Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore Rocks On

By Steve Charing

It was certainly peaceful as far as invasions go. Around 8:00 p.m. on March 6 there was a handful of gay men clustered together sipping drinks inside Luckie’s Tavern—which is located in Power Plant Live! on Market Place in Baltimore— checking out the entrance to see who else walks through.

As the minutes and hours passed and the beats to rock and 80’s pop tunes permeated in the background, that handful of people evolved into a small crowd, and eventually swelled to over 400 mostly gay men and some women who "invaded" the space normally frequented by straight twenty- and thirtysomethings on a rockin’ Friday night.

What was taking place was the fifth monthly installment of the rapidly growing Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore phenomenon. Founders of this movement, Byron McFarlane, 25, of Ellicott City and Mark Yost, 28, of Mt. Vernon, (pictured) believed that Baltimore needed an alternative to the conventional bar scene.

"Washington, D.C. has a very large, active, gay community and for gay men and women who are really into the nightlife there are tons of options, including their own Guerrilla Queer Bar," noted McFarlane. That was among several similar groups that sprung up around the country.

"Mark and I always wanted to go to the D.C. gathering, but at one point we just said to each other, ‘Why don't we start one here?’ So the outlet is for everyone who doesn't want to drive an hour to Washington or go to the same old bars in Mt. Vernon," says McFarlane.

Despite the GGBB’s new logo, which depicts a militaristic-looking clenched fist on a bottle cap, both Yost and McFarlane insist that the "guerilla" aspect of GGBB is not an "in-your-face" activity nor are they trying to be confrontational. In fact, the bars that are selected are notified of the invasion and prepare for the volume of additional patrons. The logo is displayed on a sticker that is handed out to all the "invaders" for easy identification as part of the group.

"Our primary goal is to have a good time, but along with that is interacting with crowds many of us don't see very often," says McFarlane.

He adds, "Going to an identifiable gay bar versus a straight bar is different for some people because they aren't really interested in an exclusively gay environment. Others, because they don't have many or any gay friends and prefer to hang out with their straight friends at a straight bar."

Yost sees this as an opportunity to improve the social life in Baltimore but also to expand our exposure to other aspects of the city. "We are trying to help bring a new outlet for socializing to the gay community and also help the gay community experience more of Baltimore together," he says. "There is a benefit of doing it in a large group. Simply put, we may visit these bars, but it’s much easier to be yourself, in a larger group."

And what a large group it is!

The first GGBB event took place in November at Claddagh Pub in Canton and drew about 100. In December they attracted 175 at Mother’s in Federal Hill. Max’s in Fells Point drew 250 as the movement was starting to really catch on. And January’s event saw a stunning throng of over 400 pack Mt. Washington Tavern. A similar number showed up at Luckie’s Tavern.

The basic idea is that people sign up through Facebook and are notified a few days in advance of an announced date of the upcoming invasion of the straight bar.

For Scot Shaffer, his visit to Luckie’s Tavern marked his third GGBB appearance. A bartender at the Hippo, Scot likes the mix of the crowd. "There are different groups of gay people from all over the area, and I love the music," he says.

Another patron, Michael, 25, from Mt. Washington wanted a non-gay bar setting where it’s more relaxing for him. "I don’t have to worry so much about people hitting on me." He brought his straight friend Rachel who also enjoys the atmosphere and just wants to have a great time.
"What is great about this group is that there are lots of gay men and women who don't feel comfortable at gay bars, whether because they are not out or because it just isn't their thing," Byron McFarlane explains.

What about the straight patrons?

Stacie was sitting at a table at Luckie’s with several other straight friends and seemed oblivious to the gay invasion. When told, Stacie chuckled and said, "No wonder there are so many guys here." Her friend Ross of Mt. Washington said it was a cool idea and it certainly did not bother him one bit. Tom, 27, another straight man concurred. "Hey, we’re all here to have some drinks and enjoy ourselves."

"The bartenders, owners, and patrons have been at least accepting, and at best excited to have us," observed McFarlane.

The lack of backlash is noteworthy as GGBB continues to thrive. Mixing peacefully with straight people shows that maybe we’re not to be feared and could help us politically down the road. Says Mark Yost, "The more out we are, the harder it is to demonize our community and make us ‘others.’ I truly believe the greatest strides we will make as a community towards equal rights and acceptance will be from being ourselves, out in the straight world."

The next invasion is set for April 3. For more information about the group, visit http://www.ggb-baltimore.com/

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