Walking into a Jacques Strappe party, the first thing you’ll feel is the bass. A DJ thumps mixes incorporating artists like Crystal Waters, while 20-somethings in crop-tops drink Champagne straight from magnums. Shirtless men lick caviar from their hands. The dance floor is a mass of mesh and glitter and neon, people adjusting their wigs as songs transition. Drag performers mingle with DJs, while men wearing nothing but underwear smile for pictures.
Jacques Strappe, a (sort of) monthly queer dance party, has taken over bars across the Portland area since early 2020, ranging from East Burnside’s stylish Bar Dune to the subterranean cocktail lounge known as Voysey. Christopher Sky — the founder of Jacques Strappe — describes his parties as “trashy chic,” a balance of small luxuries and hot, sweaty queer fun. “You can have a vodka soda or you could have Champagne and caviar,” Sky says.
The first Jacques Strappe party — La Premiere — was held at Voysey in February 2020. Katie Stipe, a former colleague, was in the process of opening the bar as a Chefstable project, and the two thought the glitzy underground space would be a good setting for Jacques Strappe. Soon afterward, the pandemic halted Sky’s progress, and he took a year to reflect, to think more deliberately about what he wanted Jacques Strappe to be. After re-launching in April 2021, the parties have become more regular, pausing periodically as new variants and case spikes made dance parties more dangerous. When he came back for the summer of 2022, he decided to move the party outside, taking over the patio of Bar Dune.
Sky is well-versed in the world of little luxuries. He went from bartending in Seattle queer bars to pouring wines as a sommelier, eventually becoming the beverage director at lauded French restaurant St. Jack. He now runs the wine label Hooray for You with winemaker Gregory Cantu, specializing in funky pet nat and cab francs. When he started thinking about Jacques Strappe, it was born out of a love for those finer things, and a desire to blend that passion for food and drink with his love of queer spaces. “I spent a lot of time growing up in San Francisco and New York City, traveling to Europe, and I love queer bars,” Sky says. “As much as I love a dive-y gay bar, I’m always looking for a more elevated experience.”
For Sky, elevated means glasses of Champagne and pet nat, but also tequila-mezcal cocktails with crème de noyaux, raspberry, and citrus. Or meringue-topped gin cocktails with Pernod and orgeat. Or sparkling wine punch with cognac, rum, and bergamot. Still, all of those drinks, designed by bar director Alex Blair, come with names like Kikis & Cream or Litty Titty, and the cocktail menu also includes vodka-Squirt concoctions and vegan Jell-O shots.
When it comes to music, Sky specifically seeks out queer DJs like Chelsea Starr, Orso, and VZLSNO. Dancers in thongs — or, fittingly, jock straps — perform and pose with guests, while others vogue as members of a local kiki house. “Portland is home to so much talent when it comes to queer music and performance,” Sky says. “Bringing in queer artists, all aspects of the community, bringing in different staff and different artists for each event is supporting that.”
One could argue that there is something overtly political about a queer industry vet bringing queer artists into a straight-owned space, or at least not an overtly queer one: It’s literally queering a straight space, broadening the spectrum of what queerness looks like and where we experience it. The blurring of those lines of identity is what’s interesting to Sky. “I think it’s important to bridge our communities in that way,” he says. “I’m 40 years old now, and growing up as a queer person in my 20s, the world is so different now. It feels so fluid, how we’re identifying, the titles we’re giving ourselves, how we interact and communicate.”
Sky will host his next party at Bar Dune on Saturday, August 20, from 3 p.m. to midnight, but he hopes that Jacques Strappe will continue to grow and take on new forms — supper clubs with wine pairings, cocktail parties. “Jacques Strappe is an idea that’s morphing and growing,” he says. “It’s this character that’s moving through the world that’s figuring out what’s exciting and fun.”
Stay updated on Jacques Strappe’s future parties by following its Instagram.