Portland’s Magic Tavern May Become the Second Unionized Strip Club in the U.S.

“We’re fighting for basic safety and respect in the workplace, just like any other industry expects.”

Magic Tavern (Steve Gibbons / Courtesy Actors' Equity Association)

Only one strip club in the country is unionized: Star Garden Topless Dive Bar in North Hollywood, Calif. But the second is poised to be Portland’s own Magic Tavern at Northwest 24th Avenue and Nicolai Street.

Most of the 33 strippers at Magic Tavern have been on strike since April 4 due to “dangerous working conditions and a lack of professionalism,” according to a petition signed by more than 2,000 people. On June 6, the dancers announced they were unionizing with Actors’ Equity Association, the 110-year-old labor union for actors and stage managers.

“We’re fighting for basic safety and respect in the workplace, just like any other industry expects,” says Nyx, a dancer on strike.

When Equity president Kate Shindle first heard about the issues that compelled the strippers to strike, she audibly gasped. Insufficient club security and cameras. Failure to provide dancers with contracts upon hiring. Safety issues, such as a wobbly pole, uneven stage flooring, and a mysterious gas smell near the kitchen. Retaliation for bringing up workplace concerns. Management naming an official group chat for dancers “Anus Tarts.” The list goes on.

Magic Tavern (Steve Gibbons / Courtesy Actors' Equity Association)

Owner Benjamin Donohue had no comment about the strike. The club remains open with nonstriking dancers onstage.

Another grievance not formally listed in the petition, but one that cuts to the heart of the dancers’ concerns, has to do with a pet product called Bitter Yuck.

In the absence of sufficient security, Magic Tavern dancers developed safety tactics like swiping their breasts with deodorant or Bitter Yuck, a no-chew spray meant to prevent dogs and cats from gnawing on furniture and plants.

Turns out, it’s also great for deterring sleazy strip club customers.

“Imagine if you told a dancer, ‘If someone licks your nipple, go tell security and we’ll get them thrown out,’” a dancer named Daphne says. “That would be so much better than, ‘You should put some deodorant on your boobs.’”

All three dancers interviewed—stage names Nyx, Creature and Daphne—are still eager to work at Magic Tavern again.

“Both those stages are absolutely gorgeous, and the community we built was incredible,” Creature says. “That club has so much potential.”

Magic Tavern opened in November 2022. The strippers say management was going for a punk, “Old Portland” vibe. They praised the variety of body types and skin colors in their Magic Tavern community, while acknowledging that most of the club’s Black dancers have been less visible during the strike because they would have a harder time getting hired or picking up primo shifts elsewhere. Racism in their industry sparked the 2020 PDX Stripper Strike.

The Magic Tavern strippers plan to picket again July 21.

“The clubs don’t keep us safe,” Daphne says. “We keep each other safe.”

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