Bust out that old box of Halloween costumes, dust off your craziest make-up, and hit the thrift stores to stock up on accessories. October 31 may be months away, but the Guerrilla Masquerade Party is about to hit Portland—and woe be you, if you're not ready.
One night a month, "people will be getting together to have fun and invade unsuspecting locations—pretty much bars. They'll be dressed in a costume based on a previously decided theme," says Portland's Guerrilla Masquerade Party organizer. "I'm really all about the shock value of showing up, and seeing people's faces. They are going to be like, 'what the hell's up?'"
Guerrilla Masquerade Party (GMP) originated in Seattle three years ago—not long after the city's gays started taking over a straight bar for a night, in a short-lived but popular event dubbed Guerrilla Queer Bar (which Seattle had ripped off from San Francisco).
Since then, a guy with the alias "Dirty Bunny" (who has a white fur bunny suit to match, which he customizes for every GMP theme) has led hundreds of costumed people into unsuspecting bars. The mixed GMP crowd visits all sorts of nightspots—from gay dance clubs to grungy blue-collar pubs—dressed up as everything from naughty nurses or mutants to superheroes or bumblebees. Once there, the GMPers whoop it up with the regulars—and tip the surprised bar staff very nicely. (So far, GMP'd bars have reacted very well—once the staff gets over the shock of a crazy crowd walking in the door, they usually get into it. And many bars beg the group to make a return visit.)
As one fan in Seattle put it: "Very cool and artsy people dress like fabulous retards and invade local clubs, forcing gaiety, celebration, and a singular bacchanalian splendor down the joy-starved throats of unsuspecting sots... GMP's nonpolitical agenda is to 'add a little variety to Seattle's nightlife, and a little chaos while we're at it.'"
Seattle's GMP email list—the way Dirty Bunny announces new themes and locations—has swelled to over 750 members, and each month, about 100 costumed partiers show up.
WELCOMING "FUN" TO PORTLAND
Portland's GMP organizer—a late-20s guy "who looks like he hasn't shaved in four days," he tells me before we meet up at Powell's World Cup café—moved here from Seattle last fall, after visiting a few friends and deciding to stick around. "This city is so much more livable," he says.
More recently, he realized how much he missed the GMP nights, and decided to continue the fun here. (He's also still tinkering with his own alias and alter ego, à la "Dirty Bunny." His alter ego "started out being a tranny crack whore," he says, "but I'm still deciding if I want to present that as a character at these functions." Until he works it out, he'd like to remain mysteriously anonymous.)
"I was a big Guerrilla Masquerade Party fan," he says. "About a month ago, I was like, 'Wait a minute, I miss doing this. I miss dressing up. I miss having fun.' I missed being a character for the evening."
"Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year," he says, describing the highlights of his costume cache: He's got seven-inch platform heels ("And I don't just have one pair, I have five.") and two drum majorette batons. "People get dressed up and they're not themselves. They're definitely stepping into a character for an evening. And I think we need more of those events. There needs to be more than one night a year."
And Portland's ripe for an offbeat event like this, he thinks. A covertly planned group pillow fight on March 3 in Pioneer Square was a huge hit, drawing hundreds of people who playfully bashed each other with pillows for a few hours. Then there's the local Cacophony Society, which puts on quirky events like Santacon—a Christmas-themed roving GMP, really. Portland has also been home to "barjackers," who distract the bartenders, sneak in their own turntables, and create their own party for a night. And don't forget the critical Clown Booze Cruise! Finally, what better way to "Keep Portland Weird," than to dress up as a "space oddity" and hit a smoky dive bar (as Seattle's GMPers did in '04)?
Portland's GMPer won't reveal his future theme ideas—the first event, slated for mid-to-late April, might have an Easter or springtime theme, he thinks—but a peek at Seattle's parties shows just how crazy and creative they can get.
In January, Seattle's GMPers headed to the George & Dragon Pub, a place that bills itself as Seattle's "only authentic English pub." There, GMPers had an "Outlaws" party: "Members of the oldest profession mingled with cowboys; Bonnie and Clyde held up eco-terrorists; potheads, pirates, peeping toms, and priests all made appearances; and two Robin Hoods battled for who could steal the most from the rich to give to the poor," party organizers summed up on Seattle's GMP website.
Last August, the theme was "period costume," and the GMP hit a Pike Place Market pub, and then one of downtown Seattle's diviest bars, the Nite Lite on Second Avenue.
"Time travelers arrived from as far in the past as prehistoric times (Fred Flintstone) and as recent as the 'grunge' era (Kurt and Courtney)—with every period in between representing," GMP Seattle explained. "And, as hoped, one brave soul took the 'period' pun to its logical conclusion, arriving in a giant tampon costume. Pure genius."
And just this past Saturday, March 25, Seattle's GMP crew took over Kozak's Bar and Grill, a Polish hangout. Dubbed Tropicaraoke, the night was filled with Hawaiian shirts, leis, palm fronds, and bikinis, as GMPers turned Kozak's into their own tropical paradise. They drank mai tais and karaoked until last call.
ALERT THE GMP ARMY!
Here in Portland, the inaugural GMP's official theme will be announced any day now. And the organizer is still deciding on just the right bar—one that will either complement or contrast with the theme, preferably without a cover charge.
"A medium to large-sized space is definitely a priority," he says. "Enough room for more people than the regulars." Eventually, he might also plan a few non-bar GMPs, too—like an afternoon grocery store trip.
"I'm so excited about doing this," he says. "People take themselves way too goddamn seriously. We need to mix things up and have a good time."
Want to join the fun? Sign up for Portland's GMP email list, currently based at myspace.com/gmppdx. An email with the official theme will be sent out approximately three weeks in advance, so you can get your outfit ready. A second email, with the precise location, is sent one week before the party.