On December 2, East Portland bar Crush’s social media pages announced that the LGBTQ-friendly lounge would close after New Year’s Eve service, wrapping up more than 20 years in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood. One week later, on December 9, another announcement reversed course, while providing additional context for the first post.
According to the announcement, a Crush employee’s financial investment in the bar will keep the bar operational into 2024, as founding owner John “Woody” Clarke steps back from business operations. The post, shared on Facebook and Instagram, also announced reduced business hours for winter months. The post did not state the employee’s identity, and Clarke has not responded to multiple interview requests from Eater.
Clarke opened Crush Bar in 2001. Former employees, entertainers and journalists Eater interviewed about the bar’s legacy described Crush as an intimate neighborhood joint that stood out early as a bar for all members of the LGBTQ+ community. In those days, divides between gay and lesbian communities were more rigid than they are now, with almost no distinction for bisexual or transgender would-be patrons. Crush’s open-to-all policy was radical at the dawn of the millennium, as was its fully all-genders restroom.
However, the bar’s reputation is less than glowing with a portion of Portlanders, following a conflict between Clarke and his workers at the beginning of the pandemic. Clarke laid off his staff in March 2020, after then-Governor Kate Brown ordered bar and restaurant dining rooms to close; in response, employees asked Clarke to clarify whether the bar would offer job protections, financial aid, or paid out sick leave for staff. He did not plan to honor any of those requests, which inspired a protest outside the bar. Employees say Clarke called the police to break up the conflict, and while police dispersed the direct action, Crush management “antagonized, teased, and taunted” former staff. It is unclear whether Clarke’s announced withdrawal from Crush will win back patrons who never forgave him.
This story will be updated with more information.