Chopsticks III, How Can Be Lounge: An Orbit Obit

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.

David & Scott

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.

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An Orbit Obit: Foggy Exotica

Most of you are thinking, why is this guy writing about strip clubs and rock clubs? These are the types of places the guy has barely stepped a foot in since he moved to Portland eight years ago. That thought, if we were communicating telepathically, would have me stammering, hemming and hawing for several minutes.  Given time to defend myself, I’d acknowledge the need to mourn the loss of our local cultural institutions. Then I’d offer up what little I may have experienced of these places in tribute.

Foggy Notion

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Use the old shoe store photo filter.

What’s not to love about a place that may (or may not) have been named after a Velvet Underground song? I’ll live with many regrets, one being not having tried the pierogis they served there. We came close once on a walking tour of Lombard Street that ended at the bar, where all walking tours of this area  should end.  It wasn’t in the cards that night but I did have time to be critical about the decor. In hindsight I have to admit that the kind of rock club I want to go to should have a picture of Mick Jones and other assorted punk rockers on the wall in a stark black and white mural. It’s good to see Mick represent so how can I complain? Besides there was  a nice high stage, skee ball and Arizona ice tea if you were in need of an alternative to alcohol.  My best memory was standing outside the club waiting to meet up with someone and listening to a beautiful, god awful racket as the noise roared out of the club through the windows. A group of people spilled out of the door and seemed in parts bewildered, amazed and in good humor about the whole thing.

I have no idea what it takes to keep a club going but I know it has to be a challenge. Even a cooking show make over of the bar menu couldn’t save the place. In an area that seems to have 10,000 bands performing on any given night it also seems impossible to compete for people’s entertainment dollars. I was hugely inspired when the Foggy Notion got an exterior paint job with what looked like a row of record albums and bright colors for the trim. They jazzed up the old shoe store they were headquartered in which makes the silence from the closure all the more deafening.

Exotica International Club for Men

   exotica long shot

exotica with palm (1)

If Exotica International Club for Men could talk it would say, “rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.” This is what I found out after riding my bike through the glassy sidewalks along Columbia Boulevard to arrive in the empty parking lot. It always looked like a classy place in passing. Then again how much class can a business retain when its nearest neighbor is a Jack in the Box restaurant? I was always attracted to the exterior decor. The dark stone mixes well with the odd shade of blue. I was struck by the attempt at what I’d call tiki-exotic. I was never inspired enough to succumb to the temptations inside that would have led to an inspection of the interior design. Upon further review while visiting the site, I spied a note that stated that Exotica was closed due to repairs and maintenance. It seemed a safe bet to conclude that an empty lot and a for sale sign meant it was shut down for good. It all feels better to be able to report that a repaired and refurbished Exotica International Club for Men will return some day.

cracked door exotica

closed sign exotica

Note: Jack in the Box Reflection

Now I can say I come to praise Exotica not to bury it. I used to look over at the club every time I was on my way to pick up take-out. I knew little about what went on there besides an old coworker telling me that some of the Blazers from long ago, well, after 1999, would hang-out there. The truth to that rumor (or fact?) could not be confirmed at press time. If there’s anything that distinguishes this place from other strip clubs it may be the name and other details on the sign. I’ve always had in my head that it seemed upscale, as far as strip clubs go and the loopy font of the basic Lounge sign add to its charm.

lounge sign exotica

exotica for sale

It hardly matters at all now that I’m finding that I’m merely mourning the end of an era: Exotica International Club for Men 1999 to 2015. No word on when it’s coming back, but it sure seems likely to spring back to life. Men are waiting.

exotica entrance sign

See a Portland Orbit video report about Exotica: https://youtu.be/FdLE8ljT3L4

 

 

Year in Review

There’s nothing like the end of the year to inspire a blogger to throw in the towel. It’s been a tough year, a challenging one too, but it also has me more optimistic about what I can do next year. A few projects that hung over my head much of the year were completed and a couple of others are so close that I may be soon done with those as well. The cycle can start up next year with new projects to start, abandon, complete etc… and of course this blog will occupy my time. Looking back over the year’s posts, I see I’ve documented some of what I experienced and it strikes me that my orbit seems a bit constricted now, revolving around the rain and a small, grungy slice of life that I tried to paint an image of in a Kerouac parody in my now infamous Turkey post. The backlog of subject matter that I plan to bring to life next year includes the Portland shoe art scene, my continued decal/sticker obsession and it looks like I’ll finally be able to write about art cars. I will also will be looking to utilize the skills of one of the world’s greatest copy editors I happen to live with. I might get a handle on my typo epidemic. With all that going on, I can only leave you with a couple of updates:

Perry’s Back!

