Crush, the longest-running queer bar in East Portland, will close on New Year’s Eve with a final drag show, after more than 20 years serving the LGBTQ+ community craft cocktails and bar fare. Crush’s Meta social media pages announced the bar’s closure on December 2.
“We are hoping that with this announcement, people will come out to support and help us get through December so we can go out on a high note. Let’s make a few more memories before we go,” Crush’s statement reads in part, thanking guests for their patronage.
John “Woody” Clarke opened Crush in Portland’s Buckman neighborhood in 2001, more than a decade before the Belmont Goats grazed in an open field by the auto body shop that would become the nightclub Holocene. Clarke also repurposed Crush’s next-door coffeeshop, opening on-again/off-again nooks like Woody’s Coffeeshop and Opal’s Night & Day Cafe, or leasing the space to startup kitchens.
Clarke watched the Buckman neighborhood transform from his vantage point at Crush, where he was an early tastemaker in Portland’s then-growing reputation for innovative craft cocktails. Willamette Week readers named Crush among Portland’s best bars, queer or not, throughout the 2010s in the newspaper’s annual poll. Crush’s cozy back corner stage hosted near-nightly drag, burlesque, and stand-up comedy shows, opening up late night dance parties after the shows wrapped.
Crush’s once sweet reputation soured in March 2020, after police shut down a protest at the bar. Clarke laid off employees ahead of the COVID-19 shutdown of restaurants and bars; in response, employees organized a protest demanding payment for accrued sick days and guaranteed rehires once the bar reopened. While police dispersed the protest, workers say management “antagonized, teased, and taunted” the protesters as they left. After the union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, Clarke settled with Crush’s former employees.
Crush appeared to rebound from pandemic-era hardships, evidenced by bustling street patio seating during the busy summer seasons, but the official statement does not immediately list cause for the bar’s closure. Crush is one of several LGBTQ+ businesses to close in recent years, including Rebel Rebel, the Queen’s Head, and the Roxy.
Eater Portland has reached out to Clarke for comment; this story will be updated with more information about the bar and its forthcoming closure.