by Wayne Bell
I’ll be completely honest. There is a bit of an underlining agenda in the story you’re about to read. I’m a 26 year old, fairly attractive gay young professional with a master’s degree and a good job. I have heard from girlfriends about their “illusive friends” who have similar backgrounds. The problem is, there’s no forum for me to meet these people.
If they are anything like me, dancing isn’t always appealing. Drug use and binge drinking lost its appeal a number of years ago. We may never meet because we don’t have the forum to do so. I’m not saying that I would meet prince charming, but it would be nice to meet people with similar backgrounds and goals. It is extremely important to feel a sense of family within your own culture, but in order to have the reunion, you must have the venue.
I recently traveled to Dallas on a business assignment. While there, I went out with a friend from the conference to a street similar in style and scope to Dickson Street. The only real difference was this street was filled with gay friendly businesses. Now, before you yell at me, yes, I know that Dickson Street has gay friendly businesses. That’s not what I’m talking about. This street was filled with bars, restaurants and clubs managed by, owned by and catering to the gay population.
The idea of such a street never really appealed to me. The idea of a plethora of businesses catering to one segment of the population always sort of creeped me out. Boy, was I wrong.
From the moment my friend Daniel and I stepped out, we were in a warm and inviting environment. The clubs were as varied as the different bars that shared walls with them. We started at a dance club, made it to a western bar, then to a sports bar and finally to an all-night diner.
The people were friendly and the area was well cared for. Now, I know that’s an odd comment, but the truth is…in Arkansas, most all of the gay bars and clubs have always been top-shelf paper-bag. Most all of them are regulated to the outskirts of town and are typically dark and seedy. That wasn’t the case in Dallas. Thinking back, this wasn’t the case in Orlando or Pensacola either.
One of my favorite places in Pensacola, where I used to live, was Jack and Ron’s. It was a video/piano bar that had different themed nights including bingo and Scrabble. I understand if that doesn’t sound very exciting, but my old friends at Jack and Ron’s mastered the idea of great music, board games and overflowing liquor. It was a really welcoming environment that totally allowed you the opportunity to meet different people that you might not have had the pleasure of meeting in a loud nightclub.
So why do I care about this? After all, I’m a bit of a self-proclaimed homebody. Why should I care if we have gay clubs and bars? Here’s why: It’s not just about how much of Beyonce’s music you can get in your head, instead, the state of any city’s gay life directly effects the entire gay population—homebodies or not.
We have come a long way in NWA from just a few short years ago. Here’s what it used to be like here.
My buddy Kristina and I used to frequent Wild-On. It was always great to go out with her, but the obstacle course to get to the club was another story. First of all, you had to drive half way to Farmington and back then that area of Fayetteville was having some problems. You had to worry about your belongings in the car. You also had to make sure you went on the right night. If you got your days mixed up, you would find yourself surrounded by bikers and pole dancers. Imagine my shock when we decided to go see a drag show on a Friday night, but actually got an entirely different offering.
Ron’s Place was a pretty busy place before it closed about three years ago. I went to a Halloween bash there in 2003 and the place was packed. However, like Wild-On, it wasn’t for everyone.
There was also Sycamore Pub, which tended to swing a little older. It lost the Sycamore Pub moniker and became 716, which tended to swing a little bit younger, before it burned down.
When I moved back to NWA from Pensacola, Fayetteville had two new gay clubs. Tangerine (formerly JR’s) was newly renovated with a nice paint job and pretty descent patio area. Those sections are typically empty though as the droves of people are downstairs on the dance floor or on the lower patio. The downstairs is actually the basement and there’s really not proper dance floor, but if you like crowds and the bat cave, you will like this scene.
The other offering is the Dickson Theater. This venue has been up and running for years on Dickson. On Sunday nights it becomes a gay bar. There’s something strange about a place doing a “gay night” it does sort of bother me that it’s not a fulltime gay bar, but I do get a huge thrill from the fact that Sundays at the Dickson Theater are shared by morning church services—only in Fayetteville!
The last gay establishment in Fayetteville is perhaps the most successful of them all. The nameless wonder is a favorite of mine and about everyone else in town, whether they know it’s a gay favorite or not.
