Back in the fall of 2021, longstanding Portland LGBTQ bar Local Lounge was on the verge of closing. Dan Henderson, the owner of Lombard leather bar the Eagle, wanted to try to save Local Lounge before it closed, but he couldn’t find a partner to help keep the bar afloat. So instead, he decided to create something new.
“I said ‘I probably shouldn’t do this, but I should make this change and make things right,’” Henderson says. “So I went for it, not knowing it would take me over a year to create this concept.”
Henderson’s vision resulted in Back 2 Earth, a cosmic, casual queer bar with karaoke, game nights, and DJs. The bar opened on Friday, June 30, two weeks before Portland’s new LGBTQ+ Pride Festival and Parade weekend in July.
Henderson kept Local Lounge’s original Portland Airport carpet entryway, but says that just about everything else at Back 2 Earth is new, decorated with an eclectic mix of naturalism and sci-fi opulence. The bar’s backlit cubed wood shelves hold liquor bottles, mixology books, and queer tchotchkes like a cherry-shaped disco ball. LED planetary globes glow as a projector plays videos of Oregonian landscapes, cephalopods, and the cosmos.
Two antique lamps donated by Pink Martini frontman Thomas Lauderdale, which Henderson says he spent six months rewiring, painting and gilding, are suspended from the ceiling. A hanging wall garden, built with its own custom lighting, irrigation, and drainage system, holds most of the bar’s nearly 200 plants. An authentic Earring Magic Ken doll — whose necklace Mattel designers infamously modeled after a sex toy — hangs out at Back 2 Earth’s register. Local Lounge’s pool table is gone; Henderson installed a video game arcade machine. A couch and table seat make up a temporary quiet nook to get away from the crowd.
“I feel like the little details are important,” Henderson says. “The most important thing is people, for sure, but I feel like outside of that, if you want good people, you have to care, you do things right and do things well and provide the best experience you can.”
Those details appear in the bar’s drink menu, as well, with a handful of produce and herbs incorporated into drinks: Back 2 Earth’s house watermelon mojito is muddled with fresh mint, while the fresh-cut jalapeño slices in the habanero-infused margarita strike a slow burn. The bar also has a few plays on classic cocktails: Space Trip is a cosmic take on the bittersweet Paper Plane cocktail, while the Meteorite espresso martini spikes cold brew coffee with Absolut vanilla vodka and simple syrup.
For now, the bar’s food menu sticks to pub standbys. The house cheeseburger arrives with a slather of garlic aioli, while spicy chicken, pulled pork, or portobello mushrooms stuff other sandwiches. The chicken strips arrive hand-breaded and battered. Tater tots come as heaping one- and two-pound plates, with ranch dressing on the side. The house specialty is a za’atar ricotta and feta cheese dip, served with buttery, honey-drizzled ciabatta bread. Only the sukiyaki steak plate touches $20.
When it comes to entertainment, Back 2 Earth will host weekly rotating options — drag artists, karaoke with KJ Atlas Marshall, open mics, and game nights with projected video games. Game options are extensive at Back 2 Earth: a library of board games and tabletop roleplaying games will be enhanced by a corner table playing a video world for players’ characters. He also wants to host meetups for queer artists, and throw a contest pairing video artists with local DJs.
“Being a DJ for 15 years in this community, I think there are a lot of gatekeepers, and I want to make opportunities for people to play music and make art and be compensated,” Henderson says. “I want to bring queer people together who want to create stuff, and I want to highlight what they create, whether that’s music, art, or interactive art projects.”
Back 2 Earth was sanctified on June 28 in a ceremony by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s Portland house, the Order of Benevolent Bliss. The Sisters is a queer charitable organization with international houses of drag artists once inspired by Catholic nuns. Henderson said it was important for Back 2 Earth to secure the Sisters’ blessing.
“[The Sisters] just want to be there and help and advocate,” Henderson says. “I’d say they’re one of the most important community groups for presence and outreach that isn’t a brick and mortar.”
Rather than replicate The Eagle’s atmosphere, Henderson wants Back 2 Earth to settle as common ground for the entire LGBTQ community, based around his biggest interests: science, music, art, and culture.
“It seems like our community is coming together in so many ways, but we’re also losing touch in other ways,” Henderson says. “I wanted to refer to coming back to earth and reuniting for a queer future.”
Back 2 Earth is located at 3536 NE Martin Luther King Jr., Boulevard.