Location: 3701 Southeast Division Street, Portland, Oregon, USA
Closed: October 2010, now doing business as the "all-inclusive" Weird Bar
Here's how the Egyptian Club was once advertised:
Three lez bars in one! The Egyptian Club, or E-room, caters to the ladies all day, every day with the Front Lounge, The Room and The Tomb.
You don't see too many bars advertised quite like that! Actually, the Egyptian Club wasn't quite as peculiar as the hype cited above. Another advertisement clarifies the "three lez bars in one" concept in a bit more detail, and it turns out that the Egyptian Club wasn't really as Gothic or scary as all that:
Portland, Oregon has three full-time lesbian bars and they are all right here! The front lounge is great for chit-chat or a game of pool and is the bar that is open seven days a week. The Room is the karaoke bar and is open 7 nights a week (at 9pm). The Tomb is the dance bar, where we also hold special events and poker.
It seems that like a lot of lesbian bars in recent years, the Egyptian Club ran into financial troubles during the recent recession. Owner Kim Davis tried to sell the place, but the offers were on the low side. So Davis decided to make a big change: Give the old Egyptian Club a bright tangerine, lime, and purple paint job, re-christen it as the Weird Bar, and declare it "open to everyone." Of course, not all the bar's former lesbian patrons welcomed the change:
But now some regulars feel betrayed even as others give the bar a try for the first time. The change marks the loss of the metro area's only bar targeted exclusively to lesbians -- perhaps surprising in a city known nationwide as a haven for gay women. At the same time, though, many other local businesses cater to the larger gay community.
Katy Cannatelli became a regular at the Egyptian Club after moving to Portland in 2000. "I didn't have to worry about being gay-bashed or discriminated against," she said. The loss "feels like a little bit of a death in my community."
But Adam Cain, part of the transgender population, said he's excited about the change. Before, "there was a certain amount of unfriendliness toward men," he said. "All of that has completely gone away now."
Davis, 46, said that when she opened the Egyptian Club in 1995, people threw eggs at the building and assaulted the women bouncers outside the door. "We went through a lot back then, but it's different now," she said. "I want to accept everybody."
That includes straight men, who were often ostracized before.
"The lesbians really took ownership of it," she said. "If a straight guy walked in here, they would say, 'What are you doing here?' I don't want the negativity."
Still, deciding to change wasn't easy, said Davis, a bubbly blonde with streaks in her hair to match the bar's new color scheme. "I was a little scared to put the money into it," she said. "It's kind of like sink or swim, try something new or go away. So we're trying something new."
She named it Weird Bar for its winding layout -- and for herself: "No one is weirder than me! I'm the definition of it."
Update 8/2011: It has now been announced that the Weird Bar will be closing as of the end of August 2011. Which suggests that lesbian bars don't necessarily have an improved survival rate by going "queer"....