Portland is known for its liberal population, so it may come as no surprise to gay Portland residents that the city has the second-highest percentage of LGBTQ+ residents in the United States.
This large LGBTQ+ population is second only to San Francisco. As a result of the high population of LGBTQ+ residents and high demand for housing in the city, there is no single Portland gay district.
Unlike other cities, the gay community is well distributed across the city. However, gay Portland residents do tend to settle a little more thickly in the Southwest Stark Street/Burnside Triangle area and around Mississippi Avenue.
Both areas are rich in diversity, creativity and commerce, and home to numerous gathering places. Many Portland bars and restaurants that reflect the city’s natural personality and welcome LBGTQ+ patrons and events. Much of the most beloved and most highly touted gay nightlife in Portland, however, is centered in the heart of downtown.
The Bar Scene
While there is no lack of gay bars in Portland, a few stand out for sheer personality, service and quality. Chief among local favorites are:
- Crush Bar: Crush has been earning awards for being one of Portland’s best gay bars consistently since 2015. Heavy on kitsch, the bar is famous for excellent cocktails, local food, and a welcoming atmosphere. Regular drag and cabaret events are a great way to introduce anyone who hasn’t yet experienced the charm of Crush.
- Silverado: Another long-standing favorite, Silverado is perhaps best known for its holiday parties celebrating everything from St. Patrick’s Day to Independence Day. Its perpetual popularity also owes to the fact that visitors can find great dancing there every night of the week.
- Local Lounge: Although relatively new to the Portland Oregon gay scene, the Lounge regularly hosts a lively crowd for themed event and dance nights. This community-run bar is known for being welcoming and comfortable for all.
- Bye and Bye: Ranked as one of the best lesbian bars in Portland, Bye and Bye offers a cozy setting, a Southern-style vegan menu and a heated patio. Open from noon to 2:00 a.m. every day, the bar is equally perfect for a casual lunch with friends or a late date night.
- Scandals: A Portland favorite since 1979, Scandals is conveniently located downtown and regularly features live entertainment of all kinds. Its outdoor patio feels distinctly “Portland” and its periodic karaoke nights are not to be missed.
Shows and Events
To truly and properly experience the gay nightlife in Portland, there’s no substitute for attending one of the gay community’s iconic local events. While options abound, visitors trying to choose can’t go wrong with catching a show at CC Slaughters or Darcelle’s XV.
In addition to being a popular nightclub and dance spot, Slaughters is home to some of Portland’s best drag shows. The club’s Rainbow Room Lounge offers good food and great martinis nightly and one-of-a-kind shows every weekend.
Fridays bring Pre-Pump Friday drag shows hosted by Miss Inanna with no cover charge. Every Sunday, the venue hosts a Superstar Divas megashow where the Portland drag queen bunch of Bolivia Carmichaels, Isaiah Esquire and Honey Bea Hart start the show at 8 p.m. With no cover charge and $3 cocktails, it’s an understandably popular event.
Every month, Saturday Spectaculars bring together burlesque, dancing, singing, circus feats and drag queens. Visitors who come early can get in without a cover charge, and booths are available for private reservations for parties that want a little extra in their experience. Other events, like Studio 54 parties and Total Request Nights, happen regularly.
Darcelle’s has been a local staple since 1969 and is now the longest-running drag queens show on America’s West Coast. Located adjacent to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, the Showplace presents one show per night on Wednesdays and Thursdays and two shows per night on Fridays and Saturdays. The door price for each show is $20 per person, and patrons of the later showings on Fridays and Saturdays are welcome to stay for the “Men of Darcelle’s” male strippers show that runs at midnight.
Shows are open to patrons 21 years of age and over. A bar menu is available during regular shows and a limited menu is provided during midnight showings. The Showplace regularly runs private and special events. Can’t make a show? Check the Darcelle’s website, as the Divas can also be found at local events, fundraisers and competitions!
Other venues, like Night Light Lounge and Stag PDX, host regular drag queen brunch events for visitors who can’t get enough of Portland’s lively LGBTQ+ scene during the evening. Late-night drinking and hangovers can be cured by Sunday morning visits to drag brunches.
Gay clubs and shows aren’t the only points of interest in Portland for the LBGTQ+ community. Other popular events, festivals and nightlife opportunities worth checking out include:
- Pride North West. Generally held in June, PNW is host to the famous Portland Pride Waterfront Festival and Parade, as well as an array of other events throughout the month.
- The Red Dress Party. This giant annual fundraiser for LGBTQ+ entities attracts thousands of people every year and provides a much-loved opportunity for the community to gather and party for a good cause.
- Film Festivals. Both QDoc and the Portland Queer Film Festival bring in movies and documentaries that are queer-themed or written or produced by LGBTQ+ artists for screenings in Portland multiple times throughout the year.
- Peacock in the Park and Peacock After Dark. These massive drag queen shows designed to entertain the whole family and raise funds for scholarship programs have been part of Portland’s landscape since 1987.
- Portland Queer Comedy Festival. Started in 2017, this already-famous festival runs for five days, featuring big-name comics at multiple venues in a crowd-pleasing bar-crawl-style event.
- Portland Queer Music Hosted by Crush Bar, this music festival brings in the best musicians identifying as LGBTQ+ for Portland’s enjoyment every year.
- Imperial Sovereign Rose Court Coronation Ball. Every October, the Rose Court hosts a coronation ball at which “emperors” and “empresses” are selected to lead the community in the following year and duly crowned.
With so many events, it’s nearly guaranteed that there will be something happening when you’re in town. Visitors can check Portland’s LGBTQ-friendly guides to get the latest on what’s happening and where when they get into town.