Which West Coast city am I talking about? It's known for its phallic column. It nearly burned down at the turn of the last century. The constant fog makes it look like the setting for a John Carpenter film. And Harry Flavel, a notorious member of the town's first millionaire family, is often seen strolling downtown in women's clothing.
It's not where you think.
For those who think San Fran-Crisco is the only possible answer to this query, it might come as a surprise that Astoria, Ore.—although smaller and more removed—is also a freaky frontierland, and a homo-friendly habitat, too.
The oldest U.S. settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria was built eons ago on the backs of Nordic and Asian immigrants. Now it's seeing a new kind of minority-population surge. On Friday, I took the two-hour drive west to party with its latest tribe of transplants. Astoria's "Q. Night" was not, oddly enough, held in a bar. It occurred at three places—two galleries and a coffeehouse. And it was the first time businesses here had joined forces to show just how "out" this out-there cannery town has become.
I'd missed the first stop on the tour (I heard Shanahan Gallery pulled out the dreaded Twister board), but I made up for it at Lunar Boy Gallery. Owned by former P-towner Deborah Starr, the gallery was my first exposure to gay beach life beyond a few college campouts.
And, I have to say at first I wasn't impressed. Sure, there were proud PFLAG-ers and a couple of lezzies looking at the comic-book art, but it sure didn't feel like any gay function I'd gone to before. Well, not until they started serving Jell-O shots. It's funny how alcohol-infused gelatin, no matter what your sexuality, has the power to turn a semi-awkward event into a big queer mess.
That mess spilled out onto the street all the way to our last stop—the Astoria Coffeehouse. One of the first spots to offer Stumptown outside of Portland, the coffeehouse is owned by my friend Jim Defeo and his partner, Tony Danton. Defeo once owned both the Paradox and Vita Cafe in P-town before hauling his ass up to Astoria last spring. One of the instigators behind this queer event, he even hired the popular PDX queer jam band Sneakin' Out to play at his club that night.
And the bear band didn't disappoint. Neither did the crowd of 70-plus: a mix of young and old queer couples and so-called straight high-school boys dressed up like Mr. Flavel (i.e., in drag). Also in attendance was gender activist Lori Buckwalter, who calls Oceanside, Wash., home. "This isn't just special for Astoria," says Buckwalter. "It's special for the entire coast."
And you could tell the whole night was something "special" by the enthusiastic response of the dancing crowd. Even though it ended at the same time most Portland parties start warming up (just past 11 pm), you couldn't help but think about the queer adage, "We are everywhere." Even in Astoria. Who knew?