Just because cannabis is legal in Oregon, don't assume you can smoke several consecutive blunts in your own apartment consequence-free. Landlords can, and often do, prohibit smoking on their property. For non-homeowning stoners without balconies, covered porches or yard space, this creates a tenant conundrum: How can weed be legal in my state but illegal in my home?
Establishments like Kaleafa Social Club serve to solve that particular riddle. It's a private club, tucked into the shadow of a dispensary, where members can consume away from muddied yards, windswept stoops, and tyrannical, straight-edge landlords. It's not the only club of its kind in the metro area, but the Oregon City location is the flagship for a format Kaleafa hopes to expand to all eight of its dispensary locations.
Oregon City, for the uninitiated, is a quiet suburb 20 minutes south of Portland. Kaleafa and its associated social club sit at the south end of the city's commercial district, on a bustling strip of Mollala Avenue, wedged in the corner of a strip mall next to a sports bar, an O'Reilly's Auto Parts, and a Subway. At the far end of the strip mall's backside, a low-profile marquee and a small OPEN sign reassure novice patrons they are not lost in a random parking lot and that there is, in fact, a business operating back there.
Because the club is set in a former pool hall, it has the breadth of a warehouse, but its atmosphere screams "suburban dad's converted man cave." Corrugated steel walls, shuffleboard, a stage, a small video game room, a single pool table, and furniture in shades of concrete and fire engine red make the space feel equal parts like a club and a place where you can take a long nap.
And that vibe is calculated. Rather than emulate the bohemian ambience of an Amsterdam coffee shop or chic West Coast cannabis club, Kaleafa owners John and Julie Widmer went in favor of something they thought appealed more to their customer base.
"When the pandemic hit, this place had already been built out, so we sat on it for a while," says Julie Widmer. "We don't want to contribute to the pandemic, so we thought, 'Let's just do a soft opening and see what the need is,' and a soft grand opening is what ended up happening."
"This isn't a revenue stream," adds John Widmer, "it's a gift to our clientele."
"Gift" might be a little hyperbolic. After flashing my ID to the on-duty club-tender, paying an annual $25 membership fee as well as a $5 day-use fee, I ponied up the four-seat bar to check out the assorted rentable glassware and dab devices (available for $3 an hour), and Volcano vaporizers ($10 an hour). While no cannabis is sold at the club, the dispensary on the opposite side of the building maintains specials designed for club use, like half-gram dabs and pre-rolls, for example. Also: Once you've entered and your hand has been stamped by the club-tender on duty, neither the dispensary nor the neighboring dive bar will serve you, so arrive prepared.
In addition to bongs, dab rigs, bubblers, hemp rolls, rolling trays, and grinders, the bar area offers a small variety of CBD sodas and slushies on tap, plus a basic soda fountain and cold case stocked with bottled drinks. Once I'd gotten settled, I ordered a fruity CBD soda and an extra-large glass beaker bong, which the club-tender generously offered to fill with ice. I'd brought a gram of flower from home, which I smoked while the club-tender on duty ran through the club's rules: no booze, no tobacco, masks stay on unless you're taking sips or rips. (Occupancy is also capped at 25 right now due to COVID-19 regulations, and there's enough space to keep everyone appropriately distanced.) He also listed a handful of local restaurants that deliver via Grubhub, since there's no kitchen. Bonus: The Wi-Fi and the lighting were both strong enough for remote work, a perk that I doubt flies under the radar.
After I cleared my bowl, the tender showed me the game room, a dim nook in the back of the club separated from the rest of the space by a large office window and glass door. Inside is a couch for three, a large flat-screen connected to a PS4 with a dozen or so games and a Nintendo Switch in a locked case, a ping-pong table, board games and a projection screen for VR gaming. The room has a distinct suburban bachelor vibe—not quite barren but intentionally free from any distractions that aren't playable games. Even the dividing window had blinds.
Before I chugged the last of my CBD soda, I got a rundown of the club's event calendar: Weekends are dedicated to televised sports; open-mic nights occur every Friday; a pool tournament happens on the first week of the month; and that night happened to be "Tie-Dye Night." The club also livestreams hip-hop shows hosted by Cool Nutz. As my tender described a scene that featured rappers performing while smoking weed, middle-aged cannamoms hitting 11 am dabs, and gamers flexing their skills over thick clouds of Volcano vapor, I got the sense that the club is acting like a stoner community center.
Kaleafa Social Club's suburban sensibility might lack the aesthetic swagger of New Portland, but that's not a drawback. On the contrary, the lack of pretense makes it an even more comfortable place to sit back and just get really, really high. It's not your own living room, but if you live in Oregon City or under a weed-restricted roof, it might be the next best thing.
GO: Kaleafa Social Club, 19199 S Molalla Ave., Oregon City, 541-288 9670, kaleafasc.com. Noon-10 pm daily. $25 membership fee, $5 cover. 21+.