In Memoriam: saying goodbye to the places that we lost in 2019

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GayCities salutes the memories of the nightlife establishments that closed forever in 2019. These bars, nightclubs, and restaurants were part of the community for many years, and often served their communities as more than just a place to have some drinks and pass the time. They were places to meet friends, inspire social activism, and just be safe spaces for gay and trans people, all of which are equally important. Among their loyal patrons, they are sorely missed.

Bastille on 3rd, a.k.a. Snick’s Place

 
 
 
 
 
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Snick’s Place opened in 1976 near downtown Las Vegas, and chugged along as a dive bar for years, while DTLV declined and became a wasteland that was overshadowed by the glitzy megaproperties on the Las Vegas Strip. Then hipsters started gentrifying downtown, and in 2015 Snick’s was purchased and renamed Bastille on 3rd. Now the neighborhood is called the Arts District and is filled with trendy galleries and shops, and Bastille on 3rd closed in June 2019, with the space marked for redevelopment. Au revoir, Bastille on 3rd.

Club Ripples

 
 
 
 
 
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Club Ripples was the first gay dance club in Long Beach, which is an industrial city on the southern border of Los Angeles. When it opened in 1972, it took over the space from what had been a gay bar called Oceania that dated back to the 1950s—keep in mind, this was back in the McCarthy era of radical conservatism, when Southern California’s political establishment was exceedingly hostile towards gay and trans people.  The owners of Club Ripples wanted to sell since 2016 so they could retire, but when they finally found a buyer, plans were announced to turn the space into a burger restaurant.

Paradise Bar and Restaurant

Long Beach had a rough year in 2019. Paradise Bar and Restaurant was a very popular nightspot that catered to the gay and trans community, having been in business since 1980. According to Q Voice News, Paradise was more than a bar: it served as a meeting place for community organizations, including the Long Beach Teams Project, which worked with local police to prevent gay bashing in the 1990s. The organization used decoy male couples, who held hands and walked down the street, to attract the attention of gay bashing attackers, who were then arrested by cooperating police officers. The space is now Black LBC, a rowdy restaurant and bar, where patrons are a fun bunch and have lots of tattoos. Black LBC is a cool place.

Cobalt

 
 
 
 
 
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Cobalt was a gay bar in Washington, D.C., that closed when the building’s owner sold the property, presumably to make millions of dollars in profit. Cobalt had been in business for 20 years, but business had declined in the late 2010’s, as patrons choose to socialize online rather than dance together in bars while not wearing shirts. The building will be converted into fancy, expensive apartments, because the world needs more of those.

Club 322

Montgomery 322 was the only gay bar in Montgomery, Ala., when it closed in May 2019. The owners said it was time for a change, but did not elaborate with any specifics about what or when that change will be. Since then, a drag show was attempted in a restaurant on the night of Stonewall Pride, but was shut down by police. This is a poignant example of the importance of having “safe spaces” like gay bars in smaller communities, because sometimes these bars are the only places that people have to congregate and be themselves. Watch the documentary Small Town Gay Bar, which is excellent.

Excelsior

Once upon a time, around the turn of the century, Park Slope in Brooklyn was the neighborhood du jour for the gays, and New Yorkers associated it with lesbian couples pushing baby strollers. Excelsior opened in 1999—originally in a different location nearby, but then moved to the later location in 2015–and served the community faithfully for those 20 years. Then gentrification led to more gentrification, and the neighborhood is now just really popular for everybody, so rent has become too expensive. The bar closed for good in July. Fortunately, there are still lots of places to have fun in gay New York.

French Market

 
 
 
 
 
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French Market was a restaurant that catered to the gay and trans community in West Hollywood, Calif. for many years It was particularly famous for its charming interior, with ironwork and high ceilings that created the feel of the French Quarter in New Orleans. This restaurant has a long history of serving as a community meeting place for political and social organizations that fought for gay and trans equality over the decades. The food, however, had a reuptation for being somewhat conventional, and the restaurant closed in 2015 after declining business. 2019 was a sad chapter in this story, however: the building was marked for redevelopment (translation: demolition) into expensive apartments. West Hollywood preservationists fought to keep the building intact, in honor of its historical significance, so an agreement was reached to preserve the exterior of the building, as a tribute to the community. But the interior will be totally gutted, and that’s the best part, so that’s a sad loss.

