"Expect hairy, untamed, hippie radical bush," my boyfriend joked when I told him I was covering the grand opening of the world's first self-proclaimed vegan strip club in Portland.
Casa Diablo Gentlemen's Club, stranded in outer industrial Northwest Portland on St. Helens Road, features attractive, well-shaven dancers, working for a man so dedicated to veganism he swears he'd rather give up sex than eat meat.
When I walked in around 11 pm on opening night, Friday, Feb. 1, Casa Diablo was pumping arena rock over a black-lit stage. A limber stripper with long, curly auburn locks seduced a sparse audience of five casually dressed men. About 20 customers, from older couples to bachelors, were shooting pool or ordering drinks at the bar in the open, lofty, timber-framed building.
The menu is vegan, though it doesn't advertise that fact. But with no food—vegan or otherwise—in sight the night I was there, it was easy to see where the hope for profit lies: T&A.
Our stripper-happy city's new joint is owned by Johnny Diablo, a 44-year-old Los Angeles transplant. He opened a vegan restaurant in September 2006, Pirates Tavern, in the same building that now blends strippers and soy. Pirates Tavern went out of business in December 2007, Diablo says, because most vegans live at the poverty level or below.
But Diablo, a self-described "ethical vegan" of 23 years, thinks Portland will support veganism and vaginas in part because Casa Diablo is Portland's only smoke-free strip club.
Sexy carnivores are welcome to dance on his stage, although Diablo says most of his strippers are vegans or vegetarians. He says he tries to convert the meat eaters by offering them free vegan food and preaching his vegan ways.
The club's main claim to veganism seems to be that strippers cannot wear any leather, fur, silk or wool. If a dancer slips up and sports snakeskin heels, Diablo says he pulls the woman aside to talk about "not bringing murder victims into the establishment."
For vegetarian Casa Diablo stripper Aria Winters, 20, who hates meat, Casa Diablo is ideal. "I would eat a steak and then have nightmares about being sliced up and burned," she says.
But Faye, a 23-year-old Casa Diablo stripper with a blond bob and tattooed inner thigh, confesses that she really likes steak. "I'm just trying out a new place to work," she says. "I don't care if you're vegan or eat meat."
The club's no-frills Mexican-based menu comes with no description of meals—just a title, like "Fajita Platter $8.00" with "choose steak or chicken" written underneath. (Diablo says he enjoys duping meat-eating customers, and that what's served is gluten-free, wheat-based soy.)