Ask anyone in Portland—even a Hollywood-neighborhood native—to list all the businesses that have called the odd, triangular building at Northeast 37th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard home, and probably the only people able to do so would be the Realtors who have guided the property through its many, many tenants.
Just since 2000 it's played home to indie venue the Blackbird, Rafael's Comida Mexicana, Uncle Butchy's Low Carb Creations and Brandy's strip club...even the Yellow Pages can't keep up.
But Brett Kucera doesn't believe the building's cursed. In January, he reopened the joint's doors, fashioning it as a home base for his longtime lounge-crooner alter ego, Tony Starlight. The place is named, of course, Tony Starlight's Supperclub & Lounge. Starlight is not a new face in Portland. His faux Vegas club headliner routine was a fixture at Jimmy Mak's and the Gypsy in the late '90s. But the Tony Starlight Show split town in 1999 for L.A. to make it big in the clubs there, and, you know, be a stah. He returned to the Rose City last year because, he admits, he "just felt out of place in the real Hollywood."
At first, I felt out of place at Starlight's. I mean, I actually showered and dressed up in my cords and three-buck thrift sport coat—and I don't dress up for nobody. Granted, I may have been a little intimidated by the tongue-in-cheek dress-code threat found on Starlight's website, which notes there "will be a $3 surcharge for men in open-toed shoes and a $1 fee for each item of Patagonia on your person." Luckily, Kucera reassured me that metal-cleated bike shoes were cool—as long as I tap-danced in them.
So, what's Starlight's secret?
I found part of the answer on Valentine's Day while I was awkwardly slow-dancing in the club, which had been transformed into "Prom Night 1949" with the help of Starlight's smooth warble and big-band jazz. Later that month, I found more of the answer in watching Starlight change jackets three times during a regular Tony Starlight Show, which features the performer telling little stories about local politicians, trash-talking Greshamites and singing the Rat Pack-ish Tony Starlight theme song (which includes the lyrics: "I know a place where there's jazzy romance/ And all the gang wears their shnazzy pants.") His last coat, a velvet patterned smoking jacket, was perhaps the best one I've ever seen. I also had the best—although spendy, at $8—goddamn Manhattan I've had in Portland, at a bar where the host pulled my stool out himself.
All these details add up to a venue that immerses visitors in the Starlight idyll—a vibe so strong the Sinatra posters lining the club's maroon walls feel superfluous. "I feel like I'm trapped in this old sort of mythical America," explains Kucera. And it's true, you can't really help but turn into someone else—someone who drinks Manhattans regularly and slow-dances like their parents' parents—upon walking through Starlight's door. It's an escapist fantasy. But is a fantasy, particularly one that pushes on the pocketbook a little much (tix to the V-Day bash were $85 a couple), enough to beat the curse of Sandy's dark corner? I think so.
Maybe it's only because that corner happens to be the entryway into our city's own Hollywood. Tony Starlight's is the first place calling it home that lives up the neighborhood's namesake.
Kucera himself says it best: "I realize this is the Hollywood I was really looking for when I left Portland."
Tony Starlight's Supperclub & Loung, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 517-8584, tonystarlight.com. 4 pm-midnight Monday-Tuesday, 4 pm-1 am Wednesday-Thursday, 4 pm-1:30 am Friday-Saturday