On a recent Friday afternoon at Mary's Club, I was entertaining a 30-something doctor in the table-dance area. He was from Houston and looked it.

"Have you ever been to the Rothko Chapel?" I asked.

"Yeah," he murmured. "It's OK, but they have to wear pasties there."

I figured he'd misheard me. But maybe not. Maybe there is a strip club called the Rothko Chapel—which would be awesome. But in the vast majority of places outside Oregon, ladies probably gotta wear pasties. And G-strings. And maybe stand 3 feet away from their clientele. And make sure the area is lighted like an operating room. Or forgo their liquor. Sexy as hell, right?

We are so lucky to live in Oregon, if for no other reason than its extreme protections—the most super-heroic in the country, if not the world—of free speech. Including speech in the form of fully nude dancing.

Oregon's constitution is largely responsible for this luxury of liberty. Like the constitutions of many late-to-the-game Western states, ours stridently protects individual freedoms: "No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatever."

However, constitutions are open to interpretation. We were exceedingly fortunate that Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans Linde interpreted ours in the case of State v. Robertson on Aug. 3, 1982.

Linde and his colleagues concluded that Oregon's constitution absolutely forbids government from passing laws directed at the content of what residents express, no matter how unpopular. Shortly thereafter, "A bar owner on Sandy Boulevard had his dancers go nude, and that started the legal challenge locally," says Vicki Keller, owner of Mary's Club. "Some dancers quit, but not for long as everyone was doing all-nude. The number of strip bars multiplied within weeks."

While Portland's preponderance of strip clubs and sex shops is not necessarily trumpeted by tour guides or splashed across glossy "Visit the Beaver State" brochures, I think it should be.

After all, it's cultures in which women are required to cover up where their rights are most curtailed. I love Oregon's disregard of the Eden-old rubric that the naked (and, especially, female) human body is somehow dangerous, dirty, or degraded; it's a notable experiment that has yielded favorable results—results we should be proud of and boast about so that more of the world follows suit.

Until it does, thank God we live here. (And Hans Linde gets free table dances for life.) 

Viva Las Vegas moved to Portland in 1996 to write, act and play music. She still does all those things, and strips, too. In 2015, look for an opera by Christopher Corbell based on her first book, Magic Gardens, a feature-length documentary about her from Blacktop Films, and a day-in-the-life segment on the Travel Channel. She lives in a 1910 foursquare on Mount Tabor and is working on her third book, Niagara.


From the Archives:


1974: Mt. Hood Freeway Killed    

2011: Occupy Portland