THE DEVIL WEARS PASTIES
The Devil Wears Pasties
by Kip Franich
Deep in southeast Portland, north of Reed College and south of the more hipster areas of Belmont and Hawthorne, there is a very peculiar district called Foster-Powell. FoPo, as it is colloquially known to Portlanders, is a time capsule, a living memory of what is normally thought of as “Old Portland” intermingling with the newer, more gentrified Portland. On one hand, FoPo hosts a rather large suburban residential area; many interesting old buildings; parks; community centers; several well-rated elementary and middle schools; a flourishing culinary scene of restaurants and food pods; a burgeoning art scene, including galleries; landmark Portland businesses; record stores; fancy apartment complexes; tree-lined throughways; and Portland’s very first black-owned brewery, Assembly.
While on the other hand, it has managed to maintain some of the seedier elements of Portland that has always been part of its charm: porn shops, strip clubs, “lingerie modeling” venues, massage parlors, garbage-strewn streets, dark alleyways, dive bars, and old buildings (sadly) in disrepair. I find myself hard pressed to think of anywhere else I’ve been to with such a stark juxtaposition: a rather nice suburb that is just a block away from a street corner that hosts a sleazy porn shop and pot dispensary which is across the street from a vegan bar. Truly, FoPo is a microcosm, a perfectly concentrated dose, of the genuine Portland experience.
Even the design of the district itself is interesting: it strongly resembles a right triangle. The area of the district is defined by 82nd Ave in the east, running north to south; Powell Blvd in the north, running east to west; and Foster Rd in the south, running southeast to northwest where it intersects with Powell on 50th Ave.
These three streets are major throughways in Portland, so the area is also well-known for its vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Fortunately, one can wait out congestion by trying out any of the district’s great aforementioned restaurants, galleries, or shops. My personal favorite spot to go is located on Foster, the hypotenusal side of the district: the world famous (or possibly infamous) Devils Point.
Founded in 2001, Devils Point is a small Rock ‘n Roll strip club in an old early twentieth century building on the diagonal corner of 52nd and Foster. There has been a bar at this location since December 5th, 1933, when prohibition was lifted.
“Before we opened,” says Shon Boulden, owner of Devils Point and its sister club, Lucky Devil Lounge on Powell. “It was a dive bar in pretty bad shape called The Point. That place wasn’t a strip club though. I think there’s only been maybe one other strip club here before us.”
Devils Point isn’t just your ordinary strip club, even by Portland's standards. While it shares the common characteristic of many such establishments of being in a cramped, rundown building in a rather sketchy area, Devils Point stands out from its competitors in many key areas.
First and foremost, from dancer to bouncer, there doesn’t seem to be anyone that works there that doesn’t want to. There is a sense of camaraderie between the employees and the patrons, like they’re all one big happy family. Everyone seems to be having a great time while you’re there.
With its communal environment, eclectic spirit, aura of pride and hard work, and abundance of cheap (and craft) beer, in a way–though many would object to this description on principle–Devils Point is a melting pot of everything that Portland values.
My first Devils Point experience was on a Sunday in 2017. I had just started working as a cook at the now defunct Foster Burger. Devils Point was just two doors down from us and with whom we shared a trash area. I was just starting to come into my own in the restaurant industry, but I was still pretty wet behind the ears when it came to social interactions. While taking out the used fryer oil during my first week, I ran into one of Devils Point’s bartenders, George, now the proud owner of Assembly Brewing, who piqued my interest. He told me how, though Devils Point was
a little slice of hell in southeast Portland, it was like heaven on Earth.
When I went back inside to tell my coworkers about this magical place I had been told about, they laughed at my naivete. It turns out that they already were very familiar with Devils Point and that most of them went there after their closing shifts most nights. Then they told me that I should join them by going there that very night. So, after cleaning the grill, sweeping the floor, and restocking the line, we all clocked out and headed to Devils Point.
Accompanying me were Aaron, our metal-loving, long-haired, pierce-lipped bartender; Rae the server, sporting her blue hairdo that she lovingly calls a “dyke mullet”; and our pink-haired manager Sharon, who had forgotten to take off her server’s apron before leaving so was sort of just stuck with it. We were all already a drink or two in and were ready for a great time. I certainly looked forward to the chance of bonding with my new coworkers.
We didn’t have to walk far, since it was basically right next door and the line to get in started around the door to our restaurant. We queued ourselves in line, and moved single file towards the bar with its horned sign and its evil red glow. In the distance, we heard a drum beat and a guitar riff that we could almost, but not quite, recognize.
