Frewine Kirosknocked on a door as the sun set Friday night on North Beech Street.
Kiros smoothed her preppy, polka-dotted skirt and fumbled with a water bottle as she waited for someone to answer. A woman and two shirtless men -- all white and wearing toenail polish -- appeared. A black Labrador thumped its tail in the entryway. Kiros spoke softly.
"I'm from LV's Twelve-22, and I'm here to reintroduce us to the neighborhood," said Kiros, an Ethiopian woman raised in Northeast Portland.
For half a century, African Americans packed the club at North Vancouver Avenue and Fremont Street, an area where African American culture thrived. Neighbors had their choice of nearly a dozen jazz venues, among them Van's Olympia, now LV's Twelve-22.
But business dwindled as the neighborhood changed. From 2000 until 2010, the neighborhood went from 50 percent white to 70 percent white. Blacks were priced out of the area as boutique shops and restaurants replaced the clubs as the neighborhood hangouts. Most nights, as hip, new spots such as 5th Quadrant, Tasty N Sons spill over with customers, LV's remains empty.
To save what some see as the last vestige of the old neighborhood, Kiros, the 30-year-old bar manager, is trying to persuade LV's new, mostly white neighbors it can be their neighborhood bar even as it remains true to its roots and black customers. But area residents have been hesitant, sometimes saying they are intimidated to go in or they don't want to "gentrify" it.
"Oh, we have smelled the barbecue and wanted to go over there," said Jesse Day, one of the men who answered the door. "But we've always been told it's shady."
"I tried to go once," Denise Leechimed in. "But I felt like I walked into somebody's living room without knocking."
LV's is trying to avoid the fate of a growing list of traditionally African American bars -- Joe's Place, the Cleo-Lillian Social Club and Seeznins -- that have closed in recent years as North and Northeast Portland have grown whiter, younger and more affluent.
It is named now after LaVon Van, its 45-year-old owner and Kiros' fiancé. Back when he was a kid playing hide-and-seek along Vancouver, the bright lights of Van's Olympia caught his eye. I want to own a place like that someday, he thought.
He watched as the Portland Development Commission razed much of the area for a planned, but ultimately shelved, expansion of Legacy Emanuel Hospital in the early 1970s. Most of the clubs disappeared as African Americans left the neighborhood.