Here we go again, another place, like the strip club Exotica I memorialized, that’s shrouded in mystery to me and yet I feel a sense of loss at the closing of another Portland business. Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge, a karaoke club on an industrial boulevard, never seemed like it was in the best location. I wondered about it as I drove by on Columbia Boulevard, never stopping, but always looking to spot cars in the parking lot while imagining what was going on there. It felt lonely, the idea of someone wandering into that karaoke bar in the afternoon for a happy hour priced beverage and the chance to sing a song to a sparse crowd. It’s hard to tell if happy songs would have sounded more or less joyful in that atmosphere. I’m overlooking the social aspects of karaoke. Groups of cooperative coworkers might have congregated, sung and celebrated. I’ll never know. Unable to satisfy my curiosity, I remain haunted by the realization that I live too much in my imagination.
I heard about the last bash that happened Saturday, March 18th. Rich Reece generously offered to describe his experience closing the place out on that final night. We got sidetracked by Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge history. I learned that Chopsticks III opened sometime in the mid-aughts. Rich was familiar with two of the other three locations. There was a crew of “good jocks” that rotated through all the locations. Rich worked the deep recesses of the Average White Band back catalog at the old location on Burnside which is also closed. He joked that Chow opened Chopsticks III on Columbia Boulevard for him personally because he was a North Portland resident. He thought his quitting drinking had something to do with the closing of the business. The spirit of Chopsticks continues on at its 3390 NE Sandy Boulevard location.
Rich got to know the owner of the Chopsticks franchise, David Chow, when he sold advertising for the clubs while working for the Portland Tribune. One great thing I learned about Chow were the origins of his catch phrase. I’m impressed that Chow had his own phrase and he wasn’t afraid to use it. It’s there on the bar’s sign, in his ads and on his website. Rich explained that “how can be,” is a phrase of broken English used by Chow to express feelings of incredulousness. Chow also loves to use his image, a close up of his face in his advertising. He has always wanted to be a respected businessman. Rich steered me to his inspiration, car sales tycoon Scott Thomason who used his face in his advertising and has since left Portland under a cloud of controversy.
Outside the lifeless club a week after it’s last night of operation, I was struck by how big the parking lot was. A tall chain link separated the ample parking lot from the neighboring trucking business. In the corner of the outside lobby area, I spotted what should have been the first thing packed up, a decorative “how can be” ash tray with Chinese characters.
While I was taking photos a pick-up truck drove unto the lot and headed behind the defunct bar. I grabbed a few more shots bracing myself for a confrontation. An older man approached. He couldn’t have been nicer, asking what I was up to. I stressed how I had missed the bar’s last night and that I wanted to check the place out. He told me he was the new owner. This surprised me. I assumed the place would be demolished for the parking spaces. He told me he was reopening the building as another bar. Noticing the sign, he wondered out loud why it hadn’t been taken down. I mentioned that I had questioned whether this location was ever suitable for a bar. This led him to explain that his new business was actually a strip club adding something to the effect of “that’s what I’m going after.”
His revelation of being a strip club owner made me comfortable to confess that I was a blogger writing an obituary for the previous business. He seemed bemused by this which gave me the sense that the idea wasn’t strange to him. This made me feel good. We had a nice chat about the Iron City Beer/Pittsburgh T-shirt he was wearing. He’s from Portland but had been to Pittsburgh a couple of times. After that he excused himself to work on getting his club ready.
As he was leaving I asked him the name of his club.
“Desire,” he responded. Then, he walked away.