Despite the length of the line, it was moving relatively fast, bringing us ever closer towards that sinister sign. I remember being extremely anxious about the whole experience. I didn’t know what to expect; I didn't even know what I was doing there. With how much this place had been hyped up by the people I’d talked to, I began to feel like I was underdressed in my sweaty work clothes.
As soon as I thought that, a woman on roller skates, wearing nothing but a string bikini, pasties with sparklers attached, and a tiara, went cruising past me on the sidewalk. It was so unexpected that I had to take a double–even a triple–take. Sure enough, My brain confirmed what my eyes had seen. The heavily-tattooed woman, who goes by the name Ivizia Dakini professionally, skated her way up and down the line, pirouetting around people and curbside patio tables, greeting the bar’s regulars, all the while she had a look of pure joy on her face, like this was the most normal and wonderful thing in the world and her breasts weren’t, in fact, in danger of receiving second degree burns.
Alright, I remember thinking. Maybe I’m a bit overdressed.
As Ivizia made another pass around us, I noticed another peculiar sight coming toward me from a nearby bench. It’s a shark. An upright, anthropomorphic shark holding one of those comically large cell phones they used to use in the ‘80s.
“It’s for you!” The shark tells me, in an unexpectedly soft and cheerful voice.
“Sorry?” I manage to blurt out.
“The call. It’s for you. Aquaman wants to talk to you!”
I was completely nonplussed about the situation. I remember George saying something about a shark or something. Was this what he meant? I decided to take the phone, and asked, “Hello?”
“I need about tree-fiddy!” the shark said, and I finally tuned in to what was happening here.
“God damn Loch Ness Monsta!” I yelled, continuing the joke.
Apparently the shark liked South Park almost as much as I did, because she was thrilled by my response. It turns out that what I thought was an apex predator of the seas was, in reality, a very sociable and silly dancer that works at the club named–quite ironically–Toxic. This place, as everyone else had already well known, wasn’t some gateway to hell, it was a strip club!
After Toxic left to give the phone to another patron further down the queue, I took another look at the rest of the people on the patio. I was surprised how normal everyone seemed–normal by Portland’s standards at least–and was amazed at the variety of people from all different walks of life.
On the benches, punks sat next to preps, blue-collar next to white. Everyone was talking, breaking off from one group to mingle seamlessly with another. No judgement, no cliques, just people enjoying each other's company. There were full ashtrays and empty tallboy beer cans everywhere. Someone had even brought their Husky puppy!
Among this cultural melange I also saw that there were other dancers outside, mingling with the guests on their breaks. There was a quiet, pretty dancer named Pixie who liked to wear butterfly wings. Brodie Grody, a striking woman with brightly colored hair and covered in even more tattoos than Ivizia, sat on a bench enjoying a cigarette while socializing with a horde of admirers. The level of casualness and friendliness of this place was unbelievable, and I hadn’t even made it inside!
The club is well-known for its talented dancers, hosting many winners of the Miss Exotic Oregon competition; its friendly, laid-back atmosphere; an annual Bikini Dog and Carwash; and its collaboration IPA with Ninkasi Brewing. They have even been known to put on the occasional concert.
“We’ve had several big named bands play at the club,” Shon tells me. “Including a secret show with Eagles Of Death Metal, Pat Macdonal from Timbuk3, Eddie Spaghetti from The Supersuckers, and a DJ set from members of Queens Of The Stone Age.” Imagine going into your favorite bar one night only to find out that a world famous Rock band has
put together an impromptu show there. Well, that is nowhere out of the ordinary at Devils Point.
“I believe,” Shon continues. “That the backbone of this club has always been in our talented performers and our desire to be more creative than the next club. To stick out in this industry, you have to be creative, and you have to do things other clubs are not doing. We've always had a close connection with the circus, burlesque, and Burning Man communities. This has provided us with world-class performers including several Miss Exotic Oregon winners (more than any other club in town) and the most athletic pole performers in the city.”
The fact that the club hosts so many winners of this competition seems to be a great point of pride for Mr. Boulden and the rest of the club, since on nearly every Friday night, the lineup for dancers is completely full of girls who have been the cover/centerfold model for Exotic magazine. They also advertise this fact by posting the covers of the issues that their dancers appear in all over the walls of the club.
We finally made it to the door and I finally put a name to the song we were hearing: “Thunder Kiss ‘65” by White Zombie, one of my favorites. Though it was most definitely not Rob Zombie singing. Maybe it was a cover? Whoever it was, they were sure doing a solid job. I liked this place already!
