Salem. She's flanked by eight friends. Their fresh manicures and flat-ironed hair say this night is special.
Bachelorette parties have a bad rap at gay bars, and justifiably so. As a gay man in a gay bar, nothing is more aggravating than a bunch of screaming banshees clogging the drink line and manhandling you on the dance floor. And celebrating a wedding someplace populated by people who can't get married is insensitive, at best. So when West Hollywood's popular bar the Abbey banned bachelorette parties last month and encouraged other gay bars to do the same, there was delighted approval around the globe.
But so far, no Portland gay bar has followed the Abbey's example. The bars have their reasons, most of which should come as no surprise in a city which frowns on exclusionary action.
At Darcelle, bachelorette Lindsey sits quietly throughout the show, back slouched and chin up, balancing her tiny bridal tiara. Lindsay is a short, mousy girl with small glasses and shoulder-length red hair. She cheers sheepishly for the drag queens, showing the most enthusiasm for the Liza Minnelli act. When the show ends, she's called onstage for her congratulatory Champagne. She giggles a lot.
Bachelorettes like Lindsay make up most of Darcelle's business, and Darcelle has no intention of banning them. As show coordinator Summer Seasons puts it, doing so would be "absolutely ridiculous."
But Darcelle isn't necessarily a gay bar, per se. It's more of a drag cabaret. And though co-owner Darcelle and his partner, Roxy Newhardt, are gay, and drag is a linchpin of gay culture, Darcelle bills itself as an "all-inclusive establishment.â
Still, Darcelle is where the bachelorette madness begins. On a typical night, the women come for the show and stay for the male strippers at midnight. If they continue the gay-bar wedding march, they stumble next door to CC Slaughters and down Southwest 3rd Avenue to Silverado.
Neither CC nor Silverado ban bachelorette parties, though CC has considered a ban and Silverado has banned them in the past. The trouble with banning bachelorette parties is that such parties are rather loosely defined.
For CC, it all comes down to costumes (read: penis necklaces and straws). CC has considered banning groups in costume, says Steven Fosnaugh, the bar's marketing director, but no decision has been made.
"CC Slaughters is a non-discriminatory business," says Fosnaugh. "If we ban one costumed group, we'd have to ban them all."
Silverado until recently had a sign at its entrance that stated "No Bachelorette Parties." But the bar removed it under legal advice, just as it now charges men and women the same $4 cover despite priding itself as a "gay men's bar."
Of course, not all bachelorettes flounce around gay bars on their special night. Lindsay, for one, doesn't even want to stay for the strippers at Darcelle. But Lindsay doesn't speak for every bride-to-be in Old Town.
Enter Megan. Megan went to an earlier show at Darcelle, but returns to leap onstage for what she thinks will be her second Champagne toast. Clearly inebriated and wearing impossibly tiny white shorts, Megan is shooed off the stage. As the crowd files out and the strippers come on, Megan is one of the few in the front row. She later corners a stripper to take issue with his sense of equity. "I took a shot off you," she argues. "You have to take a shot off me!"
Meanwhile, Lindsay and her friends gather outside. It's raining now, and they caucus about their next steps. Dixie Tavern? No, bad idea. They walk toward their car.
Lindsay's friend Chrystal hangs back. It was Chrystal's idea to bring Lindsay to Darcelle. Chrystal is aware of the bachelorette-party backlash, and wholeheartedly disagrees. Chrystal is a lesbian—her girlfriend, Carlie, was at the show with her—and she'd like to be married one day.
âWhy ban something that youâre working toward?â she asks. âYou canât be closed-minded.â