129 SW Broadway, 503-227-3023, marysclub.com. 11 am-2:30 am Monday-Saturday, 11:30 am-2:30 am Sunday.
Mary's claim to history is real. The bar has featured topless dancers since the 1950s, went full nude in the 1980s, and is today run by Vickie Keller, daughter of longtime proprietor and Portland raconteur Roy Keller. With low ceilings, cheap beer and a stunning collection of 1950s La Monte Montyne murals that depict exotic women in a variety of locales, it is a living and breathing relic of Old Portland in all its grimy glory. But none of that matters on Friday nights at 11 pm, when the decidedly unsexy space is packed to standing room only. There's no DJ or announcer, so the dancers are forced to crouch down between songs—MLB catcher-style—as they flip through a binder of songs to choose their next track. It is busy bordering on controlled madness, packed to the gills with happy couples on dates, small groups of glassy-eyed single men contemplating their eventual escape, a few bikers and a guy who staggers in, plops down at the bar and asks for, simply, "alcohol." He could get an $8 rum and Coke, but he should probably just stick to PBR ($3.50) or Cascade's proprietary Mary's Topless Blonde Ale ($5.50), a refreshing and creamy pint with notes of lemon curd. Somebody buys the dancer a drink midset and she chugs half of it on the spot, before going back to shuffling through the songbook binder. It is 1955 in here, or maybe 1987, or whenever Courtney Love last graced the stage. Maybe the dancer up now is the next Courtney Love. Maybe Mary's Club is a wormhole to another dimension.