I was in the mood for a stiff drink.
That's how I wound up tossing back a few at not one but two new gay bars last weekend: Casey's in Old Town and Bent Liquid Lounge and Bistro at the southeast end of the Ross Island Bridge.
Honestly, it was a bit weird to venture into these two new gay clubs. That's because I was much more familiar with these spaces from their last incarnations as guy-friendly strip joints (we're not talking the queer kind).
But I shouldn't have been surprised. Many of the gay watering holes along the queer bar circuit of Southwest Stark Street have been, or are about to be, squeezed out. Stark's changing face has forced the owners of these clubs to forge new identities in areas that don't cater to queers.
For example, Casey's (owned by Karl Wilgus, who also operates the "will-they-or-won't-they-close?" Eagle leather bar) was supposed to go into Seven Stars, a now-closed Asian restaurant deep in the heart of Chinatown. But at the last minute Wilgus switched up spaces and took over Andrew Sugar's once-infamous Lush space, which started out its life on Couch Street as a fancy restaurant but ended its run as a seedy strip club. Although the two-floored Casey's is just down the block from the anything-goes Embers, it still sports Lush's tired look, at least on the smoker-heavy first floor. That said, the downstairs bar rocks. A black-on-black minimalist space with a ghetto-freaky light show, it (sort of) has the vibe of a haughty, naughty New York queer bar à la the Cock—perfect for the pretty boys who were littering the space on opening night. Hopefully, now that the club has opened, Wilgus will figure out how to make Casey's main floor work. And, sorry, it's not with pool tables, bad lighting and groovy Camel ashtrays. And what was up with the complimentary meat pinwheels, anyway?
On the other side of town, the much smaller Bent has to be the worst place for a gay bar in Portland ever. Which, of course, makes it my new favorite place. And I am not alone in my opinion. The night I went, the place was packed. And so was its dance floor, which included one remnant of when this place was a Latina-centric strip club: a stripper pole.
And although the pole was still standing, the glistening images of newly bought implants and the scent of shaved pudenda were long gone, replaced with something resembling a gay '70s fern bar. Everything about this place was wrong, thank God—from the carpet that looks like it was salvaged from an abandoned Hamburger Mary's, to the menu that features Costco-sized platters of the worst nachos and crab puffs I've ever eaten, to the deck that has all the appeal of being trapped in the middle of a livestock pen. Perfect for a perv like me. If you're looking to spill a drink on me, now you know where you can find my ass. Bottoms up.