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She said/he said in the strip club capital

Editor’s note: With nearly 60 strip clubs within city limits, Portland is rumored to have the highest number of strip clubs per-capita in the United States. And, of course, this creates a lot of controversy – especially among young people, since it’s mostly young women who work as exotic dancers.

A woman can do whatever she wants for a living, right? It’s also true that exotic dancing is one of the most lucrative enterprises in which a young woman can take part.

Where’s the problem? Well, it’s complicated.

In an attempt to quell some discomfort, two writers examined the culture of Portland’s minor-league sex industry. Aaron is a writer who makes no secret of his penchant for pleasures of the flesh, while Angie is a writer with the tag “grrrl” in her personal e-mail address. Let’s see what they have to say. <-Gavin Adair

She said

Sunday night in a strip club has got to be one of the most depressing things in the world. The arguments for and against stripping have been exhausted, nothing I could say would break any new ground on the subject. Some people feel that no amount of desperation should make anyone want to trade their self respect for a dollar tip. While many who make there living taking it off claim that the work is fulfilling and ultimately empowering. The dancers actually pay money to strip in these clubs and work for tips only. Often they also have to tip the bartender and the DJ. I guess you have to spend money to make money.

To find out what all the fuss was about and get both a female and male perspective The Miracle Miles and I took off on assignment to five of our local strip joints. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were no fake boobs. I am told they generally gravitate towards 82nd Avenue. The mullet hunting was good and quite a few stereotypical male groups were accounted for: we saw some military men, a threesome of metal heads, a gentleman who looked to be kind of a sci-fi geek and a lone hippie. I only saw three other women in the clubs who weren’t employees but we didn’t venture out to any clubs that featured male dancers.


Doc’s had the true feel of a strip club right down to the dirty couches and neon carpet. The dimly lit bar made me feel like a criminal. The woman who was dancing when we were there made it a point to acknowledge Aaron’s girlfriend Monica and I because we were the only women in attendance. It made me uncomfortable to watch the men watching her, more so than actually seeing her strip. Once she got to the second song she was completely naked and she walked off the stage to blow in Monica’s ear and then in mine. I am not at all uncomfortable with my own sexuality, but I have to say that having this naked stranger attempting some sort of seduction on me was disconcerting. I didn’t know where to look and I could feel other people looking at me. Nothing about this place made me feel the least bit turned on or sexy.


Thankfully we moved on. One step into Sassy’s told me what I could expect. It felt more like a frat bar than a strip club. All of the men sitting in the front row by the stage were wearing white shirts and ties, as if they had just come from the office for a quick bite of chicken wings and an eyeful of something that they apparently can’t get at home. I can’t comment on this place because we only spent about 3 minutes inside. We did however see two men in the parking lot who looked to be in their 50s sitting in there car looking suspicious. On our way out we realized that they had been sharing a box of donuts. I guess it was time to let loose for those two chaps.

Union Jack’s

Union Jack’s was by far the cleanest and most inviting of all the places we went. The rules are posted on the wall of the entrance, which made it feel inviting instead of suspicious. I was also glad to see a girl with small breasts and a normal ass without all of her ribs showing. Other than the fact that the women’s bathroom door wouldn’t close and that there were no doors on the stalls, this was an okay place.

Mary’s Club

Mary’s Club is horrible. It looks like a dive bar that just happens to have a stage. From the outside it always reminds me of Pottersville from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I was more interested in watching people play pool than the dancers. By then I had almost had all the decadence I could take, I was starting to get depressed. I was sad for the women and also for the pathetic looking men who where there alone.

Magic Garden

The Magic Garden was the final stop on our whirlwind tour of sex-worker city. By far the busiest of all five clubs, this place didn’t even have a pole for the dancers. We did however get to see some military men, which seemed fitting somehow. I had spent the last of my 20 bucks and it was time to go.

After this experience I still don’t have any definitive answers about getting naked for a living. On the one hand, people have every right to do with their bodies as they see fit, but on the other hand maybe there should be a limit to what people will do to make money. I can say for sure that I would rather work fast food than get into my birthday suit for some guy in a tank top with a teased-up mullet.

He said

Allow me to reminisce. When I got off the bus it was raining hard in Old Town. I arrived having never seen a woman whose middle name I did not know dance naked before me. Time passed. The next sunny day, maybe three months later, my roommate decided to show me the town.

