Portland's best clubs pride themselves on remaining small, casual, and dark—almost too dark, since even locals have a hard time finding them. The murkiest of them all may be Towne Lounge, hidden in a converted Art Deco funeral home on the edge of Southwest Portland. It is the place to see burlesque drag acts, experimental and obscure bands like beat-heavy, electro-pop makers Reverse Dotty and the Candy Cane Shivs, and other boundary-blurring performance artists.
You probably didn’t cross the continent to sit in a dank, smoky strip club, but strangely enough, Portland boasts one of the warmest and female-friendliest flesh markets in the country. Mary’s Club, the city’s oldest, opened in 1954 and is peppered with just the right amounts of erotica and irony. Grab one of the Naugahyde booths and join the respectful co-ed audience as tattooed art chicks gyrate to the latest Belle & Sebastian EP.
You’d be hard-pressed to visit Portland without encountering a McMenamins watering hole. But unlike the other 54 uniformly decorated “microbrew” venues, the grandiose Crystal Ballroom is a fixture on the local music scene. It draws big-name indie acts like the New Pornographers and Peter, Bjorn and John, plus members of local collectives like the Decemberists and Pink Martini, who can often be spied checking out smaller acts at the annex space, Lola’s Room.