Earlier this month, the Roxy’s owner Suzanne Hale — the Lovely Suzanne — announced that the landmark queer diner would close after 27 years in business. After disclosing the news to employees, Hale made a Facebook post announcing the restaurant’s last day, March 20.
A safe haven for queer Portlanders of all ages for decades in the heart of what was once known as Vaseline Alley, the Roxy was one of the few places anyone, regardless of age, could get a warm meal in a safe place. On the diner’s final day, the Roxy was packed with generations of regulars paying their respects. We chatted with a few of them about their first experiences, what the Roxy has meant to them, and why it’s so hard to say goodbye.
Vivian Court, customer and tarot reader: “The first time I walked in, I was like, ‘Oh, this is my place.’ A place where I felt at home, you know? My best friends and I would come all the time, but I also like to come alone, drink tea, do tarot readings, and stay for way too long. Until they’re probably like, ‘Why won’t she leave?’”
Ryan Hart, Roxy server and barista: “I’m pretty sure most of the original staff has slept here. You’re fine.”
Bernard “Bear” Roeder, customer: “Gavin showed me this place, like, 12 years ago. I remember coming after most queer events I’ve been a part of. I was here after the last Oregon State Leather Contest. I was here for the last Bear Weekend brunch before that imploded. We were actually hosting the Portland Pets & Handlers board meetings here for a little bit. We’ve definitely sat in the corner with hoods on, pretending we’re dog-people, waiting for biscuits and gravy.”
Mary, customer: “Eight or nine years ago, I was homeless and I had saved up a bunch of money. We came in here for a Poo Poo Platter in the middle of the night, and we were finally warm, and we fed ourselves so good. We paid with a whole bunch of quarters and nickels and dimes.”
Mireya Baltazar, customer: “You’re gonna make me cry. I was also homeless and strung out. We were accepted and not treated like shit, like we were most other places.”
Kiley Yuthas, customer: “It was the first place that I could see adults being queer. Everywhere else I went as a teenager, the vibe was like, ‘Get out of here, what the fuck are you doing here?’ But I came to the Roxy and April [Shattuck, general manager and Suzanne’s daughter] was like my fucking guardian. They would never turn me away. I was allowed to be somewhere at 2 a.m., with drag queens and drunk clubbers, and nobody made me feel unsafe. I’ve never felt unsafe in the Roxy. I’m just so grateful we were kids here. I fucking needed this place.”
Al Young, Roxy employee: “We’re all about people being there through anything. This place is the reason so many people didn’t die, whether it be by suicide or somebody assaulting them. This place has been there, standing up for every fucking person. Fuck, it’s so sad to see it go. Suzanne made sure all of us were taken care of. She has always been there, asking if we were okay. She put all of her money into this restaurant. To keep it going for us. To keep us employed.”
Bruce Ross, customer: “I was born and raised in Portland. I’d go to [former all-ages gay nightclub] the Escape, party hard, then come here ‘cause it was so late, the MAX wasn’t running.”
Avishai Micaiah, customer: “I once stayed here all night. It’s a rite of passage.”
Maria Peters Lake, regular: “I’m probably gonna say what everybody else is saying: I’m fuckin’ pissed. They opened in ‘94, that was a year for me like I’ll never forget. The youth would come here. If they didn’t have any money, the Roxy would feed ‘em. They wouldn’t get kicked out. If you acted right, you were welcome in here. The staff made sure that the hullabaloo and the people that wanted to cause trouble weren’t in here. They kept them out and they made sure that we were safe in here at all times. It’s a sad day. But I guess we can hold on to good memories. For our community, there’s no eateries, no place to go anymore that’s gay. That is our place to go eat. For older lesbians who don’t like to go to a bar and stand and watch people dance, where do we go to have a conversation, have a meal, talk?”
Kimberlee Van Patten, regular: “It felt like Cheers, where people know your name. You walk in, they know your story, they know where you’ve been. We’ve lost Hobo’s, Starky’s, Embers. It’s hard, this idea that now we can go anywhere because we’re accepted as gay people, or whatever. We don’t wanna assimilate. We wanna be special. And here, we were special, you know? Denny’s doesn’t care if I’m special.”
Around 5 p.m., when the Roxy was set to close, the Lovely Suzanne enters the dining room, which erupts into shouts of “Gimme a hug!” and “I love you.” An exhausted Suzanne turns and points to a table in the corner, the final table of customers at the Roxy: her family.
Suzanne Hale, owner: “My daughter, April. And there’s my grandson, Jaden. And him there, that’s Mike Cvek — he’s been my best friend since I was 13 years old. And that’s my granddaughter, Ava, it’s her fifteenth birthday. When we’re done, that’s it. I won’t be Suzanne anymore. I’ll be Grandma from then on.”
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity. Some customers asked to be referred to by first name only.