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Why does Portland have so many strip clubs

Why does Portland have so many strip clubs?

Portland prides itself on many things – the food scene, attractions, art galleries, and museums, as well as its historical and funky lifestyle. 

Heck, the city even loves nudity and the streets dotted with strip clubs might just give it away!

In fact, Portland has one of the craziest strip club lifestyles you’ll see in all of America. Let’s take a trip back in history and see how Portland became the strip club capital in the United States – a title that any other American city has yet to beat.

Why does Portland have so many strip clubs?

Why does Portland have so many strip clubs

To begin with, Oregon’s Supreme Court has vigorously defended “free expression” in all forms since the state’s adoption of a constitution in 1859.

This included a very vague act: (Article 1, Section 8): “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatsoever.

Essentially, Portland has so many strip clubs because the state has always provided support for “free expression” here – and strip clubs are associated with that in Portland.

In fact, the surge in Portland strip clubs can be traced back to the re-fortification of Oregon’s free speech protections.

Oregon’s Free Speech Protections: Influence on Strip Culture

Oregon’s Free Speech Protections Influence on Strip Culture

Oregon’s free speech protections are among the most fundamental reasons why Portland has so many strip clubs. In particular, this can be traced back to Article 1, Section 8, which discusses that no law shall restrict free expression.

Now, that alone is a vague act that doesn’t necessarily point to allowing strip culture to flourish. However, we can take a few steps back in history to illustrate how this act led to the protection of Portland’s nudist nature.

In 1976, Portland obtained a copy of a film titled “Pumpin ‘The Poop Chute” – this film was then shown at Star Theater, an erotic film theater. 

Word got out about the film. The owner of Star Theater, John Tidyman, was sued by the city for violating an obscenity statute. 

The resulting case, which took nearly ten years to resolve and reached Oregon’s Supreme Court, determined that these shows were protected by the state’s “free expression” clause. Tidyman was acquitted of all charges.

This was followed by a strengthening of Oregon’s free speech protections, which include this line: 

“In this state, any person can write, print, read, say, show or sell anything to a consenting adult even though that expression may be generally or universally considered ‘obscene’…Appearing nude or exposing one’s genitals in public, can constitute symbolic conduct and be a form of expression under Article 1, section 8.”.

As previously stated, this re-fortification sparked the rise of the city’s strip clubs. Since  nude dancing was protected as a form of free speech in Oregon, opponents of strip clubs had to come up with novel ways to keep them out of their communities.

The War Against Strip Clubs in Portland

The War Against Strip Clubs in Portland

The thing is, while there are so many strip clubs in Portland, not everyone is happy about this controversial lifestyle. In fact, some of the locals here see strip clubs as a source of trouble within communities.

Others claim that nudist clubs would cause traffic and parking issues, as well as litter and noise. They also suggest that these attract criminal activity such as drug trafficking, prostitution, and street brawls. 

None of the protests against these clubs have been successful. Some groups have attempted to use zoning laws, but those efforts were also unsuccessful because adult businesses in Oregon cannot be zoned differently than other businesses.

In fact, strip clubs have become an integral part of Portland’s entertainment and tourism industries. Apart from the popular food spots in the area, strip clubs are probably the next thing it’s best known for. 

This resulted in the city of Portland being dubbed the strippiest city in America, with the highest number of strip clubs per capita.

Exactly how many strip clubs are there in Portland?

Exactly how many strip clubs are there in Portland

According to data sourced by Priceonomics Data Services, the city of Portland landed at number one in the list of United States cities with the highest number of strip clubs per capita, with a total number of 54 strip clubs all over the place.

Indeed, Portland outranked Miami, New Orleans, and Las Vegas – larger cities with longstanding reputations as havens for adult entertainment – with one strip club per 11,286 residents.

Here, you can find every kind of stripping experience imaginable, including vegan strippers, smaller-framed strippers, and Stripparaoke. 

To the newcomers in town, it does feel a bit quirky and almost uncomfortable to see (if you’re not used to it). 

So, let’s go over the first strip club in Portland up to the current strip club scene in the city. This way, you might be able to slowly grasp the magnetic “charm” these places have (and why they’re popular among a lot of us Portlanders!).

The First Gentlemen’s Club in Portland

The First Gentlemen’s Club in Portland

The first strip club launched at the start of the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s shattered many taboos surrounding sex and nudity, sparking a nationwide reckoning with the concept of “obscenity.” 

Go-go dancing and topless dance bars spread across the country, heralding the end of the theatrical burlesque show.

And the very first of such venues in Portland?

It dates back to 1954, when a businessman named Roy Keller bought Mary’s Club, a struggling piano bar in Portland, and started showcasing exotic dancers during musical intermissions

The disgruntled piano bar soon had a line of patrons waiting for the dancers, and in 1965, it was rebranded as Portland’s first recognized topless bar. 

The success of Mary’s Club signaled the start of a new era of topless dancing in Portland, and other topless bars soon followed.

Later on, the surge of such bars, most specifically strip clubs, was inevitable (up until today), all thanks to the re-fortification of Oregon’s free speech protections.

Portland’s Strip Club Scene Today

Portland’s Strip Club Scene Today

These days, the local strip scene in the city is so well-liked and ingrained in the culture that even travel guides mention it. 

There are sections in travel guides like Frommer’s and Lonely Planet devoted to the city’s strip clubs. Willamette Week also publishes a guide to the best strip clubs each year and annual guides to the city’s top bars, restaurants, and volunteer groups. 

An edition of Time magazine listed strip clubs as one of Portland’s top ten attractions in a travel article, along with Powell’s Books, Voodoo Doughnuts, food trucks, microbreweries, and Forest Park.

The variety of Portland’s strip clubs ranges from the traditional, like Mary’s, which was the city’s first and is among the country’s oldest, to Casa Diablo, dubbed “the world’s first vegan gentleman’s club.” 

There are burlesque clubs, punk and metal strip clubs, and even a club like Tiny Tuesdays at Lucky Devil Lounge, where the dancers are all under five feet tall. In sum, Portland’s strip scene has just about everything now.

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