At the end of last year, after almost 50 years in business, Embers Night Club opened its doors for the last time to a line that stretched from their entrance on NW Broadway all the way to SW Stark. 

After suffering a series of strokes, owner Steve Suss became incapacitated and unable to speak or write. His family had to make the difficult decision to close the club.

James Hemphill, an Ember’s long-time staff member of 26 years, contacted City Home looking for a buyer for some of the club’s memorabilia.  We were happy to be a part of finding a home for these vintage pieces that tell important stories from Portland’s LGBTQ community. Please note that all pieces have been sold.


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Back in the late 80s, Ember's owner Steve Suss went to an auction for a department store that was closing and purchased 6 huge display trees for Christmas decorations for the club.

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These trees are massive … a quarter of the storage at Embers was dedicated just to their branches and it took three to four people three to four hours to put up each tree for the holiday season [Photo by Cory Burnsed]

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This brass ship wheel from Embers was originally on display at Roman’s Rip Tide on SW 10th & Stark in the late 70s to early 80s. The owner, Roman Wydra, was Ember's owner Steve Suss’s primary partner. The wheel is a last vestige of one of Portland’s first gay bars.

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The Go Go Cages were a super fun addition to Ember’s dance floor.

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In the late 80s, patrons of Embers salvaged two of the Gargoyle faces from the rubble of Portland’s Orpheum Theater demolition to display in Ember’s show bar. A City Home customer with an affinity for Portland history took the statues home. 


Embers Night Club Portland Oregon

Ember’s was originally located on SW Park and Morrison next to the Virginia Cafe. The club moved to its NW Broadway location in 1979.

At its height in the mid 90s, Embers was pumping out drag shows seven nights a week. Famous visitors included Madonna and Henry Rollins.

During his time working at Embers, James Hemphill wore many hats - he was a cocktailer, a DJ, a lead cook, security, and his personal favorite - an entertainer - performing as drag queen Terrika St. James


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Terrika St. James’ performances were all about sex, drugs and alcohol. Terrika performed two signature numbers: one with a Marry Poppins theme involving a naughty spoon full of sugar and another act that revolved around spanking people with a cricket bat to sweet dreams by Annie Lennox.

James Hemphill has been performing drag for 35 years. As a young gay man in the 80s, he remembers hiding behind his clothes and accessories entering gay bars. They were a sacred space for him then: “You walk in and there’s a couple hundred people just like you,“ he said.

Now that the gay lifestyle is mainstream, James says he feels like there’s no such thing as a gay bar anymore, guessing that 75% of Ember’s guests towards the end of its years in business were straight or questioning. “Plus there were a lot of bachelorette parties,” James said with a laugh, pointing out that this wasn’t a bad thing at all … “If there wasn't a gay guy to dance with, there was always a nice straight woman to dance with!”


Badlands, a gay dance club chain based out of the Bay Area, purchased the building Embers was housed in and offered new jobs to all the Embers staff. The jury is still out for most of them on whether they'll accept the new positions.

Embers Night Club Portland Oregon

Hemphill has mixed feelings about the transition. “You can buy the building but you can’t buy the business,” he said. "The sad part about Embers disappearing is that it’s the last of the old school gay bars in Portland. Embers is an iconic name for alternative lifestyles across the country - not just in Portland. It’s a place you knew you would feel safe.”

embers night club james hemphill terrika st james portland drag queensPhotos courtesy of James Hemphill