“How is the chimichanga?”
This is not a question I find myself asking nearly enough in life, and certainly not while trying to maintain eye contact with a woman whose bare breasts are propped on a table-top two feet from my face. She’s wearing a soft-beige sweater—albeit one that’s cut short and pulled up over her ample chest—as well as a thick scarf, black-and-white polka dot panties, and wide, yellow-framed retro glasses. Given that we’re in a strip club, this getup is somehow stranger than butt nekkedness, but also sort of endearing.
I suppose I should have expected at least one homely hipster-librarian type at Casa Diablo—after all, it does claim to be Portland’s first vegan strip club, a distinction so head-scratching that it led me here to sample the smorgasbord of apps and ass in the name of “journalism.” I was curious about what might distinguish a vegan titty bar from the normal type of titty bar that serves lemon-pepper wings and a disgusting lunch buffet. If the latter attracts red-blooded bros who like steroid-packed burgers and fake tans, does the vegan version appeal more to pale anarchists with a penchant for cruelty-free pleather chaps and unshaven havens?
Looks inviting, but dare I ask what’s in the van?!
There’s another reason why this visit is a professionally sound outing (not that it matters, my girlfriend never makes it this far into my articles!): It is the strip club linked to former Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s 2013 Twitter scandal, in which he was exposed for trading flirty messages with a Casa Diablo dancer who first caught his eye when she tweeted, “The West Coast loves you!” (He responded, “And the East Coast loves you and by the East Coast, I mean me,” and rest is history.) Visiting this place seems comparable to checking into the Mayflower Hotel where Eliot Spitzer liaised with Audrey Dupre, or eating at the Louisville restaurant where Rick Pitino schtupped Karen Sypher.
So anyway…back to those chimichangas. The girl with the child’s sweater and massive breasts (“Nebulah,” I learn, is her name) assures me that they’re really good, but warns that they’ll be messy. “I guess that’s the thing about chimchangas,” she says. Reading between the lines, I think what she’s really telling me is, “You will look like a complete maniac eating chimichangas alone at a strip club.” I feel thankful that I have an advocate in this mission, and emboldened to follow up with some questions about the nachos.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to eat hummus in a strip club. I have some pride.
“Also good, but they’re going to be too big,” she says, gesturing across the room at three guys who had ordered them to share. Nebulah recommends the hummus, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to eat hummus in a strip club. I have some pride.
The vegan thing is throwing me off. Questions like “how are the nachos?” are generally superfluous when meat and cheese are involved—you already know they’re great. But the menu here is disconcertingly large, seesawing between vegan health grub (hummus veggie wraps, “homestyle” rice bowls) and vegan-ized junk food (“Mac and Chz,” sloppy joes described as “BBQ meaty veggie mess over a toasted bun”). There are also a few total curve balls, like samosas.
Sensing my indecision and clear proclivity for Tex-Mex, Nebulah points to the (off-menu!) tacos. “I don’t really know much about vegan food,” she says. “But the cook does something to them…I guess he fries things in, like, soy?” Reading between the lines, I take this to mean, simply, that the cook is Mexican.
Finally, I settle on the signature Diablo Burger, which costs a mere $4—a solid deal, unless you consider that for $2, you can walk up to the stage and literally have a girl stick her boobs directly in your face. Strip clubs screw with your fiscal priorities.
But now’s not the time for lechery—I’ve got to stay focused on dinner. I also need a beer, and I’m in luck because Portland strip clubs have incredible craft-beer selection! I go for a Ninkasi Total Domination IPA, which has a fittingly BDSM-style name and packs a serious wallop of Summit, Amarillo, and Crystal hops; other local drafts include 10 Barrel Brewing Co.’s S1nist0r Black Ale and Widmer Brother Brewing’s Drifter Pale Ale.
