Topless, Not Hopless: Portland’s Beer and Strip Club Scene
In my family, Sassy’s Bar isn’t just a Portland institution; it’s where my wife and I found ourselves, along with another couple in the beer industry, a week before our son was born. I’m not sure which would be more shocking to some folks—that we went together or that my wife was 10-months pregnant. But ‘round here, Sassy’s is just one of the places you go for a beer or a night out.
The truth is, I’m not a big strip-club goer. It’s not that they’re offensive, it’s just that most play awful music, reek of fruity perfume, and don’t have any good beer that I’d want to stick my nose in and appreciate the aroma before imbibing. But Portland’s strip clubs often have better beer selections than some cities’ best beer bars. Think that’s a stretch? How many multi-taps in your city offer 65 drafts? Or more IPAs than macro lagers?
I’ve long advocated for a brewpub/stripclub in PDX, a city nicknamed Beervana and Brewtopia for its well over 50 breweries and counting. You can’t swing a bag of malts without hitting a brewpub or tasting room. But there are even more strip clubs than breweries, and Portland supports the most strip clubs per capita of any major city. Which wouldn’t amount to nuthin’ were it not for the fact that, as stated, a few run deadly serious beer programs and as such, feel more like public houses that happen to have live entertainment of the naked kind than seedy bars that sling overpriced adjunct lagers and shame.
Whereas other metropolises tend to herd these clubs in one or two central districts, there’s no such zoning here. I mean, these clubs are everywhere. I don’t think there’s a single brewery that doesn’t have a nudie bar within a mile of it but not vice versa. That goes double for suburbs like Gresham (where you’ll find clubs like Pitiful Princesses that serves $5 breakfast including a bloody Mary but is light on any other appeal, beer—or otherwise). Also kind of interesting, none of the best clubs are near the Convention Center, so if you’re in town for the Craft Brewers Conference and you deign to explore any of these dens of dubious morals, it’ll force you to explore Portland’s neighborhoods.
Let’s start with the brightest star in the constellation of clotheslessness. Sassy’s is, quite simply, a destination hangout where patronage approaches 50 percent women. Add the tattooed dancers on stage and the gender imbalance flips. But of greater import than who’s on stage is what’s behind the bar: 25 taps, including the in-demand Boneyard RPM IPA and Barley Brown’s Breakfast Stout. You won’t find Cascade Kriek on draft but the Cascade Barrel House is just a block away. Happy hour pricing means $2.50 pints. Happy hour runs from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily! (927 SE Morrison St.)
“A-crop,” the nickname with a built-in cup-size joke for the refreshing scarcity of silicone, has been written up in The New York Times for its steaks. Locavores rejoice, for the club owner also owns a nearby ranch, hence the $7 8-ounce sirloin (baked potato and garlic bread included but beware that “medium rare” may mean medium well). In the mood for filet mignon? Eleven bucks. Burger connoisseur? The two-pounder is a mere 10-spot. Speaking of 10, that’s how many farm-fresh eggs are used in the breakfast omelet. Oh right. Beer. Among the 65 taps, over half are Oregon-brewed and that means classics like Fort George Vortex IPA as well as the first keg of Sunriver Viscous Mosquito IPA. (8325 McLoughlin Blvd.)
Not a fan of steak or meat altogether? Vegans rejoice; there’s finally a strip club you can sink your teeth into. This “From Dusk til Dawn” inspired joint serves Southwestern burritos with fake meat like soy strips (Spanish for “I am a stripper”?) but there’s nothing faux about the drinks. Topless bartenders happily serve up Widmer Brothers and 10 Barrel and Deschutes Red Chair when available, then give you change in nothing but $2 bills to double your pleasure at the rail. No word on when the city will get its first gluten-free strip club. (2839 NW St. Helens Rd.)
Since 1954, Mary’s has been a Portland institution (it’s featured in the opening of “Portlandia”). Open 365 days a year, it’s centrally located on Broadway and was the first such club to leave nothing to the imagination. The small venue welcomes a raucous crowd of colorful weirdos and best of all, since you do want to get your beer on, it’s a dozen steps away from Bailey’s Taproom, one of the finest multi-taps on Earth with a hyper-informative digital tap list, not to mention the hidden gem of Portland’s brewery scene, Tug Boat Brewing. Get at least one half pint of Chernobyl, the “double imperial” Russian Stout (14%). (129 Broadway)
Need further proof what a rock ‘n roll beer bar this is? Esteemed brewer Sean Burke of The Commons Brewery performed here with his band one New Year’s Eve 15 years ago. The beer focus is bottles—four chillers stacked six shelves high—so fans of Oregon beers as well as classics from Germany and Belgium will find their faves. It’s also two blocks from Burnside Brewing and one of Rose City’s best eateries, Le Pigeon. If you stay at the Jupiter Hotel, this is practically your hotel bar. Sure it’s just outside the lobby but the beer list is way sexier, er, better and cheaper. (938 E. Burnside St.)
Stripparaoke Sundays (you sing, they dance) is a real thing here. And after a few $4 pints you’ll believe you actually belong on stage. Too spendy? Knock 50 cents off those pints during happy hour (11 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week). There are four other strip clubs within a block or two, but this is the one with happy looking patrons and dancers and while the food may be decent, it’s also on the same block as Foster Burger. Double bonus. (5305 SE Foster Rd.)
In the vein of egalitarianism, there’s one single gay/male strip club. It’s not exactly in a neighborhood most visitors would find themselves in (unless they’re in line for Voodoo Doughnuts). The Silverado doesn’t allow bachelorette parties, or clapping or cheering for that matter, but it does have something called a “beer bust” (owners wouldn’t explain the concept over the phone) on Tuesdays and Sundays, as well as $2 PBR. (318 SW 3rd Ave.)
Brian Yaeger, a longtime contributor to All About Beer Magazine, is not a morning person and loves his wife, mother, sister and nieces.