Perry Me

It was probably 2014 when I wrote about the loss of the Perry Mason show on regular TV. For 48 years he held down a time slot in Portland until our local Fox affiliate axed him. You can now catch Perry Mason on ME TV. It’s on channel 2.3. I’m not sure exactly when TV channels started including a decimal point but it’s as good a reason as any to trade your cable cable for a set of rabbit ears. Digital TV offers great reception and great picture quality. Our local stations have sub channels that feature networks of nostalgia blasting old TV shows and movies you can catch while channel surfing. Nothing breaks the monotony of a lazy Sunday better than hearing the phrase “psychological thriller starting!” If your schedule coordinates you can watch Perry at 9am or 11:30pm on weekdays.

 

Perry Me confess 1

Hold on…about to…confess.

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Crap! I can’t believe Perry got me to say that.

Another World for Fabric World

fabric world (1)

When I first addressed the sad, demise of Fabric World, I was happy, at least some readers were attracted to that post. Fabric World remains a lost world to me, but I got a sense of the place from people who had shopped there and responded to my writing. I snapped a photo late one afternoon when I noticed rumbles of activity going on with the old store front. We’re talking serious rumbles–what exactly is happening when half the walls need to be chopped out? A recent trip down Lombard revealed enlarged posters on the wooden barriers exclaiming “New Re-Development” so it’s clear to see that Fabric World has left the building. It’s hard to know what type of business will fit that space. It’s difficult, too, sometimes, to stop the car, park it and investigate what the giant signs are squawking about to clue us all in but in the middle of Christmas mania I did just that. See what you make of this sign.

Re-development

More will be revealed in the new year but it amazed me that 30 seconds into my annual Christmas trip to Powell’s Bookstore I witnessed two major infractions. The driver of a pick up truck at a stop light opened his door and dumped some fast food trash into the middle of the street. Then two fancy/expensive cars failed to use their turn signals. It reminded me that pollution makes both Indians and bloggers cry. It also leads me to believe I’ll be crankier than ever in the next year. The folks below sure have a way of calming me down and making me happy so I’ll leave with their image, along with some sweet peppermints.

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Happy Holidays to each and everyone of you! See you on the other side in 2016.

Rough Day at the Office

The Office est

I wish I could report that the Office is a thriving Interstate corridor business that rewards it’s dedicated clientele with satisfying multi-sensory experiences. This isn’t the case. The Office never quite got off the ground. I’m not sure it ever opened for business. Something was off from the start.

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Some offices aren’t a good fit, but you don’t figure that out until you’re knee deep in the job. This Office started off with the all too clever and old school name where it sounded like a guy could tell his wife, “Honey, I’m at the Office” when he was actually at a strip club. Would she buy it? Not hardly when he arrived home stinking of gin with his tie askew and lipstick on his collar. If the Office actually opened it seemed like a short time before it closed for business. I watched the progress and lack of progress for this establishment because of the Interstate Ave location. When passing, I never missed a chance to look the place over and wonder about it.

 Rerun life sorry

Before it was known as the Office the building was home to a bar called U & I, again a clever name.  If you’re trying to get people to stop at your business located on a busy street a catchy name seems necessary. U & I was a bar that also had shows. I thought their brilliant move was to have a jam band play an afterparty when The Other Ones, made up of members of the Grateful Dead, performed in town. This didn’t seem to be enough of a business model to keep the place afloat. In came the paint crew who inspired me when I saw them leave behind a snazzy paint job with maroon trim. There’s no other way to make improvements to the boxy exterior. I was curious to see what business would take the place of the bar.

Dick Hennessy

The Office Marquee close up

It wasn’t exactly clear that the Office was a strip club until information was posted on the marquee. I can’t figure out if a strip club replacing a bar is a step up, a lateral move or some kind of devolution. I suppose it wouldn’t matter one way or the other to those who patronize this kind of establishment. Please pardon my conflicted condescension. Portland is full of strip clubs so one more is like icing on the cake that a stripper jumps out of, that is if they still do that these days. I have nothing against strip clubs. I retain a certain pride towards the one in my neighborhood. In the end and the beginning, the marquee never changed. Everyday seemed like an advertisement for Sinfire Sunday. I can get a vicarious thrill imagining being in the midst of DJ Dick Hennessy slabbing down platters for the Summer Strip Off all summer long. Naming an event “Sinfire Sunday” seems like a miraculous means of drumming up Sunday business. Yet again it was strange that I never saw evidence of the place being open. No one entered and dancers never gathered outside in skimpy outfits taking smoke breaks.

