At a time when most real live bears are hunkering down for a deep winter's sleep, a group of grizzly-faced gay men called "The Oregon Bears" are on the move.
And, for one bar owner, it's a bittersweet occasion.
Gail Kennedy's Dirty Duck is not only the quirkiest queer tavern in town, it has also been, until now, the homebase hole-in-the-wall for a group of gay men with beer guts and bushy brows. But, after 13 years, the Oregon Bears have decided to uproot their den of debauchery from their Old Town outpost to the even farther reaches of North Portland, specifically Eagle Portland, a semi-controversial gay tavern owned and operated by porn purveyor Pat Lanagan.
"My staff did a presentation to the board of the Oregon Bears in July to promote the fact that we are already the bear bar of choice—bear-owned, -managed and -staffed. Plus, we are a non-smoking bar with plenty of parking, and we've always taken care of our bears," says Lanagan. After a member survey and vote, Eagle Portland was selected, over a few other contenders, to be the new "official" home bar of the bears, he adds.
The "Bear Movement" started in the mid-'80s as a way for husky gay guys, who were more likely to drink a six-pack than crunch their abs into one, to meet other dudes like themselves. A growing gay subculture, this movement now includes "Cubs," "Wolves," "Otters" and the non-animal-named but just as aggressive "Daddies."
But there doesn't seem to be room for "Mama."
"He wined and dined the Bears away from me," says the Dirty Duck's Kennedy. "But I'm not pissed. It's just a business thing. I'm friendly with the Bears, and they're still going to have their Halloween party here. A lot of the older bears feel very comfortable here."
And they should. That's because Kennedy is the daughter of "Mama Bernice." A legendary lady in the local gay community, "Mama" was as famous for ashtray-throwing as she was for her cooking. Kennedy said she bought the Double-D in 1984, which until then had served seamen and railroaders, so "Mama" could have somewhere to hang out with her "Bluebirds." "She wouldn't let me change the name," says Kennedy about her sainted mother's insistence the bar remain the same in name if not in customers. Although "Mama" passed on in '86, Kennedy continued her legacy via the Dirty Duck. She helped start the Oregon Bears back in 1995 with a membership of just 13. "I was happy I could offer them some place to meet," says Kennedy, whose bar has hosted umpteen Oregon Bears events. But over the years the bears grew and grew, as bears will do. The Oregon Bears now have a membership of 300-plus, making it one of the largest bear groups in the country.
"They wanted a bigger space and more services," says Kennedy. "I will be fine, but I will miss being their home bar."
Eagle Portland, 835 N Lombard St., 283-9734. The first Oregon Bears Beer Bust at their new locale will take place 9 pm Saturday, Oct. 20. Free. Dirty Duck Tavern, 439 NW 3rd Ave., 224-8446, has their annual Oregon Bear Party at 9 pm Saturday, Oct. 27. Free.