Portland’s Oldest Strip Mary’s Club Is Open at Its New Location

What was it like on the first night back? We’ll tell you.

Mary’s Club may have moved, but it’s not going anywhere.

Thursday, Dec. 9, was opening night at the iconic strip club’s new location, and it was packed. The club ditched the divey retro vibe at its old building on Broadway, but the unique atmosphere—playful raunch with a side of physical comedy—made the two-block trip to the new venue.

After close to a century on Broadway, Mary’s Club now inhabits a long, skinny bar with two stages, the whole place lit mostly in red. Energy seemed to echo off the high ceilings and walls of subway tile and brick. It’s a big change from the Broadway spot’s muted coziness, like the architectural version of a motorboat.

“The old place was pretty dingy, and this is a bit of an upgrade,” a tattooed, acrobatic dancer named Scarlet said. “But I think, in the end, it will have the same Cheers vibe.”

A dancer named Artemis was twirling her black panties around one hand when a 50-something man in a skullcap sat at the edge of her stage. Immediately, the patrons around him began placing dollars in front of him, singles folded lengthwise and stacked neatly in layered pairs like a little log cabin.

“Are you building me a house?” Artemis exclaimed, tossing aside her panties. She swept the bills away and wrapped her legs around the man as he slid farther down in his chair, a sublime smile on his face. Asked later if it was his birthday, the man, Ron Lucas, said he was in the midst of a divorce.

“Nothing reminds you of your first wife like a stripper,” he said. (He was divorcing his second.)

The crowd swelled to capacity by 11 pm, with the mixed gender representation of a regular bar. There were often more couples and femmes sitting at the stages than the rows of men common at some clubs, a vibe that makes sense, given that the club is run by a pair of sisters—club manager Virginia Goranson and bartender Tracy Safranski —and because dancers choose their own music. There’s no male DJ’s voice booming between sets.

The half-dozen tiki-themed murals made it to the new venue, but as of Thursday night there was none of the memorabilia of famous burlesque dancers that covered the walls of the old location. Goranson said it would be displayed later. She said the stage lighting is “nowhere near” what she has planned. And the food—genuinely good tacos, nachos and other standard Mexican fare—may change, depending on whether the chef temporarily running the kitchen decides to stay.

Scarlet, a dancer, painted murals on the stairway going down to what must surely be the biggest dressing room of any Portland club. She spray-painted a girl doing her makeup at a vanity and, farther down the stairs, the words “Smile Now, Cry Later.”

In 1955, the club became the city’s first topless bar, and went fully nude in 1985. An air of playful silliness that can be traced to its roots has never left.

After a costume change, Artemis was back on stage. Nude aside from a black corset and a platinum blond wig, she twisted and stretched her red lace teddy, holding one end to her lips like a microphone. She mouthed the words to an Anderson .Paak song, her body thrust forward just inches from an enthusiastic admirer who waved his arms like he was the biggest fan at her concert.

“There’s a lot of us clowns around here,” Artemis laughed later.

The customer ate it up. He stood, pulling a thick stack of ones from his pocket. Holding them in one hand like a deck of cards, he flipped dozens of singles off the stack, hitting the beat with each dollar.

GO: Mary’s Club, 503 W Burnside St. 503-227-3023, marysclub.com. 11:30-2:30 am daily.

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