Nebulah writes down my order and roller-skates away (seriously). As I wait for my meal, I have time to assess the other reason that this place exists—i.e., the roughly 25 naked or semi-naked women engaged in pole-climbing, ass-slapping, and treating a man in a wheelchair to a seemingly endless parade of lap dances. (I take it that this is the adult equivalent of skipping the line at Six Flags—fair play to you, good sir.)
The place has the look and feel of country barn, which is ironic since there are no animal products inside. Instead, there’s a long main stage running down the center, with two poles rising a good 15 feet to the rafters, as well as a separate one-person stage, a VIP area called the “Devil’s Den,” and a recessed bar staffed by two women in lingerie (pro tip: order your drinks shaken, not stirred). If you sit at one of the stages, prominent signage informs you that you must tip at least $2 per song. All change here is given in crisp $2 bills, which makes Casa Diablo an excellent stop before a 12 year old’s birthday party. (Side note: Does Steven Reisman secretly own this club?)
As for the ladies fueling the vegan horn-dog fest, I’ll say this: Casa Diablo is the most diverse strip club I’ve ever been to in terms of degrees of whiteness. It’s a veritable feast of Caucasity: There are plump, cherubic ladies in pink negligees; well-endowed Goths with Hannibal Lecter tattoos (good for scaring awkward erections back to the sad place they came from); red-headed pinups with striped miniskirts and suspenders; and svelte athletes who work a pole like they’re training for the Rio Olympics. There are, notably, no black girls in sight, besides the one rocking a cutoff Superman t-shirt and red underwear—her job is to deliver bottled waters to thirsty patrons out of a Superman lunch box. Do with that what you will, Ta-Nehisi Coates.
Casa Diablo is the most diverse strip club I’ve ever been to in terms of degrees of whiteness.
(Quick aside: The one black dude in the club rolled in wearing a hoodie that reads “Nothing Was the Same on the Front” and “September 24″ on the back, then sat down and stared at his phone the entire time. Such a Drake fan move! Probably texting his ex.)
Eventually, Nebulah skates back over with my Diablo burger, looking like she’s about to film an X-rated version of Roll Bounce. I’m relieved, because the place is filling up and I’m getting aggressive stares from bros in Patagonia jackets who are clearly pissed that I’m taking up prime real estate—at the tables around the perimeter, you can chill and ogle at your leisure instead of keeping up with the $2-per-song pace. Turns out strip clubs are not among the greatest restaurants for solo diners.
The red light that bathes the entire place in tawdry sex tones makes it difficult to inspect the burger too closely, which is probably for the best. It looks like a burger, with a nice sesame-seed bun, and the flavor is dominated by Diablo Sauce, which is basically a mayo-free riff on Thousand Island—a good thing, in this case, because it is tremendous. They should bottle Diablo Sauce and sell it online; I’d buy a case of the stuff. The “flame-grilled” veggie patty itself is bland—the big problem is that there’s no grind to add texture to the burger, and the finish is watery—but the whole package, finished off with tomatoes, raw onions, and mustard, is actually pretty decent. Even making unfortunate eye contact with a stripper booty-clapping to “Thrift Shop” while I eat it can’t spoil the good, healthful vibes this sandwich is delivering.
Nebulah comes back to make sure I made the right choice; she rests her breasts on the table again (I’m beginning to think if this is “her move”), and I compliment the special sauce.
“Right? I love that you can’t really tell the difference,” she says, and I wonder if she’s referring to soy patties or boobs.
The bill for the burger and the beer comes to just $10, but I’m freaking out because, really, what does one tip a waitress who serves you with her hooters out? I consider Googling the answer, then decide to go with my gut and throw down $5. On the way out, I notice a flyer on the wall advertising a special:
Really, Nebulah?! Did this not seem like a relevant piece of information to share with a dude who asked a lot of questions about the menu?
Suffice to say, the entire journalistic conceit of this outing has been undermined. I get in my rental car and drive into the darkness, with a heavy heart, a rumbling stomach, and the words of Kanye West playing through my mind:
And I’ll never let him ever hit a strip club / I learned the hard way, that ain’t the place to get love…