We announced earlier this week that McMenamin's has finally set an opening date for its new Zeus Hotel in the building around the corner from the Crystal Ballroom.
McMenamin's has a rich history of converting rundown buildings with historic pasts into great new spaces. A school! A chapel! A... gay bathhouse. In the very distant past of four years ago, the Zeus Cafe and Crystal Hotel was one of Portland's seediest and most notorious buildings: A gay bath house called Club Portland. Incorporating its history into the new building is going to be a bit tricky for McMenamins.
We've mentioned this before, but I don't think anyone's gotten the picture of how crazy gross this place used to be and how much work McMenamin's and their developers had to do to scrub it clean. The club owner left it as-is when vacating, a sort of living museum to filth. This Just Out article explored the building just after it was sold to McMenamin's and a contractor describes having found 100 or so needles in the building's walls and mattresses. The owner also left behind the file cabinet of memberships, including the name and drivers license number of people who entered the club. I'm sure someone would be willing to pay a lot of money to dig through those files...
To get a full picture, I talked this afternoon with a man who had been to the club back before it closed in June 2007. He wanted to stay anonymous (for obvious reasons), but he's a reliable guy. Here's his oral history (ha) from Club Portland:
"It was a nightmare. While it was in operation, you could walk in the front door and there was a shifty eyed man behind the glass who would take your $30 or whatever.
After you paid your fee, you got your towel, you would wander around in various states of undress. The place was open 24/7 and they were supposed to kick you out after 24 hours, but they weren't very good at enforcing that rule. There would be some guys who would get in and out in thirty minutes and some weekend warriors who would stay there for two days.
This was the sort of bathhouse where there were a lot of small private rooms, probably 20 or 30 rooms per floor. Each small room had a little tv playing pornography constantly. Like mustache era, bareback, grainy, not erotic porn. There was a bath on every floor, with like a shower and sauna, but it was in such a state of disrepair that no one ever really used it."
More below the cut.
"I didn't do any drugs there, but it was well known as being a very easy place to score drugs. We're not talking weed or poppers or any shit like that, we're talking cocaine, drugs you do with needles.
You went to meet someone and fuck in a little room and get out. The notorious, notorious piece was the basement. The basement had a series of glory holes.
And there was a Jeep. The rumor was that the Jeep was an authentic Army-issued Jeep and it had its lights on all the time. So there was this weird, masculine, thumpa thumpa music playing all the time. You could be anyone, you didn't know who you were going to run into and you didn't care. And then it connected to the Silverado. It was on the corner of that same building, and the tribal knowledge was that the dancers at Silverado would go get their goods fluffed before they went on stage."
Good luck with that, McMenamins!
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