Robbie Best is one of the organizers of FURnace, a bear community happy hours group that would normally meet on the second Friday of each month. The event has not happened since COVID-19 forced the closure of most venues where large groups socialize.
Crown Station is the location of choice for FURnace, the location’s owner — Billy Dail — being a long-term friend to the bear group’s organizers. Although some think Crown Station is only a coffee shop or event venue, the majority of its money is made on the bar side, rather than food. For this reason, it has been closed indefinitely by the pandemic. The location has been excluded as gay community bars have collaborated, because they mistakenly feel that Crown Station has not been affected in the same way.
As the closures have lengthened to nearly eight months already, many community social spots began receiving financial aid from both government and community resources. As previously reported by qnotes, several local bars have been struggling to pay rent and keep staff employed. Best set up a GoFundMe fundraiser, because the owners of Crown Station were reluctant to do so themselves. Bears within the social group share the crowd sourcing link amongst their friends. Although not strictly an LGBTQ business, Crown Station has long been a safe space that is welcoming to the queer community. Best has known Dail since the early 1990s, and he considers Dail to be a staunch friend and ally.
“I went looking for a venue for happy hours, including LGBT places, and we were turned down,” Best explains. “Crown Station welcomed us with open arms. It feels like Cheers, because the people who frequent it are so friendly (including straight people). It’s very disheartening to think a place that has always been so open and loving could fall through the cracks.”
FURnace’s events during Pride have attracted hundreds of celebrants each year since 2015. Following these happy hour gatherings, the venue has brought in live DJs to entertain the crowds once the bear event has concluded. Crown Station is located at 3629 N. Davidson St. in the NoDa neighborhood of Charlotte. Find the Crown Station GoFundMe online here. As of press time, the fund has collected over $3,000.
“Please help the people who have helped us. We have to look after each other during these unprecedented times,” Best concluded.
Similarly, Craig Maxwell — a player for Charlotte’s gay rugby team, the Charlotte Royals — has been partnering with Sidelines and Club Argon. The Charlotte Royals as an organization has donated $1,500 toward the GoFundMe for the two bars, which are located side by side on South Boulevard in Charlotte. The crowdsourcing drives can be found at PayPal, Venmo and GoFundMe. So far the combined contributions have reached over $10,000. It should be noted that half the proceeds go to paying staff to keep them at the bars, and half goes to rent and utilities to keep the venues current on their fundamental operating costs.
“Charlotte Royals has a longstanding relationship with Sidelines and Argon,” Maxwell explained. “These bars have been sponsors since nearly day one, and if they close, the Royals will have a very different situation in terms of events and other support. We have been helping them over [the] last few months.”
In addition, the collaborators have hosted a virtual dance party on Twitch called Quarantine Is A Drag. The pre-recorded performances were supplied by local and regional drag queens for the nearly four-hour event.
“The Charlotte gay scene is spread out, so it’s very valuable to have a home and safe space where two clubs touch, while also catering to different groups,” Maxwell observed. “Sidelines has been a place to call home for the Royals, and Argon shows lots of diversity that isn’t necessarily present in other clubs. Kevin and John are both very embracing of all sorts.” To further underscore the symbiosis, Maxwell has helped with branding and setting up the bars, and the bars have provided part-time work when he and others were furloughed or unemployed in the past. Team members of the Royals have also helped with renovations at Argon when quarantine started, in order to take advantage of the downtime.
Contrary to observations made by this writer in past issues of qnotes, it would seem gay bars are not as obsolete as they had appeared to be before the onset of COVID-19. These safe spaces are still intrinsic to the community, despite the popularization of socializing apps and broader societal acceptance of LGBTQ people. These businesses remain important places to maintain connections within the various subsets of the gay community. “I wanted to say ‘thank you’ to the entertainers and DJs who donated their time, energy, and creativity for the live streaming event on Twitch,” Maxwell said. “The party could not have happened without their generosity.”