Quick! Which city in America has the most strip clubs per citizen?
Nope, not that one. Not Tampa, either. Give up? The answer is actually Portland, Ore.
Indeed, Portland boasts the highest number per capita in the U.S. — one for every 11,286 residents. This handily outranks the nudity-liberal likes of Las Vegas, New Orleans, and San Francisco, and even edges out Tampa, Florida, a city that often claims to be the country’s strip club mecca. New York City, which has 48 clubs but a population of 8.5 million, doesn’t even rank on this list.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that the key word there is “per capita.” As seen in the chart below, Houston technically edges out the number of strip clubs in Portland, but because Houston’s population is the fourth largest in the nation, it technically has less strip clubs per citizen than Portlandia.
When population density is taken into account, cities such as Tampa, Atlanta, and Las Vegas start to look fuller in the strip club department. Heck, even Corpus Christi, Texas, cracked the top 20.
So. Why Portland? Is part of “Keeping Portland Weird” keeping it covered with un-covered performers? Was there a mass exodus of exotic dancers to the area? Does Oregon offer tax incentives towards taking off your top for a living? The answer is actually much simpler, and lies in a state statute that has been interpreted to include sexual expression in public spaces by Oregon’s highest court.
When Oregon adopted its constitution in 1859, it included a very vague, open-to-interpretation statute (Article 1, Section 8): “No law shall be passed restraining the free expression of opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write or print freely on any subject whatever.” Since then, Oregon’s Supreme Court has vigorously defended this “free expression” in all forms, resulting in something of a garden of eden for strip clubs.
As the century turned and America started moving further away from the puritanical values it was founded on, more venues for topless performances opened up, even in Portland. Topless dancing eventually gave way to live sex shows, and that’s where the public started to try put a stop the burgeoning industry.
Throughout the 1970s, Star Theatre, another Portland establishment, became known for featuring erotic films and bringing strippers on stage for “live sex shows.” Here, Portland drew the line: after obtaining a copy of a film titled “Pumpin’ The Poop Chute,” and catching onto the Star’s controversial shows in 1976, the city sued the club’s owner, John Tidyman, for violating its “obscenity” statute. However, the resulting case, which took nearly ten years to resolve, and made it to Oregon’s Supreme Court, determined that these shows fell under the state’s “free expression” clause, and Tidyman was cleared of all charges.
Oregon v. Tidyman, and a spate of similar cases that followed, resulted in a re-fortification of Oregon’s free speech protections:
“In this state, any person can write, print, read, say, show or sell anything to a consenting adult even though that expression may be generally or universally considered ‘obscene’…Appearing nude or exposing one’s genitals in public, can constitute symbolic conduct and be a form of expression under Article 1, section 8.”
The settlement protects business owners’ ability to open these clubs, and unlike many other states, prudish Oregonians haven’t been able to alter local zoning laws in favor of removing topless venues.
Way to go Oregon! We’ve long known about your delicious and ability to put birds on things, but now there’s a whole new reason to spend time in the Rose City.