Update: Doc Marie’s is now scheduled to open on July 1.
Spaces for lesbians and queer women have been on a steep downward trend for decades. Since the late 1980s, 90% of the estimated 200 lesbian bars in the United States have shuttered. Those that remain have faced intense challenges due to Covid-19, forcing some to ask for donations to keep the lights on and the drinks pouring. Two years later, there’s progress and lessons learned about the issues that have shuttered many beloved businesses in the past. Spaces that center on queer women and their friends have begun popping up recently and the Pacific Northwest now has double the reasons to celebrate.
Fans of women’s sports know how difficult it can be to find a game playing in a bar or restaurant. It’s precisely what The Sports Bra founder and owner Jenny Nguyen experienced when trying to catch a women’s collegiate basketball tournament at a local sports bar in Portland, Oregon. Nguyen took the frustration of many a women’s sports fan and turned it into progress. In early April, The Sports Bra opened to much national media attention and in proper sports fashion, with the cutting of a basketball hoop. While The Sports Bra isn’t technically a lesbian bar, it is a queer-owned and welcoming space for queer women of all ages and their friends. Just look to the giant Pride flag hanging above the bar, stocked with craft spirits from women-owned distillery Freeland Spirits. The Sports Bra says its mission is “to make great food, delicious drinks, and provide a space that supports, empowers, and promotes girls and women in sports and in the community.” Speaking of food, Nguyen has a culinary background, so you can expect to snack on menu items like Vietnamese-style ribs or a vegan Rueben sandwich while you cheer on the Portland Thorns or your favorite WNBA team.
“A Lesbian Bar for Everyone”
Doc Marie’s, which opens on June 1 (just in time for Pride) will be the first specifically lesbian and queer women-centric spot in Portland in over a decade. Dark and cozy, it’s a place you’d expect to see Carol Aird sipping on a martini in a dimly lit corner. Owners Nikki Ferry, Olga Bichko and Dmitri Bichko took the leap to open Doc Marie’s after getting a clear message from the community. “People are not ready to see lesbian bars disappear,” Bichko shared, “and there is a strong desire to see these spaces survive. This is an opportunity to build a lesbian bar that knows its history, reflects the evolving community and provides a safe and joyful space that members of the community are proud to call their own.”
Doc Marie’s name was inspired by a famous queer Pacific Northwest figure, Dr. Marie Equi. “We wanted to honor someone from Portland’s history that lived the values we aim to embody,” said Bichko. “Marie Equi was a doctor, an abortion rights advocate, an activist, and an out lesbian who lived in Portland over 100 years ago. We are proud to be associated with her and we hope that she would be proud of what we are trying to create.”
The bar will offer craft cocktails as well as zero-proof options for those looking for a non-alcoholic experience. Bichko and the other owners of Doc Marie’s are hoping to make their bar a place where the community will feel at home. “We are deeply committed to our mission of creating a proud and inclusive community space. What will really make it special is the amazing people who will make a home here, create memories, build community, and shape Doc Marie’s into the kind of space they want and need.”
Doc Marie’s has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help cover the first few months of expenses while the bar gets its footing in the area. Bichko hopes the community will be willing to support Doc Marie’s through what is often the most difficult time for a new bar or restaurant. “We know that 60% of new bars and restaurants fail in the first two years and we really want to build a lasting space with Doc Marie’s and make sure that it can survive in the long term. We need the community’s help to make that happen and are so grateful for the support and generosity!”
With establishments like The Sports Bra and Doc Marie’s opening, it proves there’s still very much a desire to create spaces where queer women can connect and feel safe. With current developments in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, joyous queer spaces couldn’t come at a more vital time.
The Sports Bra 2512 NE Broadway, Portland, Oregon 97232
Doc Marie’s 203 SE Grand Ave, Portland, OR 97214