UPDATE March 2013: A few months after this article was written, Carnaval converted back to a female strip club. Then in May of 2011 they once again reopened as a male strip club but just for females. In March of 2013 they reopened as an adult store named Flesh Exotic Wear with stripper shoes and dancewear.
I was taking pictures of businesses downtown one Friday night and I noticed a fairly large crowd of people on the 3rd Street block between Silverado and Cameron's Books. I wandered over and started taking pictures of Carnaval, which has long been an 18-and-over juice bar with female strippers, when a group of scantily-clad, effeminate young men walked out of the front door and lit up cigarettes.
I was a bit confused about why these guys (who appeared to be quite gay) had been hanging out in a female strip club, especially when the Silverado was right next door. I figured maybe they'd gone in for a laugh.
“So, how is it in there?” I asked.
“Oh, it's great!” one of them replied, his bare chest peeking out of a half-zipped track jacket. “It's a male strip club now!”
They told me that the owner had bought the Golden Dragon Restaurant next door and had converted it into an 18+ juice bar with female strippers. Carnaval now featured only male strippers, making it the first 18-and-over juice bar in Oregon to do so.
After finishing their cigarettes, the boys went back inside, and soon the manager came out to talk to me. He introduced himself as Gary and took me inside to have a look around. Somehow I hadn't realized that the guys I'd been talking to were, in fact, strippers. One of them was dancing on the stage in his underwear, the lights reflecting off of his nubile body. Another stood waiting his turn and said to me, “So you decided to come in.”
With the standard dance music and filtered lights, the place had a regular strip club vibe, except, of course, for the lack of booze. It looked nicer and much less creepy than I'd previously imagined. Gary showed me the couch in the back where lap dances were performed, which is something that has always been missing from Silverado. Dances were $20 per song, or three for $40, which I thought was pretty reasonable.
In addition to lap dances, there were also private rooms available for more intimate performances. These cost $60 for 15 minutes or $100 for 30 minutes. The door would be closed during these performances, and the customers would be free to pleasure themselves, much like in a lingerie modeling joint. Gary informed me that the club had always had these rooms available, and the Golden Dragon had them, too, although the rates were different for the female dancers.
I asked Gary if the people at Silverado were pissed off that Carnaval had started a male strip club on the same block as the only other full-time male strip club in Portland. He said that he'd known the manager there for years and had even told him what they were going to do before they made the conversion. He said that the two clubs now had a sort of “symbiotic relationship,” as customers often went back and forth between the two. Even during my brief visit, I witnessed a little of this going on.
When I left Carnaval the scene outside had become even more chaotic. Male and female strippers were smoking together as gay men and drag queens milled about, checking out the younger guys. It was a little reminiscent of the old Vaseline Alley days, except now there was a mix of all genders and sexual orientations.
Although Carnaval and Silverado are the only two full-time male strip clubs in Portland, there are a few other places that regularly offer male strippers on weekend nights. These performances are geared more towards straight women:
- Darcelle XV has male strippers following their drag performances on Friday and Saturday nights.
- The Viewpoint has male strippers upstairs on Fridays and Saturdays after 10pm.
- The new Cabaret III now has male strippers in the back every Friday and Saturday after 9pm.