Southeast Portland is now home to a block of queer bars just steps from one of the city’s busiest entertainment spots: Revolution Hall. Sissy Bar opened in June, just after the Portland Pride Festival ended, a mere storefront from its established gay neighbor, Crush Bar, and its adjoining new all-ages cafe, Opal’s Night & Day Cafe, which has was launched in February.
Although run by different teams, Sissy Bar and Crush appear to be sister bars, serving comparable menus and patrons. Both offer Instagrammable appetizers and fruity cocktails, and play queer-friendly music of all ages, but Sissy Bar’s crowd seems to tend to be younger than Crush’s.
The Sissy Bar, which founder Derek Palmer refers to as a “video lounge,” uses a lot of moving images for aesthetics. Partially lit by cubes of the color of the panels on the electronic memory game Simon, the space is also lit by YouTube recordings from artists ranging from Megan Thee Stallion and City Girls to Grimes and Azealia Banks. Still visuals – photos of gay divas like Madonna, Jennifer Lopez and DJ Paris Hilton – also line the walls. Music video volume is loud enough for you to enjoy the songs, but not so loud that conversations have to be shouted.
On two recent Saturday nights, the Sissy Bar was comfortably busy – groups of friends of all orientations and legal drinking ages gathered together. Some looked like they had just left the office, while others were dressed to impress, ready for wherever the night takes them.
There’s no dance floor or recurring drag shows, which tend to draw patrons to other gay bars in town, but the Sissy Bar offers a space for decidedly queer company and pop music that supports the community.
Sissy Bar’s cocktail menu is similar to that of Crush: classic drinks concocted with skill, but the newcomer seems fond of names with cultural nods (Will Smith Punch, $10; She’s All That, $11) . There’s also house brand Sissy Mule ($11), Sissy MANhattan ($13), and bittersweet Sissy Galore ($11), which mixes grapefruit and lemon juice with orange bitters. and Ryan Reynolds’ Aviation American Gin. These drinks pair well with quaint and savory Colombian dishes, such as sudado rice bowls ($11 vegan, $14 chicken), ajiaco stew ($15) and arepas sandwiches with avocado salad ($12 for the vegan and cheese versions, $14 with chicken). All are comfortably filled, but would benefit from a hint of additional seasoning.
Opal’s Night & Day Cafe served a handful of customers on two evening visits, catching overflows from either of the nearby bars. A towering beige-colored painting of cubist faces watches over the shimmering pink bar here, which can be interesting to look at or just plain creepy.
The space once housed Woody’s Coffee Tavern, named after Woody Clark, co-owner of Crush and now Opal’s with James Jackman. The Coffee Tavern temporarily closed after Governor Kate Brown announced the first pandemic restrictions more than two years ago.
Clarke memorably called the police on 12 of his former employees in March 2020 after staging a sit-in. Once laid off due to the mandatory closure, the group demanded accrued sick pay, half pay for the hours originally scheduled to work the following week and a guarantee of rehiring once operations resumed. Initially, these demands were not met.
Employees at Clarke’s two companies began unionizing in late 2019, and although the National Labor Relations Board notes that Clarke settled with former Crush employees in August 2021, Woody’s Coffee Tavern closed permanently before that. these employees don’t spend their day in court.
Now rebranded as Opal’s, the cocktail menu features an eclectic mix of sweet drinks, like pomegranate juice, vodka and egg white Amaretto Fizz ($10) and tropical Chartreuse Swizzle ($15). But it’s also a coffee bar (the “Day” part of the name), so you’ll find the typical range of caffeinated drinks, including Opal’s version of pumpkin spice latte sprinkled with seasonal cinnamon. Diners have a choice of soup, salad, breakfast sandwiches and homemade casseroles.
Although Opal’s hasn’t been busy during my visits, the cafe has potential as an intimate hangout. For now, its communal sidewalk terrace provides Crush with more outdoor seating on its busiest nights.
With Sissy Bar, Crush and Opal anchored on the same block, and nearby Rev Hall and Holocene hosting gay-friendly concerts and dance parties, the area now has everything it takes for the first-ever gay bar crawl in the world. southeast of Portland.
BEVERAGE: Sissy Bar Portland, 1416 SE Morrison St., 503-206-4325, sissybarportland.com. 4pm-midnight Wednesday-Thursday, 4pm-2am Friday-Saturday, 4pm-11pm Sunday. Opal’s Night & Day Cafe, 1412 SE Morrison St., 503-235-8150, opalsnightanddaycafe.com. 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday.