In Memoriam: 17 Defunct Gay Bars in D.C., Chicago, Miami
By Drew Kiser
RIP Gay Bars
Cities around the country and globe have seen many of their most beloved gay and lesbian watering holes close down — often after the area's queer population disperses or the owner simply gets priced out. While many of these bars and clubs were a bit rough around the edges, they nonetheless served as de facto community centers, offering a kind of glue that kept our disparate minority together. In this second entry of an occasional series, we'll pay honor to dearly departed LGBT establishments that recently shut their doors in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Miami. [RELATED: 26 Dead (Or Dying) Gay Bars in NYC, L.A., S.F.]
Apex, Washington, D.C.
Apex’s closing marked the end of an era in the District. Opening under the name Badlands in 1983, this club finally and abruptly folded in 2011, citing economic difficulties, thereby ending the reign of the longest-running gay dance club in D.C. Despite its proximity to Dupont Circle, a ritzy District gayborhood, Apex was a notorious dive; patron Charlie Leveridge writes, “I remember driving past its cinder block, windowless facade in high school and wanting so badly to venture inside. … The interior was only a little bit more appealing than the exterior.” But no matter whether patrons found its concrete ugly or charming, they can all agree that Apex will be sorely missed.
Omega, Washington, D.C.
Another long-lived Dupont institution, Omega boasted multiple levels, a video room, and an imposing brick facade. A historic carriage house turned gay bar, this building was sold at for undisclosed sum in 2013 and has since been converted into an Asian restaurant, a bagel store, and a hair salon. Apparently, business had been lagging in recent years, possibly due to the gentrification of Dupont. Perry Morehouse, a longtime bartender at Omega, says the demand for gay bars has diminished as gayness has become more acceptable in straight spaces.
Remington’s, Washington, D.C.
Howdy, boys! For nearly 34 years, Remington’s cornered the market on the D.C. country-western crowd. According to the Washington Blade, the bar was the “preeminent” site for country dancing before its closure in 2014. Bartender Mike Swaim told the Blade that Remington’s had turned to different forms of entertainment when the country crowd diminished in 2007 — at the end of its life, the bar hosted drag nights, karaoke, hip-hop DJs, and a weekly Latino night.
Be Bar, Washington, D.C.
Located off the Green and Yellow lines, Be Bar was one of D.C.’s “swankiest and sexiest gay lounges” before its closure in 2013. It was known as a place where homos and heteros could commingle in a sleek metropolitan environment. After the bar closed, the space was converted first into a straight bar called Mood Lounge, and now it is Vita Lounge, a combo hookah bar and dance club catering to a general clientele.
Hung Jury, Washington, D.C.
A run-of-the-mill eatery by day, Hung Jury moonlighted as a covert lesbian bar, drawing a diverse crowd to its Capitol Hill location. The only stipulation? Men had to be accompanied by a woman to enter. Hung Jury was proud to be a space for women, often to the exclusion of men; one gay patron remembers feeling unwelcome and spurned by the female clientele. Perhaps because of this fact, Hung Jury remains a spot of pride for lesbians, some of whom feel that such exclusion was just deserts for gay men who regularly exclude women from their nightlife venues. No matter where you stand on this debate, though, we can all mourn this bit of queer history that disappeared in 2011.
Phase 1, Washington, D.C.
When Phase 1 closed for renovations in January 2016, there were many who suspected there was something more sinister than a simple paint job going on. With no updates in the last five months, it seems likely that the “oldest lesbian bar in America” has shuttered its doors for good. Opened in 1970 by an ex-military gay couple, Phase 1 had bounced around the District for years before finally settling in Eastern Market. There it earned its stripes as a D.C. institution, a dive bar where lesbians could drink, dance, relax, and even see drag kings onstage.
Lost & Found, Chicago
Another contender for the oldest lesbian bar in America, this Horner Park-area destination enjoyed 43 years of operation, from 1965 to 2008, surviving through an incredible stretch of queer history. One historian notes that in the early years, Lost & Found “was required by law to check that the pants of female patrons zippered in the back rather than in the front, the way men’s pants did.” Despite run-ins with the vice squad, Lost & Found proudly hosted women of diverse gender expressions. A former patron notes the similarity to any given blue-collar bar, including a “clock face featuring a sexy lady” in a wet swimsuit above the bar.
In May 2014, Boystown lost one of its premier gay bars. Spin had been a hub for queer life for over 15 years, offering amateur drag shows, dancing, and “Friday night shower contests.” But before you get too sad, rest assured that Spin will be replaced by Manhole, a leather gay bar returning to Chicago for the third time.
Star Gaze, Chicago
Named Best New Business of 1999 by the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, this Andersonville lesbian watering hole was a community-minded enterprise. The owners, Mamie Lake and Dustin Fermin, were devoted to causes such as the Test Positive Aware Network, the comedy group Hysterical Women, and the Royal Imperial Sovereign Barony of the Windy City. Not to mention the fact that Star Gaze helped sponsor LGBT leagues in softball, basketball, and football. More than any other lesbian bar in the area, Star Gaze will be sorely missed. One patron writes, “Many gay women still can't believe it's gone. It was, by many accounts, the last full-time lesbian bar in Chicago.”
Halsted’s Bar and Grill, Chicago
Boystown lost another gay fixture earlier this year, as Halsted’s, a Lake View establishment for 12 years, closed for good in February. According to a press release, the owners intended to “reconcept” the space in order to better suit the needs of the neighborhood. So what does the Boystown gayborhood need more than a decade-old queer space? A sriracha ribs and pizza restaurant, apparently.
Chicago’s Andersonville iteration of the multinational, loosely branded Eagle network closed its doors in 2010. The Eagle served as the center of the Chicago leather scene for years. The bar was open to everyone, but the back room enforced a strict dress code: a “major article of Leather, Rubber or Uniform or Camouflage” was required of anyone seeking to enter. And what’s more? “No Gym Shoes or Sandals. No Sweaters or Perfumes.” While these restrictions made access difficult for some people, it also made the Eagle a safe space in which like-minded Chicagoans could gather and meet. The good news, however, is that similar Eagle bars thrive across the globe, in over 30 cities in America and Europe, including D.C., L.A., Vienna, London, and Nice.
T’s Bar, Chicago
T’s Bar, a popular lesbian bar and restaurant serving traditional American fare, was shut down in 2013. Yelp reviews of the defunct Andersonville establishment all agree on a few points: The vibe was friendly, the food was good, and the crowd, as one visitor writes, was “lousy with lesbians.” After 12 years running, T’s folded in 2013 due to unpaid rent. It was replaced by an upscale Mexican restaurant, though it seems nothing can replace it in the hearts of Chicago lesbians.
Paris Dance, Chicago
Paris Dance earned its place in the Chicago lesbian pantheon during its 10-year stint from 1987 to 1997. It was a melting pot of a bar and dance club: “racially diverse, culturally fascinating,” and representative of myriad ages and professions. At its closing, owner Linda Rodgers, explained why lesbian bars had more trouble staying afloat than their gay counterparts: “Men have more expendable income — that's a fact.” In other words, due to the gendered wage gap, “the dollars [are] on the boy side of the street.” The author ends the above article on a positive note, though, reminding her fellow lesbian Chicagoans that two bars, Girlbar and Lost & Found, still catered to their needs. However, since then, both of those bars have closed.
The Cock, Miami
An offshoot of the New York City bar of the same name, the Miami Beach iteration of the Cock opened in February 2014 and closed for good in May of the same year. It seems the NYC establishment wilted in the warmer clime.
Mova Lounge, Miami
Imagine the chagrin of Miami’s gay community when, after seven years of outstanding club culture, Mova Lounge closed both its Brickell and South Beach locations in 2014. As it had been cited as one of the best gay bars in Miami, Mova’s closure came as a surprise — in fact, the Brickell property was bought out from under the owner, Babak Movahedi, who then decided to sell the other location and start fresh somewhere else. The 305 is still waiting to see what Movahedi comes back with — so far, there has been no news.
Magnum Lounge, Miami
As it had also been voted one of the best gay bars in Miami, the closure of Magnum Lounge in 2015 meant the end of a chapter of Miami history. As the Miami New Timessays, “Nowhere else [said] old-time Miami” quite like it. And it’s not hard to see why: good food, $4 Bloody Marys, and live piano music to lend a sophisticated vibe. While this bar catered mainly to older gay men, that didn’t dissuade millennials from enjoying the classic charm of this Upper Eastside establishment.
Solare Coliseum, Miami
Located in Doral, just outside Miami, this Latino dance club boasted four rooms, a mammoth patio, and some of the best DJs south of the Mason-Dixon line. Solare injected the Miami gay scene with fierce drag and hot dancing, not to mention “one of the best queen-strutting stage shows” around — that is, until 2008, when it closed its doors for good.