There under the glowing red sign, a large man in a black security t-shirt asked us to show him our IDs and pay the door fee ($5 if I recall). Then gave us a well-recited list of the club’s rules: “No touching the dancers, no phones, no photography, it’s a dollar a song to sit at the rail. Alright, you’re good, have a great time.” Relieved to finally get out of the queue, we happily walked through the club’s open threshold into a room that was darker than it was outside… to immediately queue in the line for drinks.
I felt a pang of disappointment at the prospect of another line, but I quickly stifled it. Don’t be such a downer, I scolded myself. So in an effort to follow my own advice, I decided to amuse myself by taking in my surroundings. Unfortunately, the crowd was so big that I could barely make out the head of the dancer on the other side of the room, and that’s only when she was high up on the pole.
Occasionally, a rift would open in the sea of bodies that was the crowd and I would catch a glimpse of what we were there to see. And what a sight it was. I had been to strip clubs before, but had never seen anything like what these ladies were doing. The dancer, who I later found out went by Axel, was doing a rather spectacular pole trick which involved her supporting herself with only the strength of her legs wrapped around it, suspended in mid-air, then suddenly accelerating and twisting and turning around the pole till she landed on the stage on her feet.
The space itself isn’t much to look at at first: you can definitely tell that it was once a dive bar. Even without the line, it would have felt a bit cramped. There wasn’t much in the way of a foyer; to the left of the entrance was a stool for the bouncer when there wasn’t a line, a handful of coat hooks, then the end of the bar. To the right were a few high bar tables in front of the private dance area (basically two sectioned off one seat couches that have a not-quite opaque curtain that can be drawn back for privacy). The people sitting at the tables never seemed to change, but both private areas changed occupants virtually every song as one dancer finished only to be replaced immediately with another dancer and patron. To my surprise, those getting the dances seemed to be equally split between men and women.
Come to think of it, I thought. There were an awful lot of women when we were coming in and most of them didn’t look like they were working.
Straight across the narrow room from the door was the bar. There my garbage room pal George and two women were hard at work slinging drinks to their thirsty clientele. There were a few knick knacks on the wall, mostly memorabilia and photos of the dancers, some Exotic Magazine covers and other advertisements.
The line snaked its way in a sinuous pattern between the high tables near the bar and almost to the stage itself. It may have been my imagination, but it seemed to me that it split off in at least two other directions. Hopefully I didn’t go down the wrong one. There was just one problem: Sharon and I had seemed to have lost Aaron and Rae.
“Oh, don’t worry about them.” Sharon reassured me. “They’re around here somewhere. Now what do you want to drink?”
I had been so preoccupied with taking in the club that I didn’t realize that we had made it to the front of the line; George and the other bartender, Lisa, waited impatiently to take our order.
“Oh, um…” I say lamely. “I'll just have a gin and tonic. How much would that be?”
“It’s on me!” Sharon exclaims.
“Maybe we should go get Aaron and Rae.” I say. “So they can get drinks, too…”
Sharon just smiled at me like I had just said the sweetest thing in the world. “It’s alright. Uncle Sharon knows what they like.”
As we waited for our order, I took in the rest of the bar. The bar itself was rather long, running most of the wall in this section of the building. It was lined with stools and every stool had at least one occupant. People were so tightly squished together that they looked like one solid wall. To the left of the bar was a cramped room with a miniature deep fat fryer in it.
Their tap list wasn’t very extensive, but the choices were solid enough. And they seemed to have every kind of liquor that one could ever need without being too fancy or pricey. All in all, an excellent selection of booze. I requested Bombay Sapphire for my G&T. There was also an assortment of Devils Point merchandise for sale on display: hoodies, trucker caps, stickers, devilishly short short-shorts with the club’s logo on the butt–
“Earth to Kip!” Sharon exclaimed, snapping me out of my little world and back to the real one. “This one’s yours. Take this one, too. It’s Aaron’s.”
I just blushed and grabbed the drinks, too embarrassed at my absentmindedness to respond verbally.
“Now where did those two get off to…”
Originally from California, Kiki Lemiau came to Oregon after she graduated from college. Miss Lemiau was kind enough to speak to me about her experiences in the industry. Though due to COVID concerns, the interview took place through Instagram’s video service. Her cat tried everything in its power to disrupt our call, including knocking her phone off the table, but she was still very forthcoming and helpful with her reponses.
“I started stripping when I was 18.” Kiki says. “I mostly started to pay off my student loan for my Bachelor’s in Photography. It was like this… massive looming shadow over my head that followed me everywhere. When you sign up for college, when you sign the loan paperwork at 17, you really don’t understand the implications of it. They see you coming.”
