Downtown Portland’s Newest LGBTQ+ Bar, Badlands, Will Finally Open Next Week

The local outpost of the California-based video bar chain will pay homage to Embers, its legendary Old Town predecessor for 48 years.

The new Badlands, photo by Eric Wojcieszak.

Badlands, the Old Town queer bar and dance club at the corner of Northwest Broadway and Couch Street, will open its doors to the public for a soft launch on Wednesday, June 12, according to posts on Badlands’ social media channels on Tuesday, June 4.

“A lot of people thought they would never see the day, but it’s here,” says Brian Aranda, Badlands’ business development manager.

Badlands’ opening is one of the most long anticipated among Portland’s LGBTQ+ community in recent memory. Business owner TJ Bruce purchased the building, which had housed legendary gay bar and dance club The Embers Avenue for more than 40 years. Embers closed suddenly in 2017, after the club’s founder, Steve Suss, had a heart attack. Bruce’s acquisition of the Embers building was first announced in January 2018. At the time, it was believed Badlands could open as soon as that summer.

Aranda says Badlands’ opening faced significant setbacks before the pandemic broke out. The Embers building was in further disrepair than he or Bruce anticipated. Seismic safety updates ahead of The Big One were finally due, as was a new roof.

“If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right, go big or go home,” Aranda says. “So that’s when we decided to gut the whole space.”

Badlands is the local outpost of a California-based video bar chain. Badlands is related to the similar music video-heavy, LGBTQ+-friendly club chain Splash—which took over the Seattle gay bar Neighbours Nightclub in 2022—as well as the Sacramento restaurant Roscoe’s Bar & Burgers.

Badlands has a similar but upgraded layout for those who remember Embers. Badlands boasts brand-new light and sound systems, all-new unisex restrooms, and more than 40 screens to project music videos of Top 40, Latin pop and classics from the 1970s through 2000s.

Embers is commemorated with a front-room seating area adorned with an LED Embers sign. Though the front fountains no longer have Embers’ iconic aquarium bar counter, it will be in the same spot, adjacent to an expanded area for billiards tables. The backroom dance floor, meanwhile, holds eight bars ready to mix drinks.

“We’re always faced with hurdles. Just recently it felt like it would take even longer to get through the building process and tying up loose ends,” Aranda says. “Sometimes we maybe were over optimistic thinking we could wrap up this project sooner.”

Hurdles hardly seems to cover it.

Bruce and Aranda weren’t ready to open Badlands right after purchasing the building, so they had discussed leasing it to Suss to avoid closing Embers. Suss died in 2020. Steve Fosler, the founder of Fosler Architecture tasked with better streamlining Badlands’ 8,000-square-foot building, passed away in 2023.

“A lot of folks were skeptical whether [Badlands] would ever open, and we obviously took a lot longer than expected,” Aranda says. “But between COVID and some issues, we persevered and here we are, six days from opening.”

Aranda concedes that he and Bruce also overextended themselves as they juggled their businesses during the post-lockdown boom starting in 2021. They’ve had to adjust to serving food at all hours, and are looking to expand their menu beyond bar fare to include items from Roscoe’s.

“The place is brand new, and even though it’s in Embers’ shell, it’s a whole new concept, and I think people will enjoy the programming we have in place,” Aranda says. “I think people will be impressed with the outcome. We can’t wait to meet everyone.”

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