In the early 20th century, Dr. Marie Equi was one of Oregon’s fiercest champions for labor and women’s rights. She protested labor abuses at Oregon factories and the United States’s entry into World War I, serving time at San Quentin State Prison for sedition during her years of activism. She provided abortions and information about birth control when it was illegal to do so, and offered medical care following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire. She was also a lesbian, before Stonewall, before homosexuality of any form was decriminalized in the United States.
So when Olga Bichko and Nikki Ferry were brainstorming names for their lesbian bar, set to open in the historic Osborn Hotel building, Equi seemed like more than a fitting namesake. “We went through a long brainstorming and naming process,” Bichko says. “Ultimately, we really wanted to focus on a person to honor with our space, something to honor the local history.” And so, Doc Marie’s will open this May in the former Elvis Room space, as Portland’s only self-identified lesbian bar.
Portland is home to a handful of larger LGBTQ spaces, including Escape Bar & Grill and Santé Bar, but none that explicitly define themselves as lesbian bars; many consider Egyptian Club (a.k.a. the E-Room) to be the last true lesbian bar in Portland, which closed in 2010. In a 2016 Willamette Week piece, Ellena Rosenthal argued that Portland might not be a natural home to a lesbian bar, considering the larger queer movement and the fear of potentially excluding portions of the LGBTQ community. Doc Marie’s Instagram refers to the bar as a “lesbian bar for everyone,” emphasizing that the larger LGBTQ community also has a space within Doc Marie’s.
Olga Bichko and Ferry lived in New York for years, where they would frequent Cubbyhole in the West Village. When they moved to Portland around three years ago, they struggled to find something similar among Portland’s LGBTQ businesses. “We say, every time we go out, ‘Why isn’t there a lesbian bar in Portland?’” Bichko says. “It was clearly something really needed and wanted in the community.” When they toured the Elvis Room space, it felt like the perfect fit.
Bichko and Ferry don’t have any real food industry or business experience, so they enlisted the help of a few relatives: Dmitri Bichko, Olga’s brother, and Kevin Held, Ferry’s cousin. Held will serve as the bar’s general manager, as someone who has worked in the industry. However, Doc Marie’s is still very much a work in progress: The team is still looking for the right people to handle the kitchen and cocktail menu, which will have a robust set of non-alcoholic options. What they know they want to feature, primarily, is a packed calendar of events: dj nights, live music and performance, and community gatherings.
“We really came together with a learner’s mindset,” Olga Bichko says. “We are here to really just bring that space to life, and we want the community to guide what that looks like.”
The bar will open in May 2022 at 203 SE Grand Avenue.