While she may have started dancing because the money was good (very good, in fact), she kept with it because she came to see it as an outlet for her creativity.
“I've always been an artist. My main medium of choice is photography, but I have always been very creative. I used to write, too, but I’m too self-critical for that. Creating is hard, very hard. Just like stripping.
“What a lot of people don’t understand,” she continues. “Is that stripping is a fulltime job. It’s the career I chose. There are people who seem to think that anyone can just go up on a stage, take their clothes off, shake their ass a bit, and become rich. There’s a lot more to it than that; it’s a whole process. I put my whole self into it and I work my ass off.”
Aaron was easy enough to find. It turns out that he got separated from us when some people walked past through the line to get closer to the stage, and he ended up in one of the two lines branching out. He spent a whole ten minutes in that line before he realized it led to the women’s restroom. After that, he had decided to go back outside to have a smoke. He gladly took his beer when I offered it to him.
Rae had spent this time much more productively. Apparently she had found her favorite dancer, Vincent, and asked for a private dance. And one led to another which led to… so it goes. Sharon and I found her outside as well, beaming with satisfaction. Since it was so crowded inside, and since it wasn’t likely that we would be sitting at the rail any time soon, we decided to grab a picnic table for ourselves and hang out, see if it died down a bit.
“So Kip,” Aaron said. “What are you gonna sing tonight?”
I had no idea what he was talking about, and I told him such.
“It’s Sunday night!” Rae chimed in. “You gotta sing, it’s a blast!”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
As if great beer, good friends, and beautiful and talented women doing amazing athletic and acrobatic stunts weren’t enough, Devils Point has one more attraction that clearly sets it apart from the rest: Sunday Night Stripparoake.
“We've always had to brainstorm ideas on how to get more customers.” Shon tells me. “Being outside the downtown entertainment scene, you have to get creative in order to attract people. We originally tried just a karaoke night called "Karaoke Sabbath", no dancers and just singers every Sunday night. Sunday nights were our slowest night of the week - so it was either try this karaoke night, or just close the bar down for Sundays.
“After a few weeks of hosting a karaoke night, a few dancers started staying after dancing during the day shift, and while on stage singing karaoke, they started dancing and stripping as well.”
Having the girls dance and sing was a godsend for the club. As word got out about it, more and more people started to show up, asking to sing with the dancers, and they got busier and busier.
“We sat down one day in early 2005 and created a game plan and a name for the night calling it Stripparaoke (Strippers plus Karaoke). A few months into it, we knew we created something special.”
The same year, the first print ad for Stripparaoke ran in the Portland Mercury. Word about it spread like wildfire, and
clubs all around the country (and even Canada) started their own versions.
“Having that ad run in print saved us,” Shon continues. “Because we were able to prove when we first created the name. This helped us later get the federal trademark for dancers and karaoke and the name Stripparaoke and protect our intellectual property. Sundays are now by far our busiest night of the week!”
Aside from the Portland Mercury, Stripparaoke at Devils Point has been featured in Willamette Week, Oregon Business Journal, Exotic Dancer Magazine, Maxim Magazine, Playboy TV, and even CNN Japan. Even Marvel has mentioned it in a more recent X-men comic.
“So here’s how it works,” Aaron continued. “You go up to the DJ, give him a tip, tell him what song you want to do, and which dancer you want to dance to while you sing. Then you wait till your name is called, then get on the stage and sing while she dances around. One time when I was in here, I saw Dave Chappelle sing Radiohead’s “Creep”. He fucking killed it! Pretty sweet, right?”
“Yeah, it sounds pretty cool,” I replied. I imagine it’ll be a blast to watch.”
“No!” Rae exclaimed. “You have to sing. Come oooon!”
Sharon–or Uncle Sharon as she insisted on us calling her–came to my defense by saying that I didn’t have to sing if I didn’t want to.
Aaron let out a hearty laugh at this. “Yeah, he probably just has a really shitty singing voice!”
“I know you’re just trying to goad me into singing,” I reply. “But you’re absolutely right. My voice is awful and I don’t want to hurt everyone’s eardrums.”
Rae gave a mocking pout at my self-deprecating remark.
Aaron just shrugged and said, “Fair enough.”
At about this time, we noticed that there was quite a few people leaving the building.
“Well,” said Uncle Sharon. “I think that’s our chance to sit at the rail. Come on!”
And that hard work has paid off for Kiki, as it has garnered her quite the dedicated group of friends and regulars.
