Strip clubs are like raindrops in Portland: They're everywhere. And like the rain, stripculture is seemingly indiscriminate, catering to a largely mixed (and mixed-gender) crowd. For anyone to willingly walk into any of Portland's more renowned strip clubs and feel out of place is odd. But when I walked into the recently opened Gata Salvaje (the name means "wildcat" in Spanish), the welcome mat was not rolled out. Here was a room of double takes and scowls awaiting me, a white woman walking into Portland's purely Hispanic strip club.
Sure, other area music clubs-like Bossanova or Caribe Colonial-play Latin music. And plenty of local strip clubs have themes-like Safari's emphasis on wildlife or Union Jack's Vegas-rock fusion-but Gata alone caters to those in search of Latino dancers and music, serving a culture without cheaply commodifying its most cliché bits.
There were no neon sombreros here. Instead, a blacklight overwhelms the room, illuminating the well-worn carpet and beer signs. Its patrons, all Hispanic and African-American men, sit in quiet groups, staring toward the L-shaped stage as the DJ spins banda and reggaeton beats. And the DJ's inter-song banter is entirely in Spanish, dashing any hope I had of discovering the names of the songs soundtracking the evening's skin parade.
On stage is the first legitimate booty I've seen anywhere near a pole all night. And by "all night," I mean just that-for comparison's sake, I've also hit Lush, Union Jack's and Safari. The dancers at those clubs were tattooed and athletic-more muscle and smaller boobs. And those muscles were necessary to pull off gymnastic dance displays that made Gata's women look like they were just swaying to the beat.
Pre-pole, the dancers at the other clubs teased and toyed with the boisterous crowd until they saw enough cash on the ground-$20 to $50-to warrant exposure. Gata's women didn't seem to bother checking the ground to see how much cash had been offered up before shaking their ample breasts in front of a customer from a distance that elsewhere would have cost $20. They weren't trying to smile-like dancers at other clubs-and the men weren't trying to make them.
Maybe it was a slow night, and the gents were tired. Maybe Gata is just plain depressing. Or maybe this is just Portland's strip-culture divide in action.
Gata Salvaje, at 633 SE Powell Blvd., is just off the Ross Island Bridge in the old Boom Boom Room East and Club Coco II space.