LGBT bar and club owners talk about their establishments’ history, their love of the biz
The Bar at 316
Opened in August 1989, The Bar at 316, then known as Liaisons, got a refreshing makeover and reboot in December 2009. Current owner Jeffrey Edwards was among the business partners that kept one of Charlotte’s oldest gay bars alive. Today, he’s the bar’s sole owner. The history of the place and those who came before doesn’t escape him. “Everyone who owned it, owns it now and work here are just genuine people,” he says. “It’s the Cheers of Charlotte.” The old house, located in the historic Dilworth neighborhood, has its own charm. “It’s like having a house party at someone’s house,” Edwards says. “I went to Liaisons probably for 13 years before it ever came available. That was our hangout. I had just fallen in love with the place.” Bar at 316 is open seven days a week, says Edwards: “We’re always here.”
info: 316 Rensselaer Ave. thebarat316.com.
Cathode Azure owner Doug Lemmone grew up in New York City and went to Florida after college. A relatively new Charlottean, Doug says he moved here after being the victim of a staff reduction. With that, he set out on a new course, opening his South Beach-inspired bar in South End last September. He says his goal was to create a space a bit more upscale and he’s happy with the location he chose for his business. It’s next to the light rail and in close proximity to other LGBT bars and friendly establishments. “I tried to build an attractive location,” Lemmone says. “They come in here and experience the staff and the music. The customers really fit right in and they like it.” Lemmone says Cathode Azure is excited about participating in this year’s Charlotte Pride, where they will plan on having a tent and potentially helping to staff a beer tent.
info: 1820 South Blvd., #106. cathodeazure.com.
Originally from New York and raised in New Jersey, Central Station’s Eddy Sansone moved to Charlotte eight years ago. This year, he became owner of the Central Ave. hangout, whose motto, “Everyone stops here,” is reflective of Sansone’s vision for business. “Especially this bar, when I hire bartenders, I tell them: ‘No drama, you can’t judge anybody and no cliques,’” Sansone says. “Charlotte is big on cliques. Coming from New York, we don’t have that. So, that was one thing I wanted to change.”
info: 2131 Central Ave. charlottecentralstation.com.
Located near Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood, Chasers is the city’s only gay adult male club. Owned for years by The Scorpio’s Rick Wilds, who passed away in 2008, and Donald O’Shields, the bar was bought by co-owners Basil McIntire and Brian Hemric in 2011. Both had worked there previously; Hemric is still manager at The Scorpio and McIntire started working at Chasers in 2006. Before then, McIntire had worked in manufacturing. “I got a little tired of the day-to-day monotony of manufacturing,” says McIntire. “Here you get to socialize with people like yourself all the time. I remember what manufacturing was like. I don’t miss that at all. I especially enjoy working here at Chasers. I like the atmosphere here. I enjoy all the customers, the interaction.”
info: 32717 The Plaza. chaserscharlotte.com
Hartigan’s Irish Pub
Originally opened in 1996, Hartigan’s is, perhaps, one of the most unique LGBT nightlife establishments in Charlotte. — part dance club, part sports bar, part Irish pub and part restaurant. As a result, the bar and restaurant is home to a diverse and unique clientele. Though, says co-owner Bethany McDonald, there are challenges. Hartigan’s location in Uptown puts it outside the “cool kid radius,” as McDonald calls more “hip” and popular neighborhoods like Plaza Midwood or South End. And, so, she and fellow co-owners Jill Phillips and Christa Reeves work hard to ensure they are reaching out and helping to make a difference. All that work has paid off. Last year, Hartigan’s was able to host a special delegate event during the Democratic National Convention. ESPN named it in the top 29 best sports bars. The three women each say they have a passion for serving the community through Hartigan’s. They’ve offered space for fundraisers and non-profits and host a diversity of groups and events throughout the year. They’ve also managed to attract more mainstream customers from the nearby Bank of America Stadium and are looking forward to potential increases once the new Charlotte Knights baseball stadium is built.
info: 601 S. Cedar St. hartigans.com.
The Rainbow In
Margie Teal, owner of Rock Hill’s The Hide-A-Way and Lake Wylie’s Rainbow In, has been a bar owner for nearly half a century. She started out as a bar owner in 1969 and, in 1983, with her husband, opened her first gay bar, The Hide-A-Way. “We were opening a bar, and just a week or two before we opened, my husband decided to open it as a gay bar,” she says. The Rainbow In, formerly a straight bar called The Roadhouse, opened as a gay bar in 2009. Local nightlife laws had changed several years prior, making business at The Roadhouse difficult. “It affected my business, so I just decided to switch it over to a gay bar,” she says. Teal’s two bars are the only LGBT nightlife establishments in Charlotte’s suburban outreaches. Teal says she serves many local people, though LGBT folks from Charlotte still come by. “For some people, they think it’s a long way, but Rainbow In, we’re right there at the state line.”
info: Hide-Away, 405 E. Baskins Rd., Rock Hill.
Rainbow In, 4375 Charlotte Hwy, Lake Wylie. therainbowin.com.
