Commentary: In times of crisis, people often resort to what feels comfortable. While some will argue that this country has been in an eternal crisis state since the election of 2016, no one can deny that we are in crisis today.
The Bayou City was dealt a dose of reality when the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was canceled. The annual event is the largest social affair of the year, an economic juggernaut. That cancellation was quickly followed by the termination of the rest of the season for the Rockets, Dynamo, and Roughnecks. Along with sports leagues, Disney announced the closure of its resorts and most area schools and universities have shut their doors.
In this era of chaos, everyone needs a safe place. For many LGBTQ people, that place is a gay bar. Dating back to even before Stonewall, gay bars are often the most accessible safe spaces available. They have been compared to churches for the LGBT community, complete with rituals, a sense of community, and a routine. Gay bars are historically the original safe space — a place where people could gather without threat — and that is still true today.
Lots of people, gay and straight, have “home bars,” their “go-to” venue where they feel most comfortable and welcome. My father, while he was living had Bohemian Hill in Rosenberg. My friend Derrick has George. I had The 611.
The 611 Hyde Park Pub opened in March of 1984 and was a staple to the Montrose gay community until it shuttered in 2014 when the Eagle took over the location. The 611 was the home bar to many people besides me. It became the “go-to” place for numerous friends.
Sure, it was a dive bar, but it was our dive bar. It was the place I was introduced to day drinking since Victor opened the doors at 7 am. Night shift workers usually had the ramshackle bar stools full as they discussed the hospital co-workers they just left and waited for The Price is Right to begin.
On Sunday Funday, Larry served up $1 vodkas as he worked his way around the packed serving area. If you were lucky, you’d spot an opening on his route near to where he was. Otherwise, the wait might be a while, but it didn’t matter. You were home, among friends.
A few cocktails from Daddy Dan were a perfect way to wrap up the weekend.
The 611 was a winter wonderland at Christmas time with thousands of white lights, a snow village, and a fabulous collection of Santa Clauses. Potluck dinners at Thanksgiving and other holidays were like a family reunion. And by the way, who has my Crock-Pot?
On sad occasions, friends gathered at the bar to mourn with and comfort each other.
The 611 truthfully was our Cheers.
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. You want to be where you can see the troubles are all the same, you want to be where everybody knows your name.
When The 611 closed, the regulars were left scrambling for a new home. Some of us found that in TC’s, now Barcode. While never capturing the vibe of our former hangout, TC’s offered a comfortable mix of cheap drinks, drag queens, and outstanding bartenders. Our favorites were MyKey, J.D. Sympathy, and George.
Chris is the current bartender, taking care of day drinkers. He usually has my screwdriver waiting as I walk in the door. Is that a good thing?
About a year ago, I moved to Galveston and once again found myself searching for a new home bar. There wasn’t much debate about which one it would be. Robert’s Lafitte is everything one could hope for in a home bar.
Sure, it’s a dive bar, but it’s the Island’s gay dive bar. Lee who works the day shift was the first person to welcome me to Lafitte. Sunday Funday offers cheap vodkas with Cowboy Tom ready to oblige. Evenings find either Matthew or Jose taking care of a usually older but lively crowd, and I’d be remiss not to mention Chachi who doubles as a bar back and drag queen extraordinaire. Luis mans the outside patio bar and keeps an eye on the sun worshipers in the pool.
Curtis Mayfield calls Robert’s Lafitte his home bar. A regular since the 1980s, he said, “I’ve been coming here for years because Robert is my family.” Other regulars feel the same.
In this time of crisis, gay businesses and their employees need our support. Most gay bars are privately owned entities and their employees, like so many of us, live paycheck-to-paycheck or tip-to-tip.
Some restaurants have already experienced a slowdown in business. With tight profit margins, most small companies cannot endure prolonged disruptions.
Now is not the time to allow fear to keep you at home, but use common sense. If you are sick or not feeling well, stay home. But if you do go out, remember when the going gets tough, the tough get going — to your home bar. Once there, pull up a stool, strike up a conversation with the queen sitting next to you, and have a drink.
UPDATE: So much has happened since this article was sent to the press. With no clear direction from the federal government, local municipalities were forced to implement their own strategies. Initially, large events like the rodeo were canceled, and then a CDC guideline-recommended banning gatherings of 50 people, then 10.
Harris County along with other large cities decided to shut down all bars. That was followed by an obviously reluctant Galveston decree. The closures could last anywhere from a week to months.
One thing is clear. We will all need a drink after this crisis and our neighborhood pubs and other LGBTQ owned and operated businesses will need our support more than ever once they reopen. Not many businesses can sustain a week, much fewer months, of no cash flow.
In the meantime, do what we on the Gulf Coast have done countless times, hunker down. Take care of and support each other. We will get through this.
Until then, see you on the other side.