“Most of my regulars, the people who come see me dance and who tip me best, most of them I have a relationship with outside of the club. They’re people that I know from my real life, my friends and family. When I had COVID–and especially when I was out of work during Quarantine–these were the people I could rely on to help me out when I couldn’t make rent. Some of my coworkers, other dancers who maybe haven’t been doing this as long or haven’t been in the area as long, they don’t have that level of support to rely on. It makes me sad; I feel bad for them.”
Since strippers don’t receive hourly wages or a salary from a club–as every DJ will tell you between songs, they work for your tips and your tips only–they don’t file W2s like most of us. They file 1040C forms, which designates them as self-employed/independent contractors. Instead of being paid to perform at a club, most strippers actually have to pay the club a house fee for the privilege of dancing on their stage, then, of course, a percentage of their tips. Under normal situations, this isn’t too big of a deal, especially for dancers who work on the weekends when it’s especially busy, but when it’s slow at the club, they can actually end up owing money for working a normal shift.
“When all the bars and clubs were forced to shut down at the beginning of Quarantine,” she continued. “I actually managed to draw unemployment for a while, because I had a part-time job for a bit the year before. However, that dried up pretty fast.”
Channeling her ever full well of creativity, Kiki had to search for alternate means of employment. “I tried making and selling pasties for a while, for burlesque dancers, then I tried Only Fans…” She paused for a bit, looking pensive as she tried to find the right words to continue.
“Here’s the thing about Only Fans: it’s really hard to make money on it. Just like stripping, a lot of people assume that a woman can just make an account and start raking in the cash, but they can’t. The competition is way too intense; everyone is trying it. There is so much work that goes into making even a short video: I have to do my makeup and hair, find the right outfit, which can take hours; I have to set up my apartment just right for the shoot; I have to get the proper lighting and angle; then I have to fucking edit the video, which takes even longer.
“The same goes for promoting myself on Instagram. I have to go through that same routine to get the perfect selfie, just to make a post that I don’t even make any money off. I hate social media for that.”
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (a few song sets at the very least), we made it to the rail. The stage itself was an elevated platform, suspended by a pair of heavy-duty steel chains. There was a sturdy metal pole directly in the middle, which the dancers used to great effect. There were even bars along the ceiling that the girls could utilize to further show their athletic prowess. Behind the stage, on the far back wall, were a series of mirrors so everyone could get multiple views at once.
Around the stage ran a waist-high shelf for patrons’ drinks, the rail. Along the rail were as many hard, wooden chairs that the club could fit in this confined space while still being able to tidily push them in. To the left of the stage was the curtained off dressing room. To the right was the cramped DJ booth. The singer stands in the back right of the stage, next to the DJ booth, where there is a monitor that shows the lyric prompts.
We were in luck: four seats front and center of the stage had opened up and a new dancer and singer were just coming out. We hurriedly sat down before anyone else could grab them first, set our drinks on the wooden bar that wraps around the stage, and pulled out our rolls of dollar bills.
For this set, the dancer was crowd favorite Brodie Grody, who was wearing a space helmet in the style of a 1950s sci-fi movie alien. When she came on stage, she shot the crowd with fake lasers from your fingers and her breasts; she
even provided the accompanying “pew, pew” sound effects (not that you could hear her through the noise). The singer, this time a cowgirl dressed in denim and flannel with matching hat and boots, got in position by the mic and teleprompter, and the show soon began. For her song, she picked “Jolene” by Dolly Parton.
The whole club was blown away by her voice; it was clear and powerful and full of the fear of losing her man to that promiscuous eponymous redhead. We all tipped generously, and not just for Brodie’s endearingly quirky and charismatic extraterrestrial routine. People came from all over the club to throw down some money, the people in the back scooching and “oops, sorry”-ing their way towards the stage while those closer in retreated toward the bar for another round. Pretty soon the whole stage floor was covered in dollars. For a minute I thought that she may slip on them, but she seemed well-adjusted to dealing with this obstacle.
Aside from the normal hooting and hollering and “WOW!”s, no one spoke. We were too enamored to speak. Tallboys and tumblers in hand, we watched, completely entranced by this silly, sensual performance set to this wonderfully-done cover sang by an adept amateur. At last, when the song finished, the cowgirl pulled up her flannel shirt and flashed the crowd. Then Brodie went over to her, grabbed her, and they did a final bow together. They received a standing ovation.
Kiki smiles. “I know that I’ve been really fortunate,” she says. “There’s this sort of network that we have in the industry, where everyone knows each other, and we all help each other out. We’re all in this together. Everyone knows everyone else, we go see each other perform, we share the same regulars and friends. It’s so great to be so connected with everyone. It’s nice to know that the appreciate what you do, because in the end that’s what it’s all about: what they get out of it. I’m so happy that I found this place.”