Gyms

The Cult of Barry’s Is Landing in Portland

Open October 15, the lavish HIIT class gym marks a new height for Portland’s fitness scene.

By Matthew Trueherz September 8, 2022

The red room, Barry's epicenter.

It’s six am. You're surrounded by mirrors, drenched in red light—and sweat. Music is pumping and a dewy-faced twenty something named Dustin is yelling at you: “Treds, I need you at five, six, seven on your speed, six percent incline. My floor: you’re heading into a Romanian deadlift.” This isn’t a nightmare, and it isn’t a club (though it threatens to be both). It’s a class at the boutique fitness studio Barry’s and, apparently, Portland is ready for it.  

Widely accepted as the pioneer of boutique fitness, Barry’s (who dropped “bootcamp” from their name in 2019) first opened in West Hollywood in 1998 and has grown to 84 locations in 14 countries in the 24 years since, with Portland next on the list. (Portland's Barry's officially opens October 15.) The legacy brand owes some of that expansion to the countless celebrities who’ve endorsed their workouts as an effective way to get big-screen results, fast. It’s where Kim Kardashian does all that work she’s been talking about; it’s where David Beckham keeps it tight post MLS; and it’s where one Mr. Harry Styles cuts his abs. (Thursday is abs and ass day, not just for Mr. Styles: the gym is scheduled around specific body parts for days of the week.) 

Does Portland do boutique fitness, though? It depends who you ask, but the answer is something like: yes, but slowly. Barry’s is far from Portland’s first dive into the realm, but it may be its most lavish to date. Barre 3 was founded in Portland in 2008, promoting a holistic approach to the dance-inspired combo of yoga, Pilates, and ballet. Denver-based Corepower Yoga brought its upscale vinyasa a few years earlier, and Orange Theory, Portland’s go-to for high intensity interval training, or “HIIT classes” (a mix of cardio and strength training), splashed down around the same time. 

We don’t yet have the self-proclaimed “temple of well-being” Equinox, or its wildly popular spin class offshoot SoulCycle, not to mention the true cultural signifier that a city has made it, Sweetgreen, but Barry’s is a landmark in a sea change of Portland’s culture, fitness and otherwise.   

Barry's swanky lobby and fuel bar

In contrast with “regular gyms,” outfitted with weight rooms, pools, basketball courts, etc., boutique fitness studios are exclusively class-based and carry distinctly hefty price-tags—and social identifiers; it's nothing new for a gym to function as a semiological symbol, but the boutique world turns up the volume on what your gym says about you. The trend in fitness has exploded across the world in the last decade, and despite our au naturel disposition, Portland is no exception. As the concept has gained traction, the level of refinement has grown. Barry’s, ostensibly, is the zenith of our late-to-the-party boutique boom.  

In addition to abs, Barry’s totes opulence. The aforementioned Dustin, who flips between smiley affable host and drill sergeant, is Dustin Isom, founding instructor and general manager of Barry’s Portland. He describes Barry’s as “super luxury,” adding that the reputation the brand has built in big cities like New York and LA doesn’t quite have a parallel in Portland. “When I first moved to Portland, it was a CrossFit and yoga town,” he says.  

But Portland has been slowly been inching away from the “casual workout culture” that defined us for decades as rock climbers and mountain bikers over gym rats, and embracing something else: markers like the long-under-construction Ritz-Carlton and our very own Din Tai Fung stand out, but the fitness industry is a good tell of where people's heads are at. Joey Gonzalez, Barry’s CEO, told the New York Times in 2019 that scouting locations for new outposts is both an art and a science. The company fields requests from potential “fit fam” members asking for Barry’s to come to their city in addition to placing their bets on hard data from the location analytics firm Esri.  

From both angles, Isom says Portland is very promising: “I definitely think Portland as a city is shifting. We’re seeing a lot of people from LA or the Bay Area moving to Portland that know the Barry’s brand.”  

