Jhe spent a few The years have brought plenty of news about the closure of queer spaces in Portland – legendary spots Embers, Hobo’s, the Roxy and Local Lounge have all closed since 2017 – but as Pride 2022 approaches, there are signs of life. And perhaps surprisingly (but perhaps not), they are concentrated in the historically queer center of the Old City.
The Queen’s Head, an eerie twist on classic English pubs inspired by owner Daniel Bund’s time in London, opened in November 2021 just behind Voodoo Donut and features a stacked weekly lineup including trivia, karaoke, slam poetry, storytelling and drag queen piano evenings. Bund wants to clarify that the Queen’s Head is a queer bar – meaning a space for everyone under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella – not just a gay or lesbian place with the occasional night swinging into the other meaning. “I still think there is a place for specifically gay male or lesbian spaces as well. It’s just not what we do or who our customers are,” Bund says.
His new neighbors are on the same page. “It’s up to a lot of us as queer business owners to really focus on building community,” says J Buck, owner of Rebel Rebel, another new queer bar that opened its doors just two blocks from the Queen’s Head in February. An intimate alley-style space, Rebel Rebel is bathed in red neon and decorated with tropical plants, wood paneling and silver cats: personal touches that pay homage to Buck’s Hawaiian upbringing. The space is hyper-colorful, with a disco ball and DJ rig in the back, but it also has a laid-back neighborhood charm that allows Rebel Rebel to go from being a drag hot spot on some nights to a place relaxing after the show for queens on others. Buck hopes that fluidity comes to characterize the space.
“It’s not just my bar, my idea, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’ It’s a free and changing space. With the lineup, the drag queens, the DJs and all, I want to let the community take the wheel and decide what we really want,” he says. “We’re not going to put us in a box.
The inclusive intentions of Queen’s Head and Rebel Rebel both informed where they chose to open, with neighboring businesses like CC Slaughters and Darcelle’s helping to foster a sort of gay neighborhood vibe reminiscent of the so- saying “Vaseline Alley” from the downtown 80s and 90s. Bund says that despite the current stigma in the area, its queer nightlife is starting to find its footing.
“If you live in the suburbs or you don’t live near the city center, there’s this misconception that the neighborhood is on fire, and that’s absolutely not the case,” he notes. “There are a lot of people living on the streets and sometimes we have to be a resource for them, but they alone don’t make the city center unsafe. The best thing we can do is encourage critical mass: the more people there are, the safer we will feel. If it remains a ghost town, it will be a bit difficult.
While Pride events weren’t locked down at press time, venues were looking forward to locking in parties with their neighbors in June. “We’re the closest space to the Pride festival in Waterfront Park, and we’re already on a pedestrian walkway, so we’re ready,” Bund says. Through the highs and lows of opening up a queer space in an unpredictable time, he says the times when he can revel in what he has built are worth it. “A few nights ago, someone who wasn’t binary proposed to his trans girlfriend, and they were like, ‘This is the first place we felt safe.’ I run a business and it’s stressful to work seven days a week, 10 hours a day, but when I get to enjoy it and see people having a good time, it’s so rewarding and empowering .