After 14 years, Portland's only dedicated all-ages LGBTQ night club has closed.
The Escape hosted its last dance night four months ago at its downtown location on Southwest Park Avenue, after club owner Douglas McLeod says he was only given 22 days notice to move out and find a new space. The building was bought by a developer, who plans to rehab the building into a "creative office space" with a ground-floor restaurant.
But McLeod says the Escape was an essential part of Portland's identity—especially for a young crowd who often had nowhere else to go.
"For some people, it was all they had. It ended up being all I had," he says. "I'm lost without the Escape. It would be like having somebody take your baby away from you. I dumped all my heart and soul and passion into it and now Portland's a little less weird."
He says he's been looking for a space, but so far, hasn't been able to find one.
"Every place I call, they say, 'I'm sorry, we can't help you we couldn't facilitate that.' I have one financial backer that's willing to help me get into the place but it's finding one. It's been really, really tricky," he says. "I'm running out of answers."
McLeod worked at now-closed all-ages gay club The City, starting as a spotlight operator and selling shirts, then moving his way up to janitor, bartender and eventually DJ. He opened The Escape 14 years ago.
"I had no money. All I had was an idea and high hopes. I had 30 days to open it, and I opened without a sign. When I wasn't working, I was hanging out flyers. I just built it up from there," he says.
The Escape became the place where LGBTQ Portland youth and their straight friends come to get really sweaty while dancing to "Barbie Girl," experience what you think being 21 is like, take Burnett's shots in the car, watch drag shows and drink cans of an off-brand energy drink called "Cocaine," as your wrist stamp that said "GAY" and "LEZ" slowly sweated away.
"What's going to happen to the teenagers right now—that's what eats at me every night. I drive myself crazy worrying about these kids because they're my kids too," McLeod says. "I don't want to tell them, 'We're gay, so we're having a little extra problem here.'"
The space once housing the Escape is currently being used as a temporary homeless shelter, restricted to people who identify as male.
Right now, McLeod is planning to continue searching for a space, but he's losing hope. A gofundme page started two months ago with a goal of $10,000 managed to raise only a little over $1,000.
"Portland's supposed to be on the gayest cities in the country," he says. "But it's sure not feeling like it."