PORTLAND — One of Portland’s most notorious strip clubs has been converted — pun intended — into a church.
A 2-year-old congregation called Shepherd’s Gate Church has renovated and moved into the building at 333 S.E. 122nd Ave., formerly home to Soobies Bar & Grill.
Soobies was known for trouble. In 2009, a robber shot a bartender after enjoying a few lap dances. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission revoked the club’s license in 2013, citing a “history of serious and persistent problems,” including drug activity, fights, public urination, noise and public drunkenness. Afterward, owners continued offering late-night entertainment, but served juice instead of booze. That only pushed alcohol consumption to the parking lot.
“It was the pits, believe me,” said Denny Yost, who owns the property.
The club shut down in the fall, just months after what police deemed a gang-related shooting left one man dead and four wounded. Neighbors crossed their fingers, hoping the commercial building, flanked by a Burgerville and a funeral home, would be repurposed.
Yost hoped for something better, too. But when he met real estate agent Bob Haskins in the parking lot of the 2,465-square-foot building after Soobies closed, he was in for a surprise.
“When he said it would be for a church I joked, ‘Step back, Bob, a bolt of lightning is going to hit one or both of us,’ ” Yost said, laughing.
He ended up deciding to give the congregation a deal — about half of what he’d been offered by other prospective tenants. He liked the church leaders, he said, and believed they could improve the neighborhood.
The congregation remodeled the interior, swapping faux leather booths for folding chairs and strip poles for music stands. The walls, once red, have been repainted a soft cream. The liquor shelves are gone, as is the mirror that once advertised chicken strips and onion rings.
“This is a great metaphor for the Christian faith,” Haskins said. “It’s the same on the outside, but totally different on the inside.”
For this congregation, renewal hits close to home. Most members of Shepherd’s Gate hail from another Portland church where leadership changes hurt longtime members and sparked an exodus.
“I was really to a point where I’d almost had enough of churches and didn’t think I wanted to be a part of one anymore,” said Stephen Cline, who now runs sound and visuals for Shepherd’s Gate’s worship services.
Some who left stayed in touch, and they began meeting monthly for a potluck at Mt. Tabor Park. Eventually, they grew into a formal congregation. They rented space Sunday evenings at an east Portland church, but by fall of 2014 were eager for a building of their own. That’s when they met Yost, and signed a lease on the former strip club.
“We’ve been invited into the neighborhood with open arms,” said church leader Mark Shoman. Residents have dropped by to welcome them, and bosses at Burgerville and the funeral home are delighted to have quiet neighbors. “A couple people have told us they started praying for this place two years ago.”