The E Room trades in lesbians for ‘weirds’

The E Room in better times. Pride 2010

No matter what our varied and occasionally uncomfortable feelings about Portland’s only dyke bar the E Room may have been, we were all saddened when they announced their impending closure this October. But the owner(s) appeared to want to move on and did not want to accept help in the form of a “Save the E Room” fundraiser. Everything for the past couple months has been a dedicated “last” as we all continued to slow funeral procession towards its final days.

Turns out, the bar itself is not dying, only its commitment to lesbians and gays. ERoomBoss announced this today on Facebook:

Oh! The rumors! After the e-room closing (October 9) the space will be closed for a week. A new bar will replace the e-room (Weird Bar). This bar will be all-inclusive for anyone who considers themself a little weird, but will be “normal-friendly”. To check out the progress of the new place you can sign up on the …website to learn more. You will also get a free pass to the grand opening (October 16)

The newly titled Weird Bar sports the same 90s style web site with Dr. Suess quotes in an attempt to normalize weird? Strangify normal? However, this carries not only the connotation that LGBTQ folks are weird, but that both weird and normal are valued as a label over lesbian or queer. Folks are already commenting that they feel like they’ve been thrown under the bus and even though I was not an every weekend regular I do as well.

Local queer business owner Stacy Bias says it well:

I feel “weird” about the only lesbian bar closing and opening up again with the same ownership as straight bar. I get that it’s a niche market that you felt couldn’t sustain you, but there were other options that would have allowed you to be as loyal to your clientele as they have been to you over the years. Regardless, if you knew that you were opening up a new bar in the same space — a new bar that your loyal clientele would feel less at home in, that should have been transparent from the start. It’s like taking an ice cream cone away from your daughter and giving it to your son — when he’s already holding an ice cream cone in his other hand. Straight folks have every other bar in Portland. When the e-room closes, dykes have no focused space left at all. Kind of a dick move if you ask me…

…there were better ways to have done this instead of just waiting for someone else to “out” them about it and then not owning up to the fact …that they’re throwing the dykes under the bus by not openly declaring their loyalty any longer to the queer community and catering to the so-called “normal” crowd (with, ironically, a bar called “weird.”) Having a conversation with the community about it, saying they’re struggling and need to open it up, being open about the process and giving folks a chance to have their feelings about it would have been a much better choice. It’s a business, yes, but by virtue of being a community gathering place for as long as it has, it isn’t just a business because of the emotional impact it has on the people who have had a safe place to go for so long and might not have it any longer…

Portland queers are not afraid of change. We evolve rapidly and welcomed the E Room to take a journey into new levels of queerness, design and business practice. But this level of non-transparency, some would argue even flat out lying, makes a once loyal customer base feel betrayed.

Not only that, but will it still be “safe” in a space if it does not prioritize its queer history? I’ve actually had my share of harassment, by men, women, gay and straight at the E Room but I feel it could get even worse in a place when an under-served population, who feel they do not have anywhere else to turn (except you do! I’ll let you know where to go!) continue to patronize an establishment that no longer seems to care about their needs.

Surely, the news that the E Room is closing was a media blitz in and of itself as well as being an excuse to completely turn over their staff. Indeed, this may be a clever marketing ploy if you believe that any press is good press. But for a bar that so recently was voted the Best Lesbian Bar in America and I am beyond disappointed.

How do you feel? Start the discussion below. And if you want to see what more people had to say you can check out the E Room Boss’ FB post, which has over 100 comments.

17 comments to The E Room trades in lesbians for ‘weirds’

  • Jamie

    I hate to be a negative nancy, but the E-room was in need of a serious attitude overhaul! As a 100% fem lezzie who is happily in an LTR with my lovely fem lezzie girlfriend, we were treated like dirt on numerous occasions at the E-room, by staff and other lezzies, and for absolutely NO REASON! I have never felt so discriminated against ANYWHERE in Portland. In fact, these straight bars that you speak of tend to be far more accepting of ‘alternative’ lifestyles than the E-room staff and patrons were to ‘alternative’ lezzies in their own community. Perhaps ‘Weird Bar’ will step it up and create an environment that does not create hate and animosity within the ‘queer’ community.

  • Benj

    I’m a lesbian Portlander who’s been here since ’94. Only been to the E-room twice – both because a friend was there. That place is grimy and a horrific place to hang out. Which is why I didn’t – so, I say, no loss here. Hello, Red Cap and Queer Night at Mississippi Studios.

  • jenifer

    I think it’s so incredibly offensive for the EROOM to start calling itself now “NORMAL-FRIENDLY”. What the FUCK?

    TRAITORS. I’m never going there again. The only reason I ever went there is that it’s the only dyke bar in town, in all other respects it was, as someone else wrote, HORRIFIC. dirty, full of drunkards and haircuts/fashion from 1992. It stank, the events sucked, the kareoke sucked, the dance parties sucked, and no “NORMAL” person will ever go there because there is no draw-straights can go to any bar in town, why should they hang out in the grimy (and not in a good way) cesspool that was is the EROOM/WEIRD bar. (not to mention thats a ridiculous name).

  • margo

    The bar and the service has always sucked. I hated that place, and I’m not surprised in the least that they just plain lied about closing. They’ve always been so out of touch with Portland culture anyway, so I’m also not surprised that they came up with this idiotic, off-key, bound-to-fail “weird” concept.

