ERIC OLSON SLICES into a resting pork loin, letting the juices run clear as he prepares it for a mushroom demi-glace that simmers nearby. Kebabs spit and sizzle on the grill behind him, and the scent of meat and marinade fills the room. It's enough to make the average mouth water, but the food Olson cooks has another advantage: It will be devoured almost exclusively by people who have just had, or are about to have, copious and uninhibited sex.
Carnal appetites are front and center at Ron Jeremy's Club Sesso, "Portland's premier swingers' nightclub." Softcore pornography plays above the entrance and fetish photography adorns the brick walls. The dining room, where the food is served on a long buffet table (no nudity allowed), opens onto a red-lit couples' lounge with fresh sheets and two condoms on every bed.
The buffet dinner, available from 9 pm until midnight, tends toward bold, simple flavors. Tom Ryan, a bartender and chef at the club who worked with Ron Jeremy to develop the menu, describes the main objectives: "sweet, spicy, tart, cold." I ask if the heightened, post- or pre-coital appetites of the clientele make his job easier. "Oh yeah," he says. "It's like they're stoned, and have the munchies."
So the food, like the club itself, straddles a line between sophistication and the frankly seamy business of turning people on.
There are, of course, oyster shooters, served a few at a time on a bed of ice. They're cold and fresh, though the ensuing shot of cocktail sauce is a bit much. Wisely, the chefs avoid complicated preparations and focus on simple, everyday combinations that can evoke a blissful—indeed, almost erotic—response.
So there's a tray of sliced red tomatoes dusted with salt, which activates the fruit's glutamates and causes a savory, red-meat reaction in the mouth. That pork roast, having soaked up the mushroom juices, shares a chafing dish with unadorned, briny baked ham. A Caprese salad couples cherry tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and strips of basil.
The less natural pairings sometimes fall flat. Barbecue "ribs"—boneless, disappointingly—are covered in a sauce that's sweet with no complexity. Chunks of pineapple overwhelm a chicken kebab. And steamer clams taste more of steam than clam.
One of the club's specialties—and I don't think I tried it, because it sounds awful—is a sauce made from reduced Rockstar energy drink ("They're one of our sponsors," explains Ryan). But one can forgive them these moments of sleaze: This is, after all, a sex club with surprisingly delicious food.
I ask Olson if he's ever been tempted by the swinging activity outside the kitchen. "Oh, yes, absolutely," he says. "I wasn't into the lifestyle when I started, but then I kind of loosened up." Occasionally the guys working in the kitchen venture upstairs on their breaks to sit around the "orgy bar" where, according to one of the staffers, "anything goes."
The front room has a well-stocked bar behind a handsome dark-wood counter. I was relieved not to find a list of signature cocktails with abhorrent names like "Swingin' Sangria" or "the Screaming Orgasm" or anything like that. Instead, Ryan worked with the bartenders to develop a few classic specialties, many of which feature fresh-squeezed citrus. The lemon drop is bracingly tart and could easily get one accidentally drunk. The whiskey sour, which I tried with Maker's Mark as suggested, is surprisingly refreshing. Another house cocktail features sweet tea vodka, peach schnapps, iced tea, and oranges. These are clearly drinks for people who have worked up a sweat.
At midnight, people stop what they're doing to line up for fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, served gooey warm with ice-cold milk. The innocent, carnal honesty with which the clubgoers enjoy such simple pleasures is actually heartwarming, and a world away from the average club-floor atmosphere of drunken aggression. The un-frustrated satisfaction is contagious.
And, should one need it later, there's Listerine in the bathroom.
Whether you're looking to be fortified before getting it on with one or more strangers in a sex club designed by Ron Jeremy, or just getting ready to spend a little quality time with yourself and the internet, nothing sets the mood like a fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie.
CLUB SESSO CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Makes 100 cookies.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix in a bowl:
1 pound softened butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla
4 large eggs
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Mix in 4 cups of semi-sweet
Bake for 12-14 minutes [enough time to engage in some spirited oral sex—Eds.]