It's Thanksgiving weekend. In honor of gluttony—and after not one but two Thanksgiving dinners—my friend, who we'll call "Dan Kensington," and I rent a car and drive from Seattle to Portland. I'm usually loyal to the foul, retro-cheap The Palms Motel on North Interstate Avenue—but because it's a holiday, I book a room at the stupid-expensive Vintage Plaza downtown. As we turn right on Broadway, we pass Mary's Club, and its neon lights wink at us: blink-blink, blink-blink! Kensington admits he's never been to a strip club in Portland.
Every time I've been to Mary's (the mother of ALL strip clubs since 1965), it's packed—full of rowdy laughter and good-time drunkards. There's a $2 cover at the door and no drink minimum. We sit at the last open table and order two double vodka sodas. The big bearded guy behind us tells a leather-clad hesher that he's in the band Red Fang. The crowd is a mix of mostly twenty- and thirtysomethings, lots of couples. An impossibly tall, classically beautiful woman with a tattoo of cello f-holes on her lower back picks out a hiphop song from the onstage jukebox. Her booty clap is so refined that each one of her round, muscular butt cheeks operates independently. Kensington gasps at her upside-down pole maneuvers. Some guy sitting front stage yells, "It's my birthday!" She leans down, gives him a healthy birthday motorboating with her near-perfect, implant-free double-Ds, and slips off the stage, falling directly on top of him. Boobs still in his face, both fall backward to the floor. With absolute grace, she climbs back onstage. People applaud, nobody laughs, and everyone tips.
We're starting to get too drunk at Mary's. We wanna see more. After consulting the handy-dandy map inside Portland's free glossy stripper mag, Exotic, we note that Magic Garden is within walking distance. It's also in Chinatown (read: lots of street food and late-night restaurants). Magic Garden has no cover and no drink minimum. Like Mary's, there's only one dancer, one stage. The cute but only half-naked girl dancer seems bored out of her skull. We get cheap, strong drinks from a geriatric bartender who looks like my grandma Ingrid. We try to ignore the two loud Australians playing pool, who share matching shiny bald heads. We focus on the girl, who ignores the pole and instead lazily writhes around onstage to songs by Black Lips and Thee Oh Sees. Her boredom is infectious.
We're so drunk that we can't find Ark Angel's, despite locating it on both of our iPhones. I argue that we should go back to Mary's. We start walking and stumble upon Spyce. There's a $5 cover, but I talk the door girl down to $7 for both of us, because it's about to close. Inside, there are two floors and an obnoxious number of dancers and poles (I think I counted five stages). The girls don't pick the songs, resulting in god-awful Top 40 dance music. The unbelievably bossy DJ keeps yelling shit like "Tip your bartender! Tip the girls!" despite the fact that everyone's already throwing money around like it's rice at a wedding. We order last-call vodkas—overpriced and underpoured—and watch the women scramble to give sad cheeseballs in bad suits the last few lap dances of the night.
It feels wrong to ignore the Vintage Plaza's extensive and expensive room-service menu, but we head to the Acropolis. For the past 36 years, starting at 7 a.m., you can find steak and eggs, steak and potatoes, or a 10-egg omelet with ham and cheese. There's also a five-pound "Colossal Burger," 54 different beer taps, and 300 liquor selections. There's a fully functioning salad bar that lives underneath a dusty old disco ball spinning like its 401(k) dried up in the financial meltdown. The salad bar sits about two feet away from a stage stocked with fully nude women, who also start work at 7 a.m. As Kensington orders a $10 bacon-wrapped filet mignon, and I tell the waitress that I want my $7 steak cooked medium-rare, one of the dancers comes over to the table we're sharing with a twentysomething couple who're dipping tater tots into a vat of steak sauce. She turns to dance for them and her butt comes within a cunt hair of the jumbo-sized Heinz ketchup bottle. I look around at the other 15 to 20 patrons all eating huge plates of food and am fascinated by the size of the meat. "STOP LOOKING AT ME!" yells the pug-nosed owner of one of the steaks. He pleads with his companions, who look old enough to be his parents, "Why won't she stop looking at me?!" They leave in a huff and are immediately replaced by three Latino guys who order a five-pound burger and move closer to the stage occupied by a barely-legal-looking strawberry-blond. Iron Maiden's "The Number of the Beast" is blaring on the house speakers. The Latino Larry, Curly, and Moe banter feverishly in Spanish. The girl suddenly grabs a laminated sign that says "Dancers Work for Tips" and shoves it in their faces, then she storms off the stage and returns with the youngest, skinniest bouncer I've ever seen. He takes them aside. They sit back down quietly and share their burger. Curly chews with his mouth open and remains ignorant of the fact that he's got mayo, mustard, and bun crumbs all over his face. Strawberry is contorting so that she's upside down, long hair splayed across the bar top, legs spread-eagle around an older Asian man's face. "Wow, wow, wow!" is all he can say. I take a big bite of bloody steak, and Kensington says, "This is America. You can have whatever you want."
