Okay squirrel friends, I decided to get back to what this blog was to be about and review things from a gay man in Cleveland’s perspective. So today I bring you a review of a new bar in Willoughby, Ohio and their plans to make it more inclusive for our community. Bear with me as I share my feelings over this review.
On January 26th, I received a post on Facebook regarding an invite to an event near me, in Willoughby, Ohio. Bill Hartman posted in the Gay Men in Cleveland group that there was going to be a “Grand Opening” for a possible East Side Cleveland location as a LGBTQ friendly bar. Of course, I was excited, being an Eastsider. I go to Willoughby often, on the outward, it appears to be a very welcoming town. It boasts a fantastic pagan shop called Enchanted Grove that is owned by someone I have known for the better part of 18 years. So, the very thought of there being a place that was inclusive of LGBTQ people really excited me. The bar that would host the event only recently opened in October of 2018 and is called All Axs.
Prior to the February 2nd event for LGBTQ, I stalked their Facebook page to learn as much about them as possible. From the page I could tell that it was a rock bar, obviously, because of the name All Axs. The owner of the bar is younger and has high hopes of the success of the bar. The location of the bar was previously a restaurant known for a great burger Willoughby. The owner had retired from the business a few years back and it had changed hands and became a bar that closed before this new iteration. According to the post on Gay Men in Cleveland it was an event to be billed as “A gay bar on the East side of Cleveland? A new adventure in the heart of the downtown Willoughby scene! Hopefully if all goes well, there will now be an East side option!” The time frame of the event was between 7pm and 2am on Friday February 2nd.
A friend of mine decided to head out with me to share in the experience of the prospect of an east side gay bar. We met for dinner at Nickleby’s in Willoughby and then head to the bar. Upon arrival it was a cute little old school rock bar. Walking in I was met with a riff from Lynyrd Skynyrd and quickly brought me back to my southern roots. Three older gentlemen at the corner of the bar welcomed us and said looked like I loved the kind of music playing over the speakers and not that rap crap. It gave me a slight chuckle. It was a small crowd, we were two of about nine people in the bar. This quickly told me that I may have either arrived too late or miscalculated the date. Once inside, we both order a Jack and Coke and I pull out my phone to check Facebook. There I notice that Bill and his crew had arrived about two hours earlier, which would have made it a bout 7pm. I responded that I had just got there and sorry that I missed him. He responded that they were also going to do an event on the next night, Saturday February 3rd, and have DJ Toni Freeze there. I decided to just enjoy the night and see how the bar feels and progresses.
The crowd stayed small while we were there and to my dismay no another LGBTQ person came in. It was predominantly heteronormative couples complaining that the crowd was small. The bartender, Kat, mentioned that the crowd varied dramatically depending on the day. I headed to the restroom and noted that the decor of the restroom was one of the gayest things I had seen anywhere. There were album covers from the 60s to 80s that included Joan Baez to Pat Benatar. There was even a Steve Martin album cover of him in drag. It was kitschy and amazing all at once. I felt this would be a very cool spot for an LGBTQ inclusive bar.
Once I got back, I looked to my friend and mentioned that maybe I should ask about the turn out for the LGBTQ event that was supposed to have taken place earlier. I pulled up the event on my phone and asked Kat how the event went earlier. Her initial response was that it wasn’t tonight, it was another night. I showed her the date and said it was supposed to happen earlier tonight. Once we started talking about how the event went, Kat confided in me that she liked be bartender, but he was young and had weird ideas. Her opinion was that if it was going to continue that it should only be held once a month. She felt the clientele wouldn’t be receptive to it. She continued to say that if it was to happen that she would prefer it to be held in the other side of the bar and have their own DJ or whatever. Kat confided that the staff may not be as accepting as the owner would be, that he was young and had a lot of ideas.
At this point, apparently, she didn’t know that I was gay. So, I decided to let her know the reason I came to the bar was because of the event. Her face changed at that point and she quickly said, “Oh by door swings both ways so I am not against it, but the town may not be as encouraging.” After I outed myself to her, she did to tell me how accepting she is of LGBTQ people, even in her own life. Like I said, Kat is an amazing bartender. Responsive to her guests, always has a quick turn of phrase, and makes you feel at ease. In my years of coming to Willoughby, I have never had a problem feeling, that being a gay man, that I wouldn’t be accepted. Like I mentioned earlier, I am friends with a shop owner in downtown Willoughby and she is very accepting of LGBTQ people and talked of how welcoming Willoughby is, so this was a bit of a shock to me.
I have high hopes for the possibility of having a location on the east side of Cleveland where LGBTQ can go and feel accepted. Whether or not this is the bar for this to happen is a harder thing to discuss. It has only been open for about four months and it’s just starting to develop its character. Over all, the bar and the experience was fun. The people were down to earth and welcoming. Kat was an amazing bartender and that means a lot in a bar. The atmosphere was fun with its nod to classic rock, even over Pandora, and had a small but good selection of beer. The Jack and Coke that I had was well mixed and not watered down like in many bars. I hope there was enough turn out tonight and tomorrow that would warrant the owner to continue having LGBTQ events. I think having more of a dance club atmosphere and maybe even moving to performances could be an asset to the establishment, but it is hard to gauge from the outside. It’s early, but I hope for the best. It would be great to have a place on this side of town to go to and have fun.