Lament, if you must, the many local arts spaces that have come and gone in our fair city. There’s a long list of names and places to choose from. But the better move might be to celebrate the number of local galleries, clubs, and theaters that are still here—survivors of a global pandemic that shuttered so many other spaces of their kind. And look to the very near future when a new addition to the arts landscape—and an exciting relocation of a beloved venue—will be ready to open their doors to Portlanders.
Tomorrow Theater Is Not a Movie Theater
The Portland Art Museum (PAM) has gone through its fair share of expansion over the years. In the ’90s, the organization purchased the neighboring Masonic Temple, turning it into the Mark Building: a massive, multi-floor space it used to showcase modern art and host grand events. More recently, the PAM has worked to launch a remodel of its Rothko Pavilion, which will better unite the Mark and the main museum.
Until this year, all of that growth has taken place in and around PAM’s complex on SW Park. Soon, the museum will take its first major steps outside of downtown Portland.
In November, its Center for an Untold Tomorrow (known as PAM CUT), will open a new creative space located on Southeast Division, dubbed Tomorrow Theater. And while the new theater is in many ways another incarnation of the museum’s Northwest Film Center, PAM CUT director Amy Dotson vehemently stated the new building is “not a movie theater.”
“It’s really a theater for cinema unbound,” she continued, referencing the annual awards ceremony PAM CUT has held for the past four years. “In everything that we do, there will be at least two artforms represented. It might be a movie, but there might also be a dance element. It might be a music-based show, but there might be comedy before. We want two different audiences and hopefully a couple of different artists to band together and make something new every night.”
Dotson and her team dreamed up the new space, in part, as a result of the ongoing construction at the Rothko Pavilion, which rendered PAM CUT’s regular space for film screenings and events, the Whitsell Auditorium, inaccessible. And while the idea of finding a location to flesh out the concept of joining two artistic disciplines was daunting, the actual search for a physical space proved to be incredibly easy. All Dotson had to do was look in her own neighborhood.
Nearby her home was the Oregon Theater, a former vaudeville house that, for two decades prior to its closing in early 2020, was a porn theater / sex club. New owner Kevin Cavenaugh, the developer behind the Fair-Haired Dumbbell building on East Burnside, initially intended to turn the space back into a regular movie theater with a design based on its original incarnation. But in talking with Dotson and the museum, they all realized the potential of elevating the nearly 9,000-square foot location into something that paid homage to the past while embracing the future in its design and programming with a new look dreamed up by local design house Osmose.
“It really has a kind of Vivienne Westwood punk vibe in there,” says Dotson. “We didn’t want it to be shiny and fancy because that really wasn’t what the intention of this space was. It’s a space for artists to come and experiment and try new things. So there’s a lot of details and fun things that we kept but without as much of the ick factor.”
Doug Fir Lounge Is Dead. Long Live the Doug Fir.
When Mike Quinn, owner of Doug Fir Lounge, signed the lease on the former home of Le Bistro Montage in inner Southeast Portland, the plan wasn’t to move the beloved woodsy venue from its current home on East Burnside to this new location. The idea was to open an entirely new club in the cavernous space below the Morrison Bridge.
But when lease negotiations with the Jupiter Hotel stalled out, the decision was pretty much made for Quinn: by the end of September, Doug Fir Lounge will close its doors and its top-notch soundsystem and faux wood cabin interior will make the half-mile trek to its eventual new home. Just in time to celebrate the club’s 20th birthday.
“I think my message is going to be, ‘Doug Fir is dead. Long live Doug Fir,’” Quinn says, with no small amount of exhaustion in his voice.
As tough as it’s going to be for the local music community to wait for the new space to open, at the beginning of 2024, what will come of this relocation is a much improved experience for musicians and fans.
Quinn is a little cagey with the details, as he waits to be free of his lease agreement with the Jupiter. What he does reveal, on the record, is that the capacity for the new Doug Fir will be a comfortable increase from just under 300 to closer to 400, with a much improved green room for the artists performing there. He hopes to have a rotating cast of food trucks on site to feed attendees. And, perhaps more importantly, since Quinn and his team will have a lot more control over the space, they plan to hold more all-ages shows.
At present, all Quinn can see are the many steps that he will need to take before he can get to start hosting shows in the Doug Fir Lounge once more.
“I must be fucking crazy for trying to do this again,” he says. “We’re closing down the old space on September 30, then [using] the month of October to move out. We’re going to get some renderings going soon and get the layout done. I’ve got a lot of ideas. I’m bringing the name, but it won’t be the same type of place at all.”