By Christine Heeley
When I was recruited onto Team BarFly in 2009, I didn't quite know what I was getting into.
At its most basic, BarFly was a guide to Portland bars. It started as a simple idea formed around founder Jen Lane's kitchen table in 1997—a zine (and later website) that would tell you which bars were most worth visiting, when the happy hours were and, most importantly, what the vibe was like at each place.
As a former bartender, Jen was passionate about supporting local businesses, especially the small and obscure ones. She was the Atlas of the bar scene: When Anthony Bourdain visited Portland, his itinerary included stopping at Voodoo Doughnut, eating at Apizza Scholls, and partying with Jen. And over time, she grew BarFly into something much bigger than a bar guide.
First came the party buses. For a small fee, customers would be escorted to an assortment of Portland's premier dives and strip clubs. You would see it all on those buses: nudity fights, engagements, weddings, Alf costumes. Almost nothing was off limits—except vomiting. That was a hard no. And if you were a host, that meant keeping 50-plus very drunk people entertained as you traveled between locations. My signature trick was "the baby bird shot." That's where you shoot a drink and spit it right back into a person's open mouth. It was surprisingly popular.
We had epic employee parties. If you could dream it, you would see it. Stripper petting zoos. Kiddie pools with staff wearing thongs. Bands playing naked. The Christmas parties were our favorite.
We all worked a lot, and didn't get to see each other that often. It was like our family gathering. At the end of the night, we would all line up to sit on Santa's lap, and he would dole out presents donated by Fantasy Adult Video.
The greatest honor was to be nominated for an annual BarFly Award. Categories included Smartest Stripper and Hottest Item Not on the Menu. We would dress up fancy, receive a sash, and peacock around. It sounds silly, but it was the only recognition many of us in the service industry ever got.
BarFly is dead now, thanks to COVID-19. But for those of us who were Team BarFly, it'll be impossible to forget. I mean, I still have one of my co-workers' teeth that he gave me as a present. How can you forget something like that?
It was the only club I ever belonged to, and I was lucky enough to be part of one of the things that once made this town truly weird. I can't imagine Portland without it.