The Eagle has landed

About ten years ago a friend of mine set me up on a blind date with her coworker, a guy named Andy. At the time I was living a date-free existence while going to school in Eugene, Oregon, and visiting Portland on weekends every chance I could get. So I was up for anything. Andy suggested we go to the Eagle. I'd never been, but it sounded interesting. When he told me that there was an Underwear Party that night ("but you don't have to take your clothes off if you don't want to, I'm not going to"), I knew I'd be out of my element but I did my best to act cool and unfazed about it.
When we came in, the bar was crowded full of men, mostly undressed and mostly quite a bit older than us. It wasn't as creepy as I was expecting – everybody was friendly – but there was plenty of naughty behavior going on in the dark corners. "Oh, it's nothing like it used to be," people told me, "this place used to be really sleazy back in the 80s."

Years later I was telling newcomers to Portland about the Eagle, "it's not as sleazy at it used to be back in the 90s. Over there where the pinball machine is now, that used to be the BJ nook. And you never knew what kind of scene you'd run into in the bathroom."

For a few years the Eagle seemed to be on the decline, and the dozen or so times I went there after my first Underwear Party it was usually boring and sparsely attended. Until more recently, when a new owner wised up and let the younger generation inject some energy into the place with monthly club nights like JACK!, Blow Pony and some other events, where the crowd was mixed and the music was better than average, or even fresh. If you went on the right night, instead of geriatric suburban leather daddies you'd see the Eagle packed with eager young revelers — men, women, girls, boys, and ambiguously gendered persons, punks, hipsters, bears, freaks, average joes, exiles from the shitty house music and jaw-clenching vibe of Portland's other gay bars.

At the same time, on the other side of Burnside Street, the neighborhood was completing its transformation from a gritty, if picturesque, warehouse/industrial district into a utopian yuppie paradise of well-executed urban planning, overpriced condos, and elite consumerism now known as the Pearl District. The writing on the wall became obvious enough for everyone to see: "Vaseline Alley", the short stretch of SW Stark Street which has been the center of Portland's gay nightlife for decades, inevitably would become a casualty of gentrification.

Saturday, February 9th was the Eagle's last night before moving into its new location in Old Town. Blow Pony burned the place down (so to speak), drawing a huge crowd of people who, like me, were surprised that they'd ever feel nostalgia for the dingy mezzanine, slow-moving lines at the bar, smoky air, and overflowing sewage flooding from the bathroom onto the dance floor.

I took a few pictures.

sling
DSCN0129
pool table
Ehren and Scott

So what's next for the corner of SW 13th and Burnside? More condos, of course! But at least the plans, by architect/developer Skylab Design Group (with a reputation built on elaborately styled attention-getters like the Doug Fir Lounge), look a lot more interesting than the typical towers sprouting up in this part of town. An automated parking garage? A restaurant extending over the rooftop of the adjacent Crystal Ballroom? Twenty-two stories on a 5,000 square-foot lot? It looks pretty over-ambitious, especially in the current real estate market. "We have a lot of work to do to understand how we might achieve this financially and technically," as Skylab principal Jeff Kovel put it, but if they can pull it off, I'll be happy to see a lively and unique building on such a visible site. (a press release, a forum discussion, and the most up-to-date info at the Portland Spaces blog)

in the foreground, Whole Foods Market and an abandoned gay bathhouse

1 comment:

jimbo said...

Sorry to hear the Eagle has gone the way of many plots in DC as well, in the never-ending urban hunger for more condos. I remember back in 1997 the beer there was tasty - and cheap! I got a little chubby on Portland beer.

Sounds like Blow Pony is the way to go for revitalzing the leather bar scene. Say hi to leather Anubis from me if you see him again.