After a walk through Forest Park and the philosophy section at Powell’s, he took me to a few strip clubs. I saw women dance naked. I tipped, and they danced very nicely. It was strange at first, but I thought nothing of it. And like a good, new citizen, I made my first donation to Oregon via Video Poker (crack).

Things change. This winter, as I write this, I can honestly say I’ve seen enough women, whose middle names I do not know, dance naked before my very eyes.

The excitement wore off, and I had a sour taste in my mouth. To be honest, I never really liked watching women dance naked unless we were on familiar, even friendly, terms. It’s sure better than a poke in the eye or a WB sitcom though.

The sourness cultured last year, when some friends came to visit from Washington. They were fixated on going to strip clubs and getting drunk. It was on this Saturday night that I witnessed the horror of multiple bachelor parties. The “bachelor” would sit, or lie down on stage while multiple dancers gave him a show.

One bachelor I saw looked rather embarrassed, frightened and sick. He was trying hard not to embarrass himself more by getting a chubby or losing his Jell-o shots. Or maybe he was having some second thoughts about tying the knot. He looked away, shut his eyes and gritted his teeth. To make a pun, I could say that he was hard pressed to remain calm.

Later, at a party at Doc’s, I saw one guy’s nature rise as three girls danced seductively with each other and him. “He’s got a boooner!” the DJ announced. His drunk friends had a good laugh. “Lets see those dollars!” hollered the annoying DJ. People started throwing crumpled ones to the stage. I left after a couple hit my face. I hope that guy’s marriage is going good.

Aside from accidentally stumbling into one once in a while, I quit going to strip clubs after that. I often get the impression that going to one of Portland’s many strip clubs is a tradition. It’s a novelty. Something taboo to hide from your parents. Maybe it’s a rite of passage, or maybe not.

I think most people I know have been at least once. The day before Angie, my friend Monica and I went on our Vanguard mission, I overheard a conversation in Safeway. The checker made change consisting of all singles for a customer then asked “Going to the titty bar tonight?” They were on familiar terms, and had a good chuckle.

“Nah, poker game … aren’t the clubs embarrassing, though?” replied the customer.

“I went for the first time last week,” the checker said. “It was kind of fun, I’ll tell you about it sometime.” These customers were both females in their 30s.

Some people love ’em, others hate ’em. “Strip clubs, big deal. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” is a statement I’ve heard. Like any bar or nightclub, these establishments all have their own flavor, clientele, smell and clientele smell. They’re also controversial, and somwhat mysterious to many, I suppose.

I won’t get into the debate here. The bottom line is strip clubs aren’t going anywhere, so the least we can do is become educated. If you don’t like them, don’t go. But don’t be quick to judge until you hear all sides of the argument.

I asked an acquaintance of mine who’s stage name was “Deanna” for an insider’s perspective. She has worked in a few Portland clubs. “It’s as good or as shitty as any job … It’s not all that different really,” she says.

Deanna told me that the experience was only made unpleasant for her due to club staff and management. “The guys who come are usually really respectful, they only piss me off when they don’t tip.” Dancing for her is a job like any other, except this one is done with little or no clothes on. She says it isn’t sexual for her at all.

She wanted me to remind you all that unlike other service or entertainment jobs, dancers work for tips only. If you go out, bring money to tip. It’s not a free show. Dancers sometimes have to tip out the bartender and DJ, if there is one. Just because you go and play pool or video poker with your friends and pretend you don’t care about the woman dancing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tip her a buck or two per set (usually consisting of three songs). If you sit at the rack, which are the seats that border the stage and put you extremely close to dancers, tip a buck a song.

Deanna puts it simply, “We’re entertaining you, if you can’t tip, go somewhere else.”


Much quieter than the bachelor party night I remember. Pretty dead, actually. Some mullets near the rack, tipping too little. I wanted to stare at their hair but I was scared. A few people at tables, a few playing video poker. Well, drinks are $4.25, decent pour. The carpet has little dancers on it that glow under the black light. Like a well-groomed poodle, it made me want to puke, but was very cute at the same time. I’m thinking of getting some for the rumpus room. Carpet, not poodles. Depressing news on the TV was a bad choice by the management. TV is a bad choice.

