Meet a Who’s Who of Atlanta’s gay bar owners and managers

LGBTQ Atlanta is changing, and that goes double for the nightlife landscape where we meet, attend events, see shows, hang out and celebrate.

With the lights out at Jungle and the future of gay dance clubs in question, meet the owners and managers of some of the most popular bars and clubs still open, pouring and entertaining, and let them welcome you in their own words.

 

TEN Atlanta: James Nelson

 

Tell us something about you most people don’t know.

I’ve been told on occasion, you make this all look so easy. What many do not know is that I have faced personal and professional challenges throughout my career. However, I wouldn’t change a thing. It has led me to where I am today, and that for me is a great place to be.

When you’re not working at the venue, what are you up to?

I enjoy taking friends to dinner. We have some great options here in Atlanta. Going to the North Georgia Mountains for relaxation is something I always look forward to. I am an art collector, so there are days I go to galleries around Atlanta or on my travels, and walk through to view the work of the many talented artists throughout the world. When time permits I enjoy traveling. Above all my favorite pastime is spending time with my Bull Terrier, Tora Mina. She is my best buddy.

What’s your favorite thing about TEN Atlanta?

Our patio. It is one of the best in the city. And I have to add the diversity of our crowd is a close second.

What compliment do you consistently receive about the venue?

How wonderful our staff is. Hands down we have some of the best bartenders in the city, and I am proud of each one of them.

What does TEN’s place in gay Atlanta mean to you?

It symbolizes the unity within not only the LGBT community, but our neighborhood as a whole. … We must continue to fight for our rights, stand together as one, and for me TEN represents the place we can all come together for those few hours and have the enjoyment we are all entitled to.

990 Piedmont Ave. NE, tenatlanta.com

 

Bulldogs: Tonya Ellison

 

What’s your favorite thing about Bulldogs?

The family atmosphere . We have been around for 39 years, so we have grown to know people on different levels than just “a customer.” They’re family.

Bulldogs is a known landmark in the city by the gay community as well as out of town visitors to come to have fun, drink and to be free.

What is the No. 1 thing you hear from patrons?

Our drinks are great! Not only are the prices worth it, but they are strong and the service is fast. You can’t complain when the cups keep flowing, right?

893 Peachtree St. NW, 404-872-3025

 

Atlanta Eagle: Richard Ramey

 

How long has the bar been in Atlanta, and how long have you been in charge?

I’ve owned it for 20 of its 30 years.

What’s your favorite thing about the Eagle?

It’s a place you can come and be yourself and not be judged. People always tell me how nice and friendly my staff is.

What part does the Eagle play in the fabric of LGBTQ Atlanta?

No matter who you are, you have a “safe place” to come and be yourself.

306 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, atlantaeagle.com

 

Blake’s on the Park: Doug Craft

 

How long has Blake’s been in business, and how long have you been there?

Both 27 years

Tell us something about you that people don’t know.

I love college football, especially LSU.

What’s your favorite thing about Blake’s?

It’s a comfortable place for everyone who comes in.

What’s the No. 1 thing you hear from patrons?

“Wow, you’re still here?”

You’re off work. What are you drinking?

Bud Light or Vodka Cran (the People)

Where do you personally see Blake’s fitting in the nightlife scene?

It’s a place of refuge.

227 10th St. NE, blakesontheparkatlanta.com

 

Burkhart’s Pub: Don Hunnewell

 

How long has Burkhart’s been around? How long have you been there, and what did you do before?

The bar’s been here almost 30 years. I’ve managed for about 18 months. I owned and operated The Metro and for nine of those years I lived in Maine raising my son.

What’s your favorite thing about Burkhart’s?

The team of seasoned professionals. Second to none.

What’s the most frequent feedback you receive?

People love our extremely diverse mix of customers, and we have something for everyone.

What is the first thing you notice when you walk into a bar?

With decades of experience, I notice every detail but focus on customer service.

What tempted you back into the bar business at Burkhart’s?

It’s an exciting opportunity and challenge to remain calm and carry out the owner’s vision.

1492 Piedmont Ave. NE, burkharts.com

 

My Sisters Room: Jennifer and Jami Maguire

 

Name something about you most people don’t know?

My wife [Jami] built homes, and I [Jennifer] worked in finance for 20 years before buying the bar from the original owner. When we’re not working, we spend our time raising kids and rescue animals.

What’s the best thing about My Sisters Room?

We are the longest running lesbian bar in the Southeast [since 1996], and we welcome everyone into our establishment.