L4 Lounge is Charlotte’s newest LGBT nightlife establishment. Its owners, Tamalea Price and Jannet Amistad, say they hope to make a difference, offering a unique place to those who want a comfortable place to relax with friends. Located just east of Plaza Midwood, the bar sits amid a diverse neighborhood. That diversity is reflected in its patrons. The bar was recently remodeled and Price and Amistad are committed to supporting their community. In the spring, the bar held a special prom for LGBT adults after another similar event was cancelled last minute. Community members who attended said they were thankful for the L4’s hospitality.
info: 2906 Central Ave. facebook.com/L4Lounge.
Marigny Dance Club
South End has found itself in the midst of phenomenal growth over the past several years. Marigny Dance Club, with its touch of New Orleans flair, has certainly been a part of the craze. “The spirit of southern decadence and olde New Orleans is born under the flashing lights and chandeliers of Charlotte’s premiere dance club Marigny,” the club says on its website. Opened in the fall of 2011, the club sought to bring a different atmosphere to gay nightlife. Owners Nathan Richards and Peter Presta have since worked to support the community in a variety of philanthropic ways. The bar even got the chance to host a party for the Stonewall Democrats during the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
info: 1440 S. Tryon St., #110. marignycharlotte.com.
The Nickel Bar
The Nickel Bar is Charlotte’s only LGBT establishment catering primarily to an African-American community. Owner Milton Howard, the city’s only black gay bar owner, opened the bar in February 2009. His bar, Howard says, is always about the people. “It’s all about the customer and providing something that’s not always the norm,” Howard says. “I’m blessed to have the bar as my business, but I think it’s important for all of us to experience different cultures. By having different options, that’s what’s more important because the business is about the customers.”
info: 2817 Rozzelles Ferry Rd. twitter.com/nickel_bar.
Opened in 2007, Petra’s has become one of Plaza Midwood’s most diverse, LGBT-friendly hangouts. Owners Jerry Brown and his partner, along with friend and co-owner Curtis Tutt, say their mission is to bring the whole community together. “We are a welcoming place for all people,” Brown says. Tutt says Petra’s has transformed from a primarily gay bar to a diverse Plaza Midwood establishment. “There used to be a perception that ‘I can’t go there because I’m not gay,’” Tutt says, “but every time they come in, they love it. We are as eclectic as our neighborhood is.” And, at the center of their strategy: Celebrating their staff and their patrons. “Whenever you have all these different people here and they’re all enjoying the night, it’s a great feeling,” Tutt says.
info: 1919 Commonwealth Ave. petraspianobar.com.
In business since 1968, The Scorpio is Charlotte’s longest-running LGBT nightlife establishment and, possibly, in the state. Owner Donald O’Shields and his late partner, Rick Wilds, who passed away in 2008, bought the bar in 1989. O’Shields had worked there as an employee for several years before hand. In his time, he’s seen the community change. “It’s changed pretty drastically,” he says. “Use to, gay people went to gay bars. Now, I’d say, a third to half the business is not gay anymore. It’s the only way you can stay viable. … There’s a limited number of gay people.” O’Shields says the local community knows that they have a home at The Scorpio. “Rick and I, one of the things we would advertise is ‘Welcome Home,’ because we learned a long time ago that gay people are going to go to other places, but they always know, that in the end, they’ve got a home here. They can come here. They can come back. We’re here for the gay community. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be.”
info: 2301 Freedom Dr. thescorpio.com.
Opened in August 2007, Sidelines is Charlotte’s only LGBT sports bar, but you won’t find the words “LGBT” or “gay” on their website or Facebook. That’s by design, says co-owner John Sinclair. He and business partner Kevin Cooper say their bar is a welcoming and friendly place for all people. Gay-owned and operated, Sidelines supports plenty of LGBT community groups, ranging from LGBT sports groups to Time Out Youth and One Voice Chorus, among others. But, when anyone walks through the doors, Cooper and Sinclair want them to feel at home. “Be a good neighbor,” is their business philosophy — to which they say they’ve been committed even after the ups-and-downs of the economy and the 2009 closure of the neighboring Eagle. The bar celebrates its sixth anniversary party on Aug. 3. Stay tuned for more details, Cooper and Sinclair say.
info: 4544 South Blvd. thesidelinesbar.com.
The Woodshed Lounge
For 29 years, Gregg Braffod has been an icon in the local gay bar scene, managing or owning several since the mid-1980s. He started out as manager and part owner of O’Leens in 1984, opened the old Brass Rail in 1986 and in 1998 opened up Central Station. O’Leens closed in 2000, followed by the Brass Rail in 2001; Brafford sold Central Station in 2008. Today, Brafford keeps court at The Woodshed Lounge, which he opened in 2002. In all that time, Brafford says he’s seen significant changes to the city’s nightlife. “The bars have changed; the city has changed,” he says. What stays the same, Brafford says, is what he’s found to work for him: “I love the people. I feel very lucky. I’ve had wonderful and loyal customers who are not only patrons but also friends. That’s worked out good for me.”
info: 4000 Queen City Dr. woodshedlounge.com.