The place looks like a sports bar, without the sports paraphernalia. I saw a metal band play here once on the big stage. It was weird, and strangely exhilarating, like only a metal band in a strip club can be. There’s a smaller stage opposite the big one and a tiny one in another room by the front door. Dancers are good.

“Ahh yeah, give it up for the lovely …” a Barry White-voiced DJ says after each song. We tip them all during their sets and one dancer comes and gives the ladies some mini table dances. After talking to my analyst, I realize I felt a little left out. I’m okay with it now though.


A bright pool room leads into an oddly lit, dark club. Maybe the lack of the requisite black lights threw me off. I admit it, I like to see my friends teeth glowing and their dandruff sparkle like little shoulder constellations.

There are some young preppy guys wandering around, confused. Two stages, one in use. On the unused stage is a little red curtain. Perhaps it’s supposed to create anticipatory excitement. I don’t see how that could work. On the other stage, a woman who appears 42 or 43. She kind of dances and while talking to some guys.

“It looks like a ma and pa restaurant that ma decided to dance in,” Monica says. Pretty funny. Even funnier are these two middle-aged guys in their white mid-sized sedan outside. A mysterious aura surrounds them, as if they’re sampling forbidden fruit. They get out and one is holding a big white box of donuts. They cautiously look around and split another maple bar before heading into the club.

Union Jack’s

I’ve always loved the lights in Union Jack’s. Up the walls, over the top, around the side and everywhere else. Sometimes they change from red to green, which is neat. Every time I’ve gone the dancers do amazing things on the pole. I saw one climb 10 feet up, hang upside down and spin around on one leg while sliding down to dismount with a handstand. They’d put the Olympic team to shame.

We drink four-dollar beers and well drinks. They have a decently priced bar-food menu that includes a Gardenburger for four bucks. There are comfy chairs and a long banquet, plus a long bar. The focus is a big stage in front with a long rack. There’s also a little stage by the entrance and video poker machines. Union Jack’s definitely looks more like a Vegas night club than a sports bar or ma and pa feed house. I always feel a little paranoid there though.

Mary’s Club

One of Portland’s oldest and most popular clubs. I think the big sign on Broadway cost more than the interior. There’s a mild Tiki vibe going on, with a tropical mural even. Small bar, small, high stage.

“It’s like Beahlahland with stripper’s,” Monica says. There’s a fan on stage, giving the performances a rock n’ roll video vibe, which is super. The clientele is my favorite of the night. A good mix including a few women. People seem cool. We sit back by the door that leads to El Grillo, an awesome burrito joint that shares Mary’s toilets.

A young cop sticks his head in the door, looking content like he’s just finished a burrito. The waitress beckons him stay. “We have a table saved for you guys, all the time!” she says. Then she said something about Chief Kroeker I wish I could have made out. His eyes darted around, met mine and made me look away. The cop corrected her with the “acting chief’s” name and poked back out. I found that very interesting. The dancer we saw was very friendly too.

Magic Garden

It’s the Magic Garden that I sometimes accidentally fall into on my way home. It must be the name. The Magic has the typical dive bar strip club style, which isn’t much of anything. Some beer ads and lottery signs is all. Everyone working there is usually very friendly. Usually there’s this little old lady who tends bar. I really like her. She works hard and manages to be sweet and tough at the same time. They have a pretty big menu and a good seating arrangement.

I was there with a friend once and he gave a dancer some CDs to dance to. She liked one by Roni Size and Reprazent so he gave it to her. Later, she came up and gave him five bucks. He didn’t want to take it but she insisted. He bought her a drink and they called it even. I thought that was kind of sweet, she was really nice. Later, he almost started a fight by blocking the view of some guys with his dancing. I don’t think he was trying to steal the show on purpose, but they sure did. That wasn’t so neat.

Tonight some girls in full camoflauge come in. They played pool and tipped the dancer’s, but never looked very happy. They make me sad. As we leave some friendly looking death metal guys come in. They make me kind of happy.

So I leave happily. I don’t really like strip clubs anymore, but I’m no longer soured on the experience. Early on a Sunday may be the best time to go out to strip clubs. It’s also nice to go with a co-worker and your girlfriend, if she’s cool. I think mine would rather go with me than have me go alone. Soon I plan on going to the Acropolis, where I hear they have a three-dollar steak special.