What does My Sisters Room being part of LGBTQ Atlanta mean to you?

It means everything to us! Jami and I take pride in what we do and hope to continue another 20 years.

66 12th Street NE, mysistersroom.com

 

BJ Roosters (BJ’s): Bobby Hamill & John Molinari

 

What’s your favorite thing about BJ’s?

John: We have a very diverse crowd that comes in to hang out. Our go-go dancers bring a lot of different types of people – lesbians, gay, straight, male, female…

What’s the No. 1 comment you get about BJ’s?

Bobby: Besides the dancers on the bar, people usually mention the amount of fun they had and how everyone is so nice.

What has BJs come to mean to you?

Bobby: The people who come to the bar are my chosen family.

2043 Cheshire Bridge Road NE, bjroosters.com

 

Swinging Richards: Matthew Harrell

 

How old is Swinging Richards, and how long have you been there?

23 years, and I’ve been employed there for five, and bar manager for one year alongside the owner, CB, and the general manager, Harry.

What sets Richards apart from the other gay establishments in town?

Our number one difference is offering fully nude entertainment. We have a great staff of all different types of guys who love to show off and create a perfect fantasy for our patrons. We also pride ourselves on our cocktails to ensure that the juices are always flowing.

What do you hear from patrons most?

We have a lot of people come from out of town solely to check us out, and it's awesome hearing that their anticipation was worth the wait. We often get notes from guests who tell us about their good experiences, and we keep them all hung up around the office.

What has Swinging Richards meant to you?

I've been able to make connections with some great people and help out causes that further the betterment of our community. I firmly believe in making every place welcoming to all walks of life, and being a part of our community feels like a major step towards that goal.

1400 Northside Drive NW, swingingrichards.com

 

Heretic: Alan Collins

 

How long has Heretic been open, and how long have you been in charge? 

We opened in December 1991. I started bartending in 1994 and managing a few years later.

What’s sets Heretic apart from other bars?

It’s the fact we don’t cater to just one demographic. We’ve always had a kind of “melting pot” clientele. Over the past few years, we’ve opened our doors to different promoters in our community, some of whose client bases most likely would never had stepped foot in Heretic.

What do you hear most often from patrons that makes you smile?

Great music, strong drinks, and a great price.

You belly up to somebody else’s bar. What are you drinking and doing?

I’d definitely be drinking Absolut, with probably cranberry or Red Bull. I’d look for familiar faces and hide from some (laughs), and just try to blend in as a patron, which I don’t often get to do.

What does Heretic’s part in gay Atlanta mean to you?

Heretic has become part of the fabric of gay Atlanta. That means everything to me. It makes me feel humble and proud. We’ve worked so hard over the years providing nightlife to this amazing community. The continued support year after year tells me we’re doing something right, and we’ll keep doing it as long as this amazing city will have us.

2069 Cheshire Bridge Road NE, hereticatlanta.com

 

Friends On Ponce: Regina Sims

 

Tell us something about yourself that people are surprised to find out?

That I’m very introverted away from work. In my free time, I support the pageantry system, and I like a very low-key simple time out with friends.

What’s your favorite thing about Friends?

It’s a melting pot much like the street it’s on, Ponce and the neighborhood.

What do Friends and LGBTQ Atlanta mean to you?

I think about all the changes we have fought for, and we have worked to achieve. I see it in the acceptance as the patrons come in and party together and find unity and fun.

736 Ponce de Leon Ave. NE, friendsonponce-atl.com

 

 

Lips: Tyler King

 

Tell us something about yourself that people don’t know.

I was on the 1991 season of Saturday Night Live. I’ve been culinary volunteer coordinator for Atlanta Food & Wine Festival for the last 5 years.

What’s makes Lips special?

There is no room for drama or pretension at Lips. Everyone here is having a good time. It’s always a party.

It’s a place where all are welcome. You can feel free to express yourself and that expression is embraced by everyone that enters the building.

What’s the No. 1 compliment you receive from patrons?

“Wow! There is nothing else in Atlanta like Lips! Can’t wait to come back!”

3011 Buford Hwy NE, atldragshow.com

 

 

More Don’t-Miss Venues

 

Mary’s

1287 Glenwood Ave. SE

marysatlanta.com

 

Woofs

2425 Piedmont Road NE

woofsatlanta.com

 

Cockpit

465 Boulevard SE

thecockpit-atlanta.blogspot.com

 

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of Q magazine, which you can read below.