For years, the bar at 2530 Northeast 82nd Avenue lived in the amorphous zone between a dive and a music venue. It hosted live music in the corner, poured stiff drinks, churned out serviceable bar food, and offered a few video poker machines.
The bar that has opened in its place sits in stark contrast to its predecessor. The stage once home to rock and punk bands now hosts drag and burlesque performers. Misfits Bar & Lounge, lettered robin’s egg blue over the emblematic Progress Pride flag, opened quietly after a slow transition over the course of a few months, starting when Misfits owners David Elderton and Sophie Garibbo purchased the Eastside Bar & Grill last September. Together, they have converted the former dive bar into a laidback queer hangout — one of the few explicitly LGBTQ+ businesses in the area, joined by Escape Bar & Grill and the gay strip club Fuzzy Navels — despite homophobic backlash online.
Longtime friends Elderton and Garribo started looking for a restaurant to open together in February 2020 and kept their dream alive during the pandemic. They were inspired to convert Eastside Bar & Grill into a more welcoming venue after attending the bar’s long-running showcase, The Real Comedy Spot with Tyrone and Courtenay Collins, founders of the NW Black Comedy Festival, as patrons.
“We overheard a girl say, ‘This place is so great, it’s too bad this is the only night I can come here...’” Elderton says. “What we’re trying to do is basically create a space where underrepresented communities in entertainment — women, LGBTQ+, communities of color, and allies — will be able to have a voice and be able to hone their craft.”
Garibbo manages Misfits’ kitchen and bar, while Elderton manages entertainment and business matters. Elderton has focused on diversifying the types of performances at the bar: Misfits’ entertainment roster of standup comedians and live musicians, still featuring The Real Comedy Spot, now includes drag and burlesque. When it comes to food and drink, Garibbo pulls from her years in the industry, while keeping things fun and approachable. For instance, Garibbo has been tweaking her namesake cocktail, Sophie Juice, for years. It’s a violet-hued blend of blueberry Smirnoff, blue curaçao, and cranberry juice. She kept the food menu focused on bar staples like burgers, chicken strips, and onion rings, with weekend burger specials in the works. “Simple, easy, consistent,” Garibbo says. “That’s what we focus on.”
They chose Misfits’ name after talking to friends and peers, and agreeing the name acts as a calling card. “We talked to a lot of different people from different parts of society, asking them, ‘What do you think of Misfits? Does it represent us, does it represent you?” Elderton says. “We have all felt like that at one time or another, or even right now.”
Drag queens formally announced the bar’s name change on New Year’s Eve; since then — and even before, as the bar started to introduce more queer-friendly acts — Elderton and Garibbo both said they have experienced increased homophobic discrimination, and that their entertainers have also experienced online harassment on Facebook as a result of their associations with the bar. A group organized a protest at Eastside following the ownership change, soon after the bar started hosting drag, and other Facebook users have targeted producers behind some of the bar’s events, using slurs directed at LGBTQ+ people and Black people. Elderton wasn’t exactly surprised by the harassment but has been trying to shake it off, thinking of the new customer base the bar has been able to welcome.
“Since about a few weeks into this, when people had an inkling of what we were doing, we started getting microaggressions and comments online and people coming in saying, ‘No, stop, don’t,’ trying to persuade us not to go this way because they really wanted to maintain the status quo,” Elderton said. “For every one person who hates our guts, there are three people who love us.”
Elderton and Garibbo are planning a Pride cookout and party in July, either in Misfits’ front parking lot or on one of the adjacent neighboring lots behind their building. It will be one of the very few Pride events, official or unofficial, that will take place in East Portland
“I was shocked by the amount of people who aren’t supportive out here, but it makes me more confident that we are doing the right thing,” Garibbo said. “It’s not a home for all, but it’s a home for many, and we’re glad to be here for you.”