  • Liss

    I came out in 2002. The words “I’m gay” crossed my lips and were still visibly hanging in the air cartoon-bubble-style when my family of origin—my parents, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles, and cousins, the entire perrasca—summarily dismissed me from their collective life. Three weeks later I found myself at the NYC Dyke March, not so much militantly “marching” as stumbling along in a haze of bewildered abandonment. This was a sea of swarming energy, teeming with queers; I had never felt so alone in my life. Then a magical thing happened: the march turned a city corner, and my gaze was drawn away from the buzzing crowd and upward to the buildings on either side of us where a staggering number of people hung perilously out of their windows and balconies, waving rainbow flags, cheering us on. For the first time I understood what “community” meant. These strangers, these faceless, story-less people loved and supported me, just for being who I was.

    It is that sense of community, that empowering idea that no matter our differences in life experience or personality or viewpoint, we are bonded together, not by a communal sense of otherness or shared pain from our lives as queers, but rather by the shared experience of speaking our truths in quiet and loud voices day in and day out.

    This is what disturbs me most about the recent backlash in our community following the announcement that the E-Room will cease to be a lesbian bar and re-open as Portland’s Weird Bar. What we have here are two queer women, two successful members of our community who have spent their adult lives providing an outlet for the lesbians and other queer folk to find community and celebrate their identities and have a fucking drink without being harassed by a horny dude. We should celebrate this. They are women. Like us. They are queers. Like us. And they have been wildly successful at what they do. And, yes, it is a tragic, heart-wrenching thing to love something and to have poured your life into something and then, in the wake of a blistering economy, make the decision to change that into something more fiscally viable. I even understand getting a little teary in your beer over the thing—we have, many of us, after all, experienced a great deal of loss in our lives and, more often than not, can point directly at the “gay card” to explain that loss and betrayal—or, if you’re not the crying type, shoot off your mouth over a round of whiskey. But, this scalding, public outcry? This demand that “loyal customers are being betrayed?” WHAT IS THAT? Far worse, this I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-degree-in-womens-studies-so-I-write-angry-blogs, ridiculous suggestion that the re-opening of a “weird” bar that caters to a wider client base in notoriously “weird” Portland (we make bumper stickers that say this for crying out loud) is some sort of homophobic action that “carries not only the connotation that LGBTQ folks are weird, but that both weird and normal are valued as a label over lesbian or queer?” I mean, please. I took that Intro to Queer Studies course, too, but just applying that terminology to an event doesn’t make it accurate.

    Perhaps, instead, we should come together as a community and see this for what it is—a painful business decision made in the wake of years of hellacious economic pressures with no end in sight. Or how about this: a family of two successful queer women who have treated their staff and clients like extended family for a great long while who, when facing the grim reality that their business is folding, are willing to roll up the sleeves of their plaid flannels and try one last thing (opening up their client base to the segment of the Pdx population most likely to be good step-family to us) to keep a chunk of dedicated Portland queers employed and feeding their families. Personally, I like to eat. So does my neighbor’s son. And every dollar our community puts in the tip jar at the Weird Bar does that, and keeps one more queer mama off the unemployment line, thanks to a couple of bar owners who would rather fight the economy—and now the queer community itself—rather than cashing in and moving on. That is the reality that we might want to consider when we decide whether we are going to trash the very community we claim to love or stand behind that community in support.

    Shame on you, Portland, for taking the opportunity to kick fellow queers while they’re down. Your snide commentary doesn’t make you witty or hip. It makes you an asshole.

    • Sam

      Seriously! Any Lesbian that has been to other bars in other states would walk into the e-room and be O=ffended. It was poorly kept, it was odiferous, the “food” was slow and lousy. Although Kim was friendly enough, her patrons were not! The place oozed with shame and self=degredation…dark walls, old falling down not very creative furniture, no decor. It was the personality of the bar that kept all but the youngest grubiest mushroom over the jeans hanging OUT of the ripped t=shirt crowd out of there, OUCH, pew. Good news, we were curbed and degraded, just like the bar and the owner. Now there is a big hole for some enterprising CLASSY lesbian with taste and attention to upscale decor to bless us with a hot Les dinner/dance club. Light inside, open, dress UP, nice food, good service, clean, proud, a stage, dinner theater, bands, movies, burlesque femmes and king dramas, comedy. Some hot wealthy smart butch needs to get er done and make the fortune she is meant to…while becoming FAMOUS for THE dyke hot spot! Bye Bye4 e-room…hello ” “. Anyone wanna back me…have the class, the sass, and the saaaavy to bring upscale style and fun to PDX!

  • Dyke

    Here, here… Ditto, Liss.

  • This has been a really good conversation both here and on the E Room Boss Facebook page. For those following along I wanted to link to an update Kim (the owner) sent to me. I don’t particularly editorialize beyond saying that they could use some better PR (which I think most of us would agree on) but keep the discussion going:

  • I think one of the greatest strengths of the queer community is also our greatest weakness.

    I think it’s important to call folks out. Here, for example, the language of a lesbian specific space IS important.

    At the same time, we are a community that needs to support each other and forgive in the long run. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to contribute constructive criticism and hold each other accountable.

  • Lesbian Bar Coming Soon

    I am thinking/considering of starting a lesbian bar in Portland. I guess it would be a great time to do so, eh?

  • I think we’d all be excited to see a new lesbian bar no matter what happens with the E Weird. Can we make it more central and/or northerly?

  • Lesbian Bar Coming Soon

    I am thinking in the downtown area towards hillsboro.. More universal..

  • I’m not sure a lesbian bar on the west side would fare so well…

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