Before I left Portland last summer, I spent a couple of days with my friend Chelsie, making a tour of the city. Although I knew more about how to find the ingredients to make any recipe vegan, she was much more connected to the whole restaurant and fast food scene than I was.
We shared our knowledge with each other and on the second day, she informed me that there was a vegan strip club in Portland. A flood of questions raced through my mind, not the least of which was “What the hell is a vegan strip club?” but I said “Let’s go see it!”
We made a date to visit Casa Diablo the following evening, but as district manager for the only vegan deli chain in the city, she was unable to make it, so I enlisted another friend to go along.
As someone who is closing in on 50 and isn’t a person who normally frequents strip clubs, it was a little weird for me but with Allison to fortify my strength, we went in. My first question was immediately answered: Does it look like a regular strip club? I mean, what part of it is vegan?
Since it's billed specifically as a vegan strip club, I assumed that this was in some way the selling point of the place. I pictured a clean, green space; lots of plants, a salad bar, a menu chock full of healthy eating options, vegan beer and wine. In actuality, it was your standard dingy strip club. A little cleaner and no sticky stuff on the floors, but dingy and brown and a little reminiscent of a restaurant in a small town. You know, trying too hard to be something they’re not, too much dust and plastic flowers, run down booths with plastic seat cushions -- familiar, except that there was a stage in the center of the room. The inside was painted brown but had enormous windows, which seemed to me to be a little at cross purposes to the idea of strip clubs. I mean, I thought the idea was that you didn't want anyone to see you going into a club like this. But maybe that's just me.
The strippers were kind enough to answer our questions and let us admire their tattoos. (They all had tattoos, which I found interesting because it was the only 'clothing' they could wear.) Many questions, and a perusal of the menu, revealed that no one needs to be vegan to do anything there. The house rules are the same as any other strip club. Don't touch the girls...Don't start fights...Don't spit on the floor....What made it vegan was that the bar served vegan liquors, had vegan burgers on the menu and made cocktails with soy milk rather than cow's milk. The only real rule was that the strippers had to eat vegan on the premises. I'm still baffled by this. If you are going to advertise the vegan-ness of the place, shouldn't it be very vegan-y? And most of the vegans I know are not really into the whole seeing-naked-women-for-money thing since it’s just a different kind of exploitation. The owner, Johnny Diablo, says that he offers "meat on the pole, not on the plate." Lovely. I am at a loss as to why he thinks exploitation of women is okay but exploitation of animals isn't.
My exploitation question was never answered and I still don't really understand the point. But they did make a really good Raspberry Martini. And they are apparently doing so well that they have opened a second location. I can't decide if that's a good thing. I mean, I want to cheer for their success because it's vegan but I am absolutely against females being used as sex objects.
Do the patrons go there because it's vegan? I can't imagine they do. Allison and I were the only ones actually eating. The food is an afterthought and therefore seems a secondary concern to the whole naked thing. The food is passable but since the billing screams that the point is the vegan-ness of it all, it isn’t anywhere near good enough to be any kind of draw. So if it's just about the naked, what’s the point of advertising its vegan status?
I can’t help feeling that, although I am a little more informed, I am no wiser.
Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/tambako Note: The photo is not the strip club depicted in the story. Additionally the photo does not represent an actual strip club.