And the Pearl District, with its young-money Portlander cachet, is probably the closest milieu the city has to something capable of supporting a Barry’s. “It makes sense they’re in the Pearl, because all the buildings that surround it are condos or higher-priced apartments,” says Kathryn Little, a project manager at a local creative agency. She adds that Swiss makers of the famed “cloud” sneakers ON Running moving its headquarters a block from the new studio doesn’t hurt. 

Little first heard of Barry’s while watching the Bravo reality show Summer House. “They were in the Hamptons, which also made me think like, ‘Ya, this is really fancy,’” she says. After a couple years working out at Orange Theory, which she liked for its high school-sports-camaraderie, Little signed up to be one of Barry’s Portland’s first pre-sale members. 

As a “founding member,” she was able to check out a preview class. She says, so far Barry’s is very intense, and very hot, but also super welcoming. “It was a lot of high-fives and getting to know your neighbor. But, at the same time, the music is explicit and they don’t filter themselves too much.” She calls Barry's a “grown-up workout class.” 

The “red room,” the calling card of all Barry’s studios, has a palpable aura of escapism. Even standing inside the room in street clothes puts you on your toes. “For a lot of people, behind that door, it can be super intimidating,” says Isom, pointing at what looks like a 3,000-pound door securing a bank vault, through which all red roomers must pass.

So much so that there’s a sort of “first timer” orientation. Which happens before class for newcomers, with music off and lights up, turning the red light-soaked barracks into a fluorescently-lit room of mirrors and treadmills—a normal, boring gym (albeit a very clean and well-outfitted one). Seeing the daylight iteration is like being on a carnival ride that’s turned off or a concert venue well after the encore: the floors definitely aren’t sticky with booze, but there’s a sobering, liminal energy to the powered-down studio. 

When it’s game time, it’s easy to see the appeal of Barry’s immersive workouts. Molly Malo, Barry’s Portland’s experience manager, says her priority is “to make sure that the client experience is the height of luxury.” Though a fitness brand, Malo and co. are acutely interested in the effect hospitality can have on the all-encompassing experience they’re aiming to provide. “No ask is too great for us,” she says without a shred of irony. 

Of course, an hour away from your phone, kids, or whatever occupies your mind for the other 23 hours of the day, has its appeals. As does someone like Isom taking the reins for that time: Barry’s is seamless by design, purportedly giving you the tools to hop in the red room and walk out with celebrity-endorsed results (i.e. abs). The enveloping whirlwind that is a Barry’s experience also sports a full line of high end Oribe products in the Locker rooms, Dyson hairdryers, and full-length mirrors that read “Camera ready” and “You’re like, really fit” across the top.  

The locker rooms at Barry's

One decision you do have to make (though you can, of course, sort it out via their app ahead of time) is to choose which post-workout smoothie will be waiting—with your name on it like a limousine driver at the airport—at the “fuel bar” after class. (Isom adds strawberries to the “muscle up,” a pineapple-based protein shake with something called BCAAs.)  

The beauty products, the fuel bar, and of course, the red room, are consistent throughout Barry’s studios across the world, too. So, if you get hooked on Oribe’s $65 Côte d’Azur restorative body cream, the fuel bar’s “basically air” blueberry water smoothie, or Wednesday’s chest, back, and abs workout, they will all be there for you on a business trip to LA, or when you steal away to Paris or Milan. 

Ready to join the fit fam? (That’s the Barry’s army, for those not in the know.) For now, it’ll run you $145 for 12 classes per month or $179 for 30—early admittance rates that will slowly climb as the gym gets up and running. Full rates are tbd, but for reference, in New York City, the most expensive pricing tier, the same packages are $340 and $525 respectively (Paris is about 30 euro per class).  

It remains to be seen how the city will welcome its new red room, but we’re told every preview class has been overbooked—past 50 attendees. “Portland is definitely ready,” promises Isom. The signs pointing to sumptuous high intensity classes taking the place of esplanade jogs are hard to ignore. Fit fammers in Portland and around the world testify that a Barry’s workout is a certified ass-kicking. And it does sound nice—maybe even necessary—to be pampered on either end of the self-proclaimed “best workout in the world™.”  

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