Southeast Portland is now home to a block of queer bars just a short stroll from one of the city’s busier entertainment venues: Revolution Hall. Sissy Bar opened in June, right after the Portland Pride Festival wrapped up, just one storefront from its established gay neighbor, Crush Bar, and its new adjoining all-ages coffee shop, Opal’s Night & Day Cafe, which launched in February.
Although run by different teams, Sissy Bar and Crush seem like sister bars, serving comparable menus and clients. Both dish out Instagrammable entrees and fruity cocktails, and play queer-friendly music from across the ages, but Sissy Bar’s crowd seems to trend younger than Crush’s.
Sissy Bar, which founder Derek Palmer characterizes as a “video lounge,” is heavy on moving images for aesthetics. Partly lit by cubes the color of panels on the electronic memory game Simon, the space is also illuminated by YouTube recordings of artists ranging from Megan Thee Stallion to City Girls to Grimes to Azealia Banks. Stationary visuals—photos of gay divas like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and DJ Paris Hilton—also line the walls. The volume of the music videos is loud enough so that you can enjoy the songs, but not so noisy that conversations need to be yelled.
Over the course of two recent Saturday nights, Sissy Bar was comfortably busy—groups of friends of all orientations and a range of legal drinking ages were gathered. Some appeared to have just left the office, while others were dressed to impress—ready for wherever the night took them.
There’s no dance floor or recurring drag shows, which tend to lure customers to other gay bars in town, but Sissy Bar offers a space for unapologetically queer company and the pop music sustaining the community.
The cocktail menu at Sissy Bar is similar to that at Crush: classic drinks crafted with skill, but the newcomer seems to be fond of names with cultural nods (Will Smith Punch, $10; She’s All That, $11). There’s also the house-branded Sissy Mule ($11), Sissy MANhattan ($13), and the bittersweet Sissy Galore ($11), which mixes grapefruit and lemon juice with orange bitters and Ryan Reynolds-owned Aviation American Gin. Those drinks pair well with picturesque, savory Colombian dishes, such as sudado rice bowls ($11 vegan, $14 chicken), ajiaco stew ($15), and arepas sandwiches with avocado salad ($12 for the vegan and cheese versions, $14 with chicken). All are comfortably filling, but would benefit from a dash of additional seasoning.
Opal’s Night & Day Cafe served a handful of customers on two evening visits, catching spillovers from either bar next door. A towering, beige-colored painting of Cubist faces watches over the glittery pink bar here, which could either be interesting to gaze at or just plain creepy.
The space was once home to Woody’s Coffee Tavern, which was named after Woody Clark, co-owner of Crush and now Opal’s along with James Jackman. The Coffee Tavern temporarily closed its doors after Gov. Kate Brown announced initial pandemic restrictions more than two years ago.
Clarke memorably called the police on 12 of his former employees in March 2020 after they staged a sit-in. Once laid off due to the mandated shutdown, the group demanded accrued sick pay, half pay for the hours they’d been originally scheduled to work the following week, and a guarantee of rehire once business resumed. Initially, those requests were not met.
Employees at both of Clarke’s businesses started unionizing in late 2019, and while the National Labor Relations Board notes that Clarke settled with Crush’s former employees in August 2021, Woody’s Coffee Tavern permanently closed before those employees got their day in court.
Now rebranded as Opal’s, the cocktail menu offers an eclectic blend of sweet drinks, like the pomegranate juice, vodka and egg white Amaretto Fizz ($10) and the tropical Chartreuse Swizzle ($15). But this is also a coffee bar (the “Day” part of the name), so you’ll find the typical lineup of caffeinated beverages, including Opal’s take on the seasonal cinnamon-sprinkled pumpkin spice latte. Diners have their choice of soup, salad, breakfast sandwiches and scratch-made casseroles.
While Opal’s wasn’t busy on either of my visits, the cafe has potential as an intimate date spot. For now, its shared sidewalk patio provides Crush with more outdoor seating on its busier nights.
With Sissy Bar, Crush and Opal’s all anchoring the same block, and nearby Rev Hall and Holocene hosting gay-friendly concerts and dance parties, the area now has all the makings for Southeast Portland’s first-ever gay bar crawl.
DRINK: Sissy Bar Portland, 1416 SE Morrison St., 503-206-4325, sissybarportland.com. 4 pm-midnight Wednesday-Thursday, 4 pm-2 am Friday-Saturday, 4-11 pm Sunday. Opal’s Night & Day Cafe, 1412 SE Morrison St., 503-235-8150, opalsnightanddaycafe.com. 7 am-5 pm Monday-Thursday, 7 am-10 pm Friday-Sunday.