I Ate My Way Through Portland's Strip Clubs
Come for the visuals, stay for the corn chowder.
All photos by the author.
Welcome to Horkfest, where we explore frontiers old and new the only way we know how: by stuffing our faces.
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story contained a photograph that was not authorized to have been taken. The photo has been removed and the story updated to reflect that. MUNCHIES regrets the error.
“You’re totally going to turn into a vampire,” friend and chef Joshua McFadden told me when I explained my mission while in Portland: to eat in a bunch of strip clubs.
I honestly don’t know what set me on this mission. The thing is, I pitched it. I made my bed. And I guess I had to lie in it. It’s a day after I got back and this all went down and I have nearly lost my voice after these escapades. I am struggling to keep my eyes open. But I know that if I don’t write it now, I probably will lose steam. And Lord knows I need to write SOMETHING about this so I can still expense all those strip club receipts…
The thing is, I love traveling to new cities. And as much as I love dining at the trendy and new hotspots, I really love the classics and dives. The places that are ingrained in a city and have some history and old-school charm. So when figuring out where I’d eat while visiting Portland, I came across a little fact: Portland has more strip clubs per capita than any other city. Even more interesting, to me, anyway, is the fact that strip clubs are required to serve food (if they want to serve liquor). And trust me, you don’t really want to go to the strip club sober (more on that later).
Anyway, the good thing about my trip to Oregon is that it was during a food festival, Feast Portland, so a lot of my friends were in town, and everyone was eager to accompany me to at least one club. Some people (you know who you are) came with me to a few, because that’s what a good friend does. I also went alone to one club, because I felt like I needed to experience that. Dining alone in a strip club.
Now before I go on, let me just explain something to you. The strip club scene in Portland is a part of the Portland culture. Yes, some are grimy and weird and gross, but some are chill and feel like your neighborhood dive bar. Everyone has their personal favorite spot. When I told people about my plan, people would jump at the opportunity to tell me their go-to spot. One person even explained to me that there are two types of people at the strip clubs (particularly during the day): those that are there for the strippers and those that are there for the hobbies (aka the lotto and gambling video games).
I was there to eat. Didn’t matter the time of day. I started out by dragging my best friend and her husband to Sassy’s, a favorite among restaurant industry folk. We had just come from a huge caviar and smoked fish dinner at Kachka, but we ordered the fried chicken sandwich, a new item on the menu. It came with sad (but still crispy) fries and a side of ranch (thank goodness because we all know my feelings on ketchup). I burped up smoked fish as I passed the sandwich to my friends to try. We stayed for a while, finished our sandwich, and barreled out, full and with a lot fewer dollar bills.
Next up: Casa Diablo, arguably the most risqué joint in town, which also coincidentally serves vegan food. I won’t bore you with the details (also, most of them are NSFW, even by VICE standards), but let’s just say the nachos were fine and the atmosphere lawless. Following that was Lucky Devil, where I nearly got myself kicked out for taking a picture of a sign that read “No Touching the Dancers.” I lied (badly) to the bouncer about having a phone when he asked me to show him, but upon learning that if I didn’t surrender the picture I’d be kicked out, gave in and admitted my lie. I deleted the picture.But I wasn’t going to run any more risks, so I couldn’t take a picture of the best thing I’ve ever consumed at a strip club: corn chowder. Yes, I hear you—who orders corn chowder at a strip club? Me, obviously. Surprisingly, they had two soup options, the other being tomato. The chowder was stellar. One chef who was with me that I forced to take a bite noted that it “wasn’t overly salty” while another chef proclaimed it to be “toothsome,” and still another exclaimed, “it squidges in your mouth!” (Gross.) I made everyone take a bite, and goddamn it, everyone fucking loved it. Who knew chowder would be the fan favorite?
Another highlight? Chef Sam Smith, executive chef and partner at Tusk restaurant, joined me at a place called Pirate’s Cove. The irony of the name of that place did not escape me. There is a Pirate’s Cove near my parents’ house in Maryland that I always go to with my dad for cream of crab soup whenever I am home. This was not that place. It was by far the divey-est and grimey-est of the strip clubs that I went to (and I mean that as a compliment). They had an excellent selection of frozen dinners, including beef and cheese burritos, taquitos, pepperoni or cheese personal pizzas, White Castle sliders, and TV dinners, as well as homemade sandwiches on Wonder Bread. I went with the $3 TV dinner (it was chicken nuggets, microwaved, with a brownie and macaroni and cheese). I had always dreamed of eating a TV dinner as a kid and my mom never bought that kind of thing.
It did not live up to my childhood expectations. But also it kind of did? The macaroni and cheese was that really overcooked cheesy crap, and the nuggets were rubbery and delicious.
I left Sam and went to Union Jacks, alone. This place was rumored to be kind of Russian-mafia-esque, or at least owned by Russians. I sat at the fairly empty bar (it was late afternoon at this stage). Dancers were sitting nearby, also ordering food. I asked them what to get, and they all recommended the chicken tenders and the fish and chips. I kind of wanted the macaroni and cheese, but, being the weirdo that I am, I opted for the Russian dumplings because, duh.
I kept watching as more and more fried food was being served, waiting patiently, staring at the mirrored walls, for my dumplings to arrive. They came in a basket, also deep-fried. I mentioned to the bartender, who also happened to be the chef, that I was surprised that they weren’t steamed. She pointed over her shoulder to her and was kind of like, “What do you expect? I don’t have a stovetop.”
My last strip club meal was at Acropolis, known lovingly as A-Crop among the locals. Around since 1976, this club is known for its $7 ribeyes, which are served with a baked potato and toasted bread.
They also had a salad bar with a sign asking people to “Use Utensils, Not Hands.” Reasonable! A-Crop was pretty bustling. There were numerous stages and everyone in there, pretty much, was eating. The cool (and weird) thing about A-Crop was that we could dine on the rail. So, obviously, we did. I was with another friend who had never been to a strip club, so I stacked some bills in front of her so that the dancer would show her some attention.
It kind of worked, but not really: the dancer was like, “Um, there are so many plates of food here, it makes it hard to dance.”
There were many clubs I didn’t get to hit up. I hear there is a place that does karaoke on Sundays (I had to fly out that morning, so couldn’t make it there), and lots of good male strip clubs. I’ll definitely have to go back and try them out.
And before you ask, yes, I did go to Mary’s, the oldest strip club in the city. I went at 2 PM, sober. Mary’s doesn’t have a kitchen onsite, but you can order from the taco spot next door. Except they didn’t open until 4, so I was left to quickly drink my craft beer and watch a few lonely dances before leaving. Pro tip: don’t be sober at the strip clubs.
Oh, also, Casa Diablo only gives out $2 bills, so everyone knows where you’ve been if you’re packing a wad of those guys.