If you ever found your way into Suzanne Hale’s restaurant, I hope you knew how to behave – for your own good.
“If a customer walked in and said, ‘I just want a goddamn cup of coffee,'” Hale said, “I’d just smile and say, ‘Well, a fucking a cup of coffee is extra.’”
Hale can be gruff, but there’s a reason her legions of adoring fans call her “The Lovely Suzanne.” Hale Restaurant, The Roxy, was an anchor for downtown Portland nightlife aficionados for 27 years. Open 24 hours a day, except Mondays, the restaurant attracted revelers, taxi drivers and night workers in droves. It was also an anchor for the city’s LGBTQ community. For homosexual or homeless teenagers, it was one of the few places where they could always find refuge, regardless of the time of day.
“The Lovely Suzanne” and her daughter (and Roxy’s general manager) April Shattuck created something akin to an anomaly: an often steamy all-night restaurant that was also a place of safety for hundreds, if not thousands. of people.
“A 24-hour restaurant can be a sketchy place, a tough place to live,” Hale said. “But that wasn’t the case. That’s part of why people felt safe there, because we didn’t tolerate any of that.
After coming through the pandemic and a building fire, The Roxy closed for good March 20th. He left a giant hole the size of a pancake and a fried chicken in the hearts of a generation of people who grew up and found a community there.
‘You don’t go to Denny’s in drag’
“What was really special about The Roxy was that it was an all-ages space and a 24-hour space,” said Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Managing Editor of Portland Eater. “I think a lot of young gay people don’t really have a ton of gay spaces available to them. Mostly [in the ‘90s], there really weren’t many places where you could really interact with gay adults. It created this space where people could really explore their homosexuality.
Maria Peters Lake was one of those queer adults when The Roxy opened in 1994. At the time, she was the reigning empress of the Sovereign Imperial Court of Roses, Oregon’s oldest LGBTQ charity. Today, Peters Lake runs the non-profit organization Peacock Productions. She said the restaurant was an important complement to the LGBTQ-friendly gay bars and businesses that made up the Burnside’s triangle.
“It gave us space to be who we were, so we felt comfortable,” Peters Lake said. “We lived there at the time. It was really our street because after the party, after the bar, it was 24 hours and that’s where we ended up going. A lot of drag queens get out of drag and go to a regular restaurant or a straight restaurant or whatever. You don’t go to Denny’s in drag in the 90s.”
The late night crowd
Shattuck said the crowds would come in waves: a flurry of drunken revelers after the bars closed at 2:30 a.m., then a second rush at 4 a.m. when staff from those same bars showed up.
“Great regulars, all these people, especially gay bars in town,” Shattuck said. “Everything from telling dirty jokes to sharing things that happen in each of our families. Just, you know, the link. You may not even know their name, but you know their usual order. You know, ‘Oh, has your grandmother ever been discharged from the hospital?’ There was a real sense of connection and I’m so grateful and honored to have been included in all of this over the years.
Night after night, they were a welcoming family, a true model of radical inclusivity: straight and queer, housed and homeless, young and old.
“There’s only one client I gave the stink eye to that I would watch like a hawk,” Shattuck said. “It would be rich white boys from the fraternity. They were the ones who tended to “dinner and rush” or cause trouble.
A refuge for thousands
“You know, she’s not gonna sing her own praises,” former regular Maria Peters Lake said of Hale. “There are so many things she has done for this community, especially to make young people feel safe, loved, wanted and important.”
“We all know the stories of young people who have been evicted by their families living on the streets. You know, sleeping on the couch, trying to get by. They could go to the Roxy and have a meal, stay warm, feel loved.
When I asked Hale if she had any client stories close to her heart, she didn’t even stop.
“Thousands,” she says. “Thousands.”
One of them included a 14-year-old prostitute who came late at night.
“This kid was selling his body on the street,” Hale said. “He had been expelled from his home because he was homosexual. Just knowing their name and saying hello, they were so happy and puffed up, and almost like, ‘The owner knows my name!’ So I’ve always made it a point to do that.
“I mean, it was a small thing for me, but it seemed like a big thing for him and I saw that kid grow up. I saw him get healthier, have a long-term lover. He’s now married, he went to school, graduated, has a management position.
This child, now an adult, sat in a booth at the Roxy on the last day it opened – paying tribute to the family behind the restaurant that changed his life.
Life after the Roxy
Hale is still ambivalent about her decision to shut down The Roxy. Although the last day of service was March 20, she still works hard, trying to find a new job for everyone who worked for her.
And there are certain benefits of no longer owning a 24-hour restaurant.
“Today was the first day in 30 years that I was able to sleep until 11 a.m.,” Hale said. “To turn off my phone. When you own a 24-hour restaurant, you never turn off the phone.
Listen to Brooke Jackson-Glidden and Maria Peters Lake’s conversation with OPB Weekend Edition host John Notarianni using the audio player above.