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The Long Queer History Of Rhode Island’s Nightlife

This piece was by both Bradford Greer and Greg Wright.

As Options celebrates its 40th anniversary as a mainstay in the RI LGBTQ community, we thought we’d revisit another mainstay…the club scene. Back in 2014, we took a walk down memory lane to explore how the bar scene had changed over 40 years and it only seems logical that we look at how the “scene” has changed in the past eight years.

If you’re a socializing member of the community, chances are, at some point, you’ve opened one of these doors and bellied up to the bar to order your favorite beverage of the night and greeted your friends, or surveyed the crowd with a cruising eye. Even more so than eight years ago, there are many other means of making a new friend or maybe even a spouse. Grindr, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even eHarmony has welcomed the community now.

After a worldwide pandemic that crippled bars and restaurants throughout the state, the community still came back to our homes away from home.

The original Mirabar: one of the first gay bars in Rhode Island, opened 75 years ago in Woonsocket in 1947. Yes, 75 years ago. We were Queers back then too, but we were lower case queers as the word had an entirely different connotation back then. OMG! There were gays back then? Yes, there had been homosexuals congregating secretly decades before, but discretion was the password of the day. Only those in the know knew where to go, lest you risk arrest. The Mirabar has moved several times over the past seven decades and currently rests at its home on Elbow Street. The Dark Lady/Alley Cat, The Stable, and The Providence Eagle have all made it through the dark days of the pandemic, and even Club Ego is around trying to reinvent themselves. The Trans community has been brought more into the mainstream as well.

For many decades, the nightclubs and bars were our refuge where we met secretly behind closed doors and blacked-out windows. Today, the bars are so much more visible and certainly much more mainstream.

Throughout the years we’ve had to say goodbye to many bars: Kings and Queens, The Fife and Drum, The Fan Club, The Cabana, Wheels, Gerado’s, Images, Generation X, Kamp, Tramps, Kings and Queens, Yukon Trading Post, The Gallery, GirlSpot, Mix, Union Street, Pulse, Deville’s, and The Village. This brings to mind that there has not been a Lesbian bar in RI since June 2014. There are still dozens more that came and are now gone.

Even in this age of advanced technology, the bar scene still is where people flock to meet and greet, but now a lot of the patrons like to pregame first on Grindr, Scruff, and other social media. But has technology enhanced how we meet, or has it hindered it? In years past, our first encounter with a potential mate was meeting at the bar. Now we get to review a photo (if it’s real…lol) and conduct an evaluation before actually meeting the person. But you can’t always judge a book by its cover…can you? The younger generation has phone apps now and don’t have to rely on the clubs to “make a new friend,” they are most likely to hang with friends at the bar and less likely to go for a hookup. It still doesn’t necessarily mean the apps are safer, that’s for sure.

It appears to be a testament to the RI LGBTQ community that we actually have more gay bars, per capita, than our neighbor to the north. The Boston gay bar scene has dissolved over the years and has yet to recover, and many Bostonians cross state lines to enjoy the social hospitality of Rhode Island.

Will continuing advancement in technology be the demise of our local LGBTQ watering holes in the next forty years? Of course, time will tell, but if they were able to survive through the last forty years which included an AIDS epidemic and a pandemic, you can believe it’s a safe bet. Tip often and tip well.


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