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The place stayed dormant until it was attacked. It never recovered from being splashed with graffiti. Some time later the place was spruced and repainted but it didn’t reopen. The Office Too would have been a good name for such a resurrection. It would have offered us the opportunity to witness the triumphant return of DJ Dick Hennessy lofting a crate of 12” records above his head on his way to the DJ booth. How long it stayed clean I can’t say. I never thought to take a picture. It’s not the most photogenic building but it did have an air of class and even pride when it wasn’t awash with spray paint. Once again after it was cleaned up it became a canvas for more graffiti. As I took pictures it hit me: Rough day at the office. It seems to me that somebody had it out for the place. Maybe they didn’t like what they may have considered ugliness going on inside so they sought to add their own ugliness to the outside. Pure speculation on my part, but it leads me to hope for a better day when life, in any form, can return to the Office or whatever name it’s given in it’s next incarnation.

Office painted over

Post Script:

At press time I witnessed a man with a paint roller painting the outside of the building. I would have stopped to take pictures if I hadn’t been running late for work. That afternoon, the result of the labor was a spotty attempt to cover up graffiti. I have seen evidence of interior work being done to the inside of the Office. Keep reading the Portland Orbit for updates.

Mayberry and Gomorrah: An Orbit Obit

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There can’t be two more diametrically opposed places of business that have reached the end of an era. One, a sedate hair care establishment epitomizing small town Americana with the wholesome name of Kenton Family Hair Care, the other a seedy mega complex of sin and debauchery both suffering from the demise of an old school way of life. The first, the way an older generation takes care of their hair, the other, the way an older generation takes care of their, ahem, soul?!?

Hair dryers

Kenton Hair Care had a way of appearing like a business out of Mayberry, the old fashioned hair dryers, the booths with the stylist’s names on them and pictures of children or grandchildren tacked to the walls. It was the type of place I imagined my grandmother visited for her weekly hair set. I was drawn to the hair dryers, so quaint, it reminded me of photo taken of the Violent Femmes in the 80’s for the Campus Voice Biweekly posters that were posted at my college.

NW Staffing check back 2

Clientele was dwindling for years at Kenton Family Hair Care. When the Third Thursday event started they opened in the evenings and attempted to sell quilts and prints of squirrels. I know, I bought one of those prints.  Out of step, perhaps and now, out of time.

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The Town Plaza is a whole other story. As nasty as it was, you could only imagine the appeal it could have had for someone who wanted to indulge their purient interests–a smorgasbord, with a video store, a juice bar called the Sugar Shack, a strip club, a bar and grill named the Pink Marlin and even a burger joint. I can imagine the place, brand spanking new and shiny, briming with temptation, I’m sure Satan himself was there, possilby in disguise, when they cut the ribbon. In the last few years, there seemed to be no trace of activity besides fish sculptures and neon in one of the windows that faced the busy section of Lombard Ave. The strip club may have continued to operate after all the other businesses shut down but it was hard to tell.

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I never saw the parking lot until I drove around to take pictures. Burger Island was only known to me through the remainders of its sign that was never torn down. I saw no evidence of any burgers or relics of an actual burger joint  around the place. The building was purchased by the nearby neighborhood who paid over 2 million in an attempt to rid the area of the activity that occurred within the checker board tile laden building.

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To me it was always a curiosity. Even when driving by with a friend who voiced disgust, I still held on to a slight glimmer of appreciation for a place that made such an attempt of commodifying seediness for those in need. Maybe it was just a matter of the wrong place being in the wrong place.

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End with a more wholesome image.

An Orbit Obit: Two Closed Stores

I started thinking about two stores that I never went to that are now closed. One seems like it’s been closed for a couple of years the other ceased operating more recently.  What hit me was this selfish attitude that I thought the stores should have stayed open until I got around to going to them. I’ve lived in the Portland area over seven years which was plenty of time to make a trek to these places that I never made. While the stores intrigued me, they didn’t sell anything I wanted. Still I missed out on getting a feel for the atmosphere of the places and I regret that. They seemed like quirky, Portlandy type establishments from a bygone era that we’re losing.

Fabric World

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Fabric World detail

Fabric World was looking a bit run down for years. Then it was hard to tell if it was open. I saw this store many times driving up Lombard Ave towards St. Johns and I thought it was cool to have an independent fabric store in the area. Towards the end a boarded up window seemed to signal its demise.

I’m not the fabric sort. I do have good memories of my wife, Ronna, and I buzzing around Hancock Fabrics in Alexandria, Va. With a cup of coffee in hand and an over caffeinated brain, fabric and all the various gizmos that go with it take on a whole new meaning. I can tell you that a box of fabric from those days remains in one of our closets so we were never in the market to make acquisitions from Fabric World. The only consolation of missing the Fabric World experience is that now we don’t have bolts of a polyester blends hanging around the house. Marci Macfarlane writes about Fabric World on her blog Sewing With Cupcake (see the link below) which offers a detailed sense of the spirit of the place. Sadly it’s as close as I’ll get to the actual experience of having gone there.