Safari advertises a 16-ounce T-bone steak for $9.75. But we're here because we read on PortlandBarFly.com that the jungle-themed club sports taxidermy and that staff periodically feed goldfish to their multiple piranhas. The taxidermy turns out to be a single stuffed tiger that I saw last summer at the Evergreen State Fair. They do have two tanks filled with piranhas, but the fish look as old and toothless as the disco ball at the Acropolis. A babyish girl is dancing to some horrible electronic music in front of four toothless rednecks in Harley-Davidson garb. I'm the only female customer in the whole place. We sip lukewarm beer while an older Asian man sits by himself at the video-lottery machine. Kensington notes that there's always an older Asian man sitting alone, in every strip club, anywhere, ever.
Feeling down after Safari, we drive to Devils Point. It's early, and the girls ignore us and seem to be practicing new moves for each other. The place is floor-to-ceiling black with 100 percent hazy red lighting. It feels like a womb. The girls are playing the Dresden Dolls and old soul records. There's a giant poster of Bettie Page. Devils Point boasts an affirming retro-feminist vibe, but it's just too early for this place.
Like Safari and the other Devil, there's no cover and no drink minimum (take note, Seattle). And who knew there was a strip club that makes its own hummus fresh every morning? I'm crunching a carrot and trying to figure out what sort of apparatus the naked girl is swinging on when drunken Santa walks in. He's got the suit, the boots, the belt, the hat, the beard, and the belly. He sits down for a lap dance while Hot Chocolate's "I Believe in Miracles" plays. I feel dizzy.
Though Santa tells us it's not really worth the drive, we leave for Pirate's Cove. I really want to see this one, because the building is shaped like a giant whiskey jug. After too many pirate jokes, we go inside and DJ Mexi-Dave is playing Alice in Chains. There are no pirates here, just more dancers who are oddly all starting to look the same. I want to drink whiskey, but I'm driving, so I get watery coffee instead. I lose $30 on video-lottery games, get kinda down again, or maybe just bored.
We ditch the car and take a taxi to Sassy's. I tell Kensington that this is the rowdiest place, second only to Mary's—it's packed. We order two $3 powerfully built vodka sodas, and the first sip makes my nipples hard. The speakers blare Misfits and there's nowhere to sit. The cowboy in the white leather suit is actually a butch lesbian who's about to win a fistfight with a Mohawked punker. A bouncer with tattoos covering 95 percent of his face and neck breaks it up. Everyone else is drunk, laughing, and having fun. There are couples, singles, the obligatory lonely Asian man, and even a gay guy watching the three stages. I sit down and turn my head, which almost lands inside a dancer's vagina. She's clacking her giant stripper shoes together—in between smacking them on the floor—and repeatedly putting her hoo-hoo in my face. I repeatedly tip her and drink till Sassy's gets blurry and I wake up back at the Vintage Plaza. On the way out of town, we pass the Occupy protesters. Kensington says that even though we're 99 percenters, it's still nice to know that in Portland we can have whatever we want.