Most Old Town clubs are bare-bones grindhouses decorated with liquor branding, less designed for dancing than for human vodka flasks. But at the southern edge of the fun zone, No Vacancy (235 SW 1st Ave., facebook.com/novacancypdx) is the most ambitious DJ-forward dance club Portland's seen in years.
The mezzanined space looks like Jay-Z's vision of the Great Gatsby, an amber-lit world of deco lamps, columned archways and backlit liquor that climbs to the ceiling. Started by a DJ promotional company of the same name, No Vacancy unsurprisingly offers the talent a lot of little perks: a massive amount of programmable lights, a dramatically lit second-story DJ booth and smoke machines both inside and outside the DJ area.
Even early on a weekend—after we paid a $13 cover for touring talent from Sweden making jerkily theatrical needle drops on the decks—the hardwood-and-hexagonal-tiled dancefloor was already filled halfway with the requisite crew of hoodied B-boys and girls with cosplay hair. The rear corner is lined with curtained VIP booths, available only at a cost. One booth boasted a tableful of young women drinking from martini glasses, while in the booth next to it a black-clad baller sat alone, manspreading across the plush seat with a solo bottle of bubbles.
With nary a Long Island on the menu, the drinks were surprisingly sophisticated, including a deliciously velvety $11 daiquiri made with a mix of Smith & Cross and Appleton rums—offering a decent advertisement for stopping by during the early evening jazz sets, when the cover drops away. And apparently, if you want to keep a fine cognac back for yourself, you can rent a "spirit locker" and drink from your own stash.
It remains to be seen whether Portland can support an upscale dance scene that's so far eluded it, but so far No Vacancy hasn't made many mistakes.