“Angels lose their wings at The Dirty Duck”, proprietor Gayle liked to say to me, never forgetting the time I walked in from Pride an outfit consisting of a putto-style banner “floating” around my loins and fabric-covered cardboard wings. Despite the sartorial and engineering my friend Amanda and I could muster, the wings were no match for a night at the Duck, the dingiest, most unassuming gay dive in town, formerly located at 439 NW 4th Ave, in Portland’s Old Town/Chinatown.
I loved the Duck, and not just for the Cheers-like camaraderie and cheap pitchers of beer. It was a place I was comfortable enough (despite the abysmal state of the men’s bathroom and near uselessness and real horror that was the women’s) to come have a poor excuse for a dinner in the form of a poor excuse for a pot pie, a few seats down from the man regularly standing in the corner in nothing but a mesh tank top, idly fiddling with his flaccid self. Even the bear/leather element was low-key there, only matching the sexualized ambiance of the scene during special events (contests, fundraisers, etc.).
The Duck became a refuge of sorts for me, especially after the Bears (as a group) decamped to the Purgle (Porky’s-Urge-Eagle, the quick succession of name changes to the notorious North Portland bar where I later met my husband). These were years I was determined to play the field and not get into romantic entanglements, which even the meat markets seemed to bring my way. (I’m not saying I was such a hot commodity everybody wanted me for a boyfriend, but having fallen for a sequence of early-attachments, I needed a break.)
Of course there were pick-ups at the Duck, and even sex on premises (I admit I always wanted to engage mesh-man, not for his hotness, but to go beyond his usual stance). I even stayed after hours a couple of times, to party with a bartender and friends. (That, admittedly, I have done in a few places around town.)
The bar finally closed and the building was razed to expand a neighboring social service agency while I was gone from Portland, but today Box Turtle Bulletin, one of my regular sources of LGBT news and commentary, taught me the history of the bar before Gayle, when her mother, the legendary Mama Bernice, opened her original bar, The Other Inn in 1964. As far as I know, Gayle and her husband are now happily running their other (straight) bar in Alaska.