It all started on a Friday night at Mall 205. I found myself at Falco's Pub, a tiny bar with a giant vinyl sign advertising $1.50 PBR and a $5 steak special. Steak? At a dive across from a mall? For $5? I was in.
Ten minutes after I ordered, a slot in the wall near Falco's bar opened, and out came a torrent of lasers and thumping bass—plus a pair of hands with an 8-ounce ribeye and fries, both steaming hot and cooked to perfection.
The steak had actually come from Mystic Gentlemen's Club next door. Partly as a side effect of Oregon Liquor Control Commission laws requiring late-night food options and partly as a loss leader meant to bring in business, a surprising number of strip joints in Portland have a steak option much cheaper than a quiet meal at Applebee's. That is, provided you keep your loose bills in your wallet.
So I set out on a weeklong quest for the best strip-club steak special in town. Here's what I found.
Google "strip club steak" and you find the "A-crop," the old-school standard for sirloin and sleaze in Southeast Portland. The family that has owned this Sellwood institution since 1976 is also in the cattle-ranching business, allowing the club to sell beef at lower costs. Aside from the $4 cover, the Linkin Park remixes and the stripper who accosted me by the salad bar for ignoring her while I ate, the Acropolis serves as an effective benchmark for the "strip steak" experience.
The cost: $6 for an 8-ounce sirloin with fries and Texas toast.
The steak: Worth the hype and 20-minute wait. The steak's gently seared exterior lacked the crusty scabs of burnt seasoning that the Ponderosas of the world use to dress up flavorless cuts. The inside was tender and pink, vivid in the red light.
With low ceilings and a New Wave-y jukebox that has aspiring pin-up models dancing to the Psychedelic Furs, this Chinatown standby feels more like a dive bar with naked ladies than an actual strip club.
The cost: $6.50 for a heap of fries and a filet a tad smaller than what the Acropolis had to offer.
The steak: Cutting the meat was a chore, the interior was bloody and tasted like iron, and the whole thing smelled like it was prepared in a dirty George Foreman grill. You can get much better than this.
The wood paneling and manly bric-a-brac at this friendly neighborhood nudie hall seem made for a Midwestern college town populated with frat boys in backwards white hats who chug Coors Light and drive Jeep Wranglers.
The cost: $6.50 for a 6-ounce steak with fries and a salad—a thoughtful touch for a joint that has a velvet oil painting of an orgy above its fake fireplace.
The steak: It was measly and yielded only two quality bites. The rest was either burnt chunks of gristle or mouthfuls of fat. The salad was fresh and crisp, but no one goes to a strip club for salad.
If a college sophomore decorated a jungle-themed strip club using only items found in the 80 percent-off clearance bin at World Market, it would look like Safari. The number of girls in bikinis outnumbered patrons 5-to-1, making me wonder how many were on the clock and how many women showed up dressed like a stripper just because they could.
The cost: $6 for a very generous cut of sirloin.
The steak: The only flavor came from charred clusters of fat and seasoned salt around the edges. The meat was tender, but I had trouble getting through the last half without a dollop of generic steak sauce. When "Fergalicious" queued up on the stereo for the second time in an hour, I officially gave up.
Winner! Best Value
Located less than a mile north of the Acropolis, this place gets no love. I was the only patron on a recent Sunday night, outnumbered 8-to-1 by the entertainment.
The cost: $5 for a 16-ounce sirloin.
The steak: Big enough to choke a horse. The bar was too dark to allow close inspection, which might be an advantage. But while texture was wildly inconsistent from one bite to the next, I was giddy at the size of the cut alone. I could barely move my jaw enough to tell one dancer after another that a lap dance was not in my near future. As I crammed the last bite down my gullet, a dancer wearing glasses told me that the bartender, who doubles as a performer on weeknights, had cooked the steak herself.
Winner! Best Steak
With a central location, an inviting happy hour and an impressive tap selection, Sassy's may be the best gateway strip club Portland has on offer. Evenings might end at Sassy's out of sheer convenience, not merely the desire to see boobs at 2 am. But there are also boobs at 2 am.
The cost: Almost $16 for a top sirloin and fries. For that price, you can get three steak specials at Mystic!
The steak: This is the Mercedes of strip-club steak, my friends. That it was served during a dance by a woman named Mercedes was just a happy coincidence. Either way, this mildly seasoned, melt-in-your-mouth cut of heaven was in a class of its own. It damn well better be for $16, which in strip-club terms ranks its pricing somewhere near El Gaucho. But if you feel like you deserve a rare treat while a tattooed woman gyrates to Cannibal Corpse, this is the place.