Hollywood Costumers

Hollywood Costumers (1)

If I’m remembering right there were painted cartoon pictures on the front window and some Star Wars cardboard cut outs there as well. It’s one of those landmarks for me, something that made me feel good when I saw it. Mostly when I was biking around the intersection of 7th Ave and SE Hawthorne. I could tell there was a whole world inside that store. How could a costume shop not be an interesting and magical place? And yet, I am not a costume renting person. I leave that up to my film maker hero Jeff Dodge. It seems like the type of place where he could rent Civil War costumes. There is a bit of heartache for a lost opportunity. This isn’t like one of those cool things I hear about that I missed out on years before I moved here. I had plenty of chances to wander into the store and get an eyeball full of costumes and associated relics. It feels like a here one day gone the next kind of thing.  It’s sad to go from seeing that store, go from colorful and offbeat front window decorations to a blank and empty store front.

If there’s any lesson it has to be not to put off checking places out. I could probably make a list of other places that I’d like to see but I’ve delayed visiting for various reasons.  I tell myself I don’t have time or offer up other excuses. I’ll be filled with even more regret if I end up noticing another business gone under that I never bothered to visit.

Here’s Marci’s report on Fabric World that is the next best thing to going there which you can no longer do any more. Scroll down to the March 31, 2015 post. Photos too!:

http://sewingwithcupcake.blogspot.com

Check out yelp reviews, many positive to get another sense of the Fabric World experience:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/fabric-world-portland

Many one star Yelp reviews about Hollywood Costumers which have a charm all their own if you’re into that:

http://www.yelp.com/biz/hollywood-costumers-portland

An Orbit Obit: Dalo’s Ethiopian Kitchen

Dalo's

Dalo’s Ethiopian Kitchen, the restaurant anyway, has been gone a while and maybe it should not have been a surprise given the dramatic sweep of new buildings that have been taking over North Williams Ave. From the outside it never looked like much, nondescript and in a building that housed the Oregon Minority Entrepreneurs Association. Inside it was like any Ethiopian restaurant with Ethiopian music, Ethiopian travel posters and a bar towards the back. It was a bit dingy but the food was good. It seemed to be run by an older, bubbly gentleman and his harried son. You never wanted to order off the menu, not after they started the buffet service, because it seemed to take hours to get food. Now time isn’t so bad when you just want to hang out with friends but hours, and yes it’s an exaggeration, when I’m thinking multiple hours it was probably closer to 2 than 3, but there is only so much time that can be spent in a restaurant waiting for food or the check. The buffet on the other hand was easy. There was a sink ten feet away so you could wash your hands, important when you’re eating with them, otherwise you had to grab the key and walk down the hall to a shared bathroom. The buffet was good for eating in or loading up serving savers for carry out. Dalo’s Kitchen made me realize that there are varying ways of preparing Ethiopian food, different items, a variety of dishes with every restaurant providing their unique take on what Ethiopian food can be.

I drive up North Williams sometimes when I pick up carry out from Queen of Sheeba, another Ethiopian restaurant. I’ve lived in Portland long enough to remember when North Williams was more empty lots than condos but I can’t get nostalgic about the old Hostess store. The construction boom was a bit of a shock after years with nothing much going on or going up. A recent ride up Williams on my bike had me spotting 20 or more construction workers on a lunch break. Changes to the area like the addition of New Seasons and other new businesses and restaurants as well as North Williams now having one of the automobile lanes reserved for bikes have made the street more active. It feels like it has the potential to get congested but most of the time I’m passing through.

I miss Dalo’s in it’s old spot. When I saw it had been demolished it was disconcerting but there were buildings going up on all sides so why wouldn’t there be a new big building there too. Dalo’s Kitchen has a food cart in Alberta. The website points out you can “find us next to the New Rose City Cab Co.” The optimist in me has Dalo’s Kitchen becoming a restaurant again and returning to some nicer digs. The Oregon Minority Entrepreneurs Association has a fine new office set up in Hayden Meadows in the Delta Park area so maybe all hope is not lost. In the meantime I have to hit the cart not only for the food but maybe to see if I can find the bubbly old man and his harried son. Anybody know how to get to the New Rose City Cab Company?

Hungry? Check out this link to see pictures of food:
http://www.dalos-kitchen.com

Couldn’t have said it better myself:

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/06/as_north_williams_booms_longti.html