Saturday afternoon in Portland, Oregon, and I'm hungry and hungover after drinking all of my in-laws posh Tequila. Armed with an lukewarm, it's-supposed-to-be–that-way coffee, I suggest a trip that might just distract from the shame of last night. With my husband and his sister in tow, I jump in the car and tell Siri to direct us to Casa Diablo, the world's only vegan strip bar.
Originally a vegan restaurant on the edge of town, owner Johnny Diablo couldn't convince the elk-eating locals of Oregon to ditch the turkey for tofu, so he added tits into the equation. Casa Diablo is now a popular pit stop for local industrial workers and businessmen wanting to get off the freeway—and get off. It may also be Portland's weirdest attraction, and in a city whose strap line is "keep it weird," that's no mean feat.
Unsurprisingly for 2 PM on a Saturday, the place is dead.
Onstage is a naked dancer. She lies on her back and in one fell swoop, throws her legs over her head and "opens up" for the lone cowboy sitting centre stage.
We're greeted by Casa Diablo owner Carol Lee. She explains the chef isn't in but she'll cook us up a treat and we're escorted to the bar.
Now that she knows we're not lost tourists, a dancer named Infinity appears and takes off her t-shirt to reveal bare breasts and an outdated tattoo, before asking us what we'd like. I opt for Bloody Marys to lift the hangovers and my husband chooses a local beer.
Infinity pours strong servings of vodka over thick tomato juice, ice, and a generous amount of spice. Unlike many bars in the States, this one isn't served with a streak of bacon or hamburger slider shoved on a toothpick. "Do you need olives?" asks Infinity. This is my sort of hosting—"need" instead of "want" is always a facetious winner.
Now that she knows we're not lost tourists, a dancer named Infinity appears and takes off her t-shirt to reveal bare breasts and an outdated tattoo, before asking us what we'd like. I opt for Bloody Marys to lift the hangovers.
As she mixes our drinks, we get talking. Infinity is into painting and works at Diablo during the winter when her life isn't as exciting.
"I'm not on social media but if I was I'd tag everything '#PTPFJ'—'Popping That Pussy For Jesus,'" Infinity says. My sister-in-law responds with #sideeye.
Soon, another dancer named Salacious, joins us at the bar. "We're not allowed to wear leather, silk, or feathers on stage but the guys can wear what they like, it's up to them," she tells me. "We're not gonna chuck them out for wearing leather boots."
I notice a chessboard on the bar but before I'm able to ask Infinity for a game, our food arrives. It's all deep fried (what do you expect from a strip club?): handmade "egg" rolls (just egg roll wrappers, actually) on obligatory lettuce leaves and served with shop-bought sweet sauce. Their homemade charm shines through the condiment.
Mid-roll, Carol is eager to know what we think and immediately tells us that they are opening a second venue across town. She's also pretty keen to make sure I know the dancers are happy, conscious of an alleged dispute with two former workers that received press attention earlier this year.
Next up, it's the bulgur wheat burger, Casa Diablo's biggest seller. It's meaty, dense, and delicious but inexplicably cut into four segments. Gutted. I'd happily eat a whole one (perhaps it's the hangover).
Salacious is now fully nude on stage and dancing for the enjoyment of our table. She bends over to sex up the tofu sort-of-tacos that have just arrived, but it's all a bit awkward for my liking.
Lucky, we're soon back on track with the lush avocado dip that accompanies the mock-os. They are crisp and crunchy and the accompanying tortilla chips are served with melted Casa Diablo vegan cheese (made on the premises, no less). The dishes aren't going to win awards, nor am I under any illusion that this is The Meal of My Life, but I appreciate the club's attempt to sex up veganism. It's not a bad idea considering we cannot sustain a meat-eating globe.
Still, Carol and the dancers are no PETA badge-wielding, plant-based evangelists. Perhaps feeding hippie vegan shit to straight blokes looking for sex is radical enough as it is.
Within five minutes, we've eaten everything that's been put in front of us and make our excuses to leave for the safety of the sofa and Desperate Housewives reruns.
As we head for the door, I notice a lesbian couple enjoying a shared dance and pushing dollar bills into the dancer's thong. As a gay, married feminist, I'm probably not Casa Diablo's ideal customer, but that scene almost convinced me the place is a little more subversive than initially thought. Even if the burgers are shop-bought.