Divas

 
 
 
 
 
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Divas, which opened in 1968, was the last bar dedicated to the trans women community in San Francisco. In this city, notorious for its liberal politics and genderqueer freedom, it is surprising that there are no spaces that primarily serve trans women. Drag bars are not the same thing, and they are often the realm of bachelorette parties anyway, so they don’t function with the same purpose. More importantly, Divas’ neighborhood—known as the Tenderloin—is an unmitigated disaster area in San Francisco, where homeless persons live in tents and use the sidewalks as their toilets. Businesses fail in the Tenderloin on a regular basis, simply because people do not want to walk along the streets. Every major metropolis in the U.S. has impoverished neighborhoods, but the Tenderloin gets attention because it is in the center of the city, and Divas was a place that gave people a safe haven from the harsh realities of life. 

Heklina says goodbye to Oasis

 
 
 
 
 
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Heklina is the San Francisco nightlife impresario who created the legendary “Trannyshack,” which had a long run at The Stud and was quite possibly the best drag party in the history of civilization. God help the queen who thought she could get up on that stage and just do a tired old lip sync. This was performance art, and on good nights a performer would stage her own death on that stage. Eventually “Trannyshack” was renamed “MOTHER,” due to the impolite implications of the word “tranny,” and Heklina moved her empire to OASIS, where the shows had a proper stage, and she rode the zeitgeist of drag’s rise to mainstream dominance with shows that were often legitimate theatrical productions. But Heklina wants to go hang out in Palm Springs now, which is understandable after all these years of clomping around on stage with her feet squeezed into those high heels, although it’s anyone’s guess as to exactly how old she really is. Heklina will still be seen in San Francisco in the future, but it is nevertheless the end of an era. Palm Springs’ gain is San Francisco’s loss. 

Boulet Brothers left Precinct DTLA

 
 
 
 
 
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Precinct DTLA is a cavernous nightclub in downtown Los Angeles, and has become one of the most popular gay and trans clubs not only in LA, but all of Southern California. It is the anti-Abbey: scruffy, rough around the edges, a little bit wrong, and it all adds up to one hell of a good time. (The Abbey is, of course, a very nice place, and we highly recommend it also.) A bit of Precinct’s success can be attributed to nightlife promoters Boulet Brothers, who had a knack for finding socially inappropriate drag performers and putting them on a stage, at their “Queen Kong” parties, to act crazy and offend everyone in the club. And of course Queen Kong was a huge success. Alas, now the Boulet Brothers produce Dragula, a RuPaul’s Drag Race knock-off on Netflix that features contestants doing extremely unsettling things, like eating cockroaches and stapling themselves with staple guns, so the Boulet Brothers don’t have time to produce nightlife events at Precinct, and Queen Kong is gone. Precinct still packs in the crowds with bear nights and such, so the fun continues, but Queen Kong was great.

XXL

 
 
 
 
 
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XXL’s closing was the biggest club casualty in gay London in years. This club opened in 2000 as a home for London’s gay bears, although the establishment made plenty of enemies by enforcing a dress code that forbade patrons from wearing female-oriented clothing, which of course is code for drag queens, women, and anyone on the genderqueer spectrum. Nevertheless, the club remained very popular until September 2019, when it was closed so the building could become more—you guessed it—expensive apartments. The XXL team has not revealed details of a new home for the legendary bears night, although they continue to hold occasional big parties in other cities in the U.K.

Dishonorable Mention: Grand Central Baltimore

Grand Central is the biggest gay club in Baltimore, but developers bought the builidng in 2019 with plans to tear it down and make way for condos or apartments or whatever they decide. With all of the empty buildings in Baltimore, they want to tear down one of the relatively few places that people actually like to visit. Ridiculous. The club, one of the most popular nightspots in the Mid-Atlantic region, is still open, but the clock is ticking. Poor Baltimore can’t catch a break.

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