The popular eatery is so gay it’s practically become an institution in the downtown area. It’s been a gay hangout for the past 10 years or so, which is surprising, considering the number of carbs on the menu.
The employees are typically hot and cater to the gay clientele. However, the place has yet to have its official “coming out.” It’s sort of like your favorite uncle Nate–you know, the one who claims to have a girlfriend and expresses a desire to settle down and have kids, but everyone knows the truth. He’s the same uncle who makes holidays bearable with sarcastic comments and killer Pottery Barn gifts. Nate is a good analogy to this popular establishment, which really needs to “come on out.”
And, that’s it for Fayetteville. We don’t have a “quiet” gay bar—a place to meet new people, talk about work or unwind after a hectic week. What we have are noisy places to drink and dance.
Time to come out and step it up
If you haven’t realized it by now, people who move to Fayetteville, rarely leave Fayetteville. Dickson Street is great and the Ozarks are a huge draw. But as more and more young earners move to NWA, the gay ones will no doubt be disappointed that we’re lacking in venues, that don’t involve dancing to Rihanna.
Whether we want to admit it or not, “The State of Gay NWA,” even in liberal Fayetteville, is in the brown paper bag. Why? Because, if diversity is not truly celebrated in a community, you will always feel like you belong in that brown paper bag, hidden from the rest of society.
I have several friends who party at Tangerine on a regular basis and then go back to their straight lives in Benton County, first thing Sunday morning. Until Fayetteville and NWA truly celebrates diversity, we will continue to cultivate this secret society. So, I’d like to propose this dream list for Fayetteville:
1) I want Fayetteville to have an upscale bar (or two) that truly allows gay adults to engage in conversation without music blaring and cigarette smoke hanging heavy. Imagine a Speakeasy or Bordino’s type bar, specifically targeted to gays and those who see themselves as gay-friendly.
2) I want Fayetteville to have a variety of restaurants that come out as gay friendly. The problem with this is obvious—even though we consider Fayetteville a liberal town—it’s really not. Coming out could be business suicide. But, we will never know until one opens or announces.
3) It would be really awesome if Fayetteville had a more active gay activist group. I have never been a real activist. I see the inherent value in it, but I’m just sort of lazy in that regard. However, as the gay population continues to grow in liberal Fayetteville, it is imperative that there is a bigger presence.
4) It would be fantastic if local media outlets would truly focus on gay issues in NWA. Most places I have lived, had successful gay publications and gay oriented public access programming.
5) Finally, Fayetteville needs to step it up. We are a community with a variety of different cultures, religions and beliefs. We need to embrace the differences and quit pushing this culture away. Of course, the flip side—those Benton County friends of mine, need to stop wincing every time they are identified as gay. Essentially, if the town is going to come out, so will its citizens.
In other areas where I’ve lived, the internet has been dead within the gay culture. Going to Myspace, Facebook, or GAY.com and checking the “gay box” would return very few hits. However, in Fayetteville, those three sites are loaded with gay youth. Presumably, because there is nowhere else for these people to meet each other. There’s just something about someone Myspacing me (is that a word?) and saying they like my profile and would like to grab a cup of coffee. It would be much nicer to have actual face-to-face communication.
In grad school we learned the value of actual face-to-face communication (non-verbal included) over multi-media communication. I know people who have met partners and friends on Match.com, but shouldn’t that be an option, not the only channel?
So, Fayetteville, Come to action! Come out! That being said, I want to congratulate Fayetteville on the progress it has made in the past few years. If you go to Benton County, Pulaski County or really any other part of the state, you will not be embraced with the liberal culture that Fayetteville has.
Part of this can be attributed to the university and part of it to the diverse population. But, for whatever the reason, Fayetteville and some of the local businesses have gotten progressively stronger and have made an effort to fix some of the problems of gay-life that we had here a few years ago. It’s not as seedy as it used to be. The gay-friendly bars are no longer on the outskirts of town, on in a warehouse district, but in downtown.
However, it’s 2007, and it’s time for more of Fayetteville to step up and embrace the differences that make this place, our beloved Fayetteville, truly special. And I don’t mean “special” like ‘Oh, Uncle Nate, he’s not gay. No, he’s just special.’ I mean: Special, diverse, out and fabulous!