Mary’s Club, the oldest dance venue in the city—and a downtown landmark in its own right—will soon go dark.
But before you begin planning a funeral for yet another cherished piece of Old Portland, there’s a silver lining: Mary’s is not closing for good, simply moving to a different location.
Virginia Goranson, the current manager and granddaughter of Roy Keller, who purchased the club from namesake Mary Duerst Hemming in the 1950s, tells WW that Mary’s is moving because the building it occupies, on Southwest Broadway near Ankeny Street, has been sold.
Goranson doesn’t want to disclose the exact address of the new space until the lease is finalized and signed, but it will remain downtown not far from the shoebox-sized bar it’s called home for over 60 years.
The reopening date is yet to be determined—after all, it takes time to sort through decades of acquired memorabilia and then carefully pack those items up for a move—but the performers shouldn’t be on hiatus for long.
“Probably an October reopening is what we’re shooting for,” says Goranson. “We want to get things going before the holidays. We want to get settled in. We’ve never done this before—we’ve never had to move”
Once a contract has been signed, construction will begin on the next venue. However, customers need not lament that Mary’s will be getting a newfangled makeover.
Goranson, of course, can’t box up the half-century of hard-earned patina from every inch of the delightfully gritty old spot, but she plans to comb the space thoroughly and bring everything else that can be unscrewed, unfastened or unhooked. Yes—that includes the widely recognized marquee with “Mary’s Club” written in red cursive and the silhouette of a dancer.
“We’re going to take our sign, for sure,” Goranson says. “And we are going to take the murals on the wall inside, which are a big thing—one of the No. 1 things we’re getting asked. I hope we can still replicate the feel of Mary’s—not making it look like a new place—in an updated, in-this-century place.”
One of the unique items that’s coming along is a note handwritten by her grandfather to the club’s original go-go dancers—that was before the performers went topless in the mid-’50s and then all nude three decades later.
Mary’s has been a family institution ever since Roy Keller bought the venue: His daughter, Vicki Keller, ran the bar for about 40 years, taking care of all operations once he stepped back in the late 1980s. Now in her 70s, she still maintains the title of owner, but her two daughters—including Virginia Goranson—oversee more of the day-to-day operations.
“She works so hard,” Goranson says of her mother, “and now that my sister and I have stepped in and taken over a lot of the responsibilities, I think, ‘How did my mom do this for so many years on her own?’ I’m still trying to figure out how she did that and then had kids at home.”
As Goranson gets closer to the moving date, it’s becoming more of an emotional process—given the personal and Portland history wrapped up in the building. Yet at the same time, she’s looking forward to having more square footage—an amenity the original club was never blessed with.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Goranson says. “It’s going to be really sad to let go of that location. Those walls have seen so many things—iconic employees and dancers and generations of my family. To leave that behind is kind of like losing a bit of our own family history. But on the flip side, we’re going to be in an updated, fresh and bigger space.”
As for the Southwest Broadway structure, the former owner sold it to Hadi Nouredine, a dentist with a private practice in Beaverton, on July 22 for $1.854 million, according to Multnomah County property records.
WW reached out to Nouredine for comment about the future of that property and will update the post as soon as we know more.