Clementines, the oldest St. Louis LGBT bar in operation, is officially closing on Sept. 29, 2014. The news sent shockwaves through social media, with reports of the bar being sold to a new owner that plans to make it a mainstream sports bar. Several patrons, including CJC John C, say they were told by employees on Tuesday night.
The historic establishment has long been a cornerstone in the community, drawing wall-to-wall crowds on Sundays and serving as the LGBT headquarters during Mardi Gras – from the pet parade, to the High Heel Drag Race. There was no more prestigious of a spot to be on parade day than on the expansive iron balcony above the entrance where Steve Neeley and Bruce Karmazin held court with their sexy and shirtless Jägermeister crew.
“Many, many sets of beads were earned on that corner,” recalls Greg Wilkerson of Chicago.
When most bars went smoke free, Clems was grandfathered in until January 1, 2015, which drew many to the bar – and of course kept many away.
“I never thought this would happen,” says David Ray, a longtime patron.
For me, Clems symbolized permanence in an ephemeral world. When patron “Midnight Annie” passed way and left her ashes to owner Gary Reed, he entombed her in the wall. Reed plans to consult with a priest about how to un-interr Midnight Annie from her spot in the bar. “She’s coming with me,” he says.
Steven L. Brawley, Founder of the STL LGBT History Project, will be at the bar this Sunday to collect donations of Clems memorabilia. He’s asking the community to bring anything they’d care to contribute – items might include photos, matchbooks, etc.
“My first time getting really drunk was at Clems back in 1988,” Brawley recalls. “It was at Clems that I began to meet our community elders, which began my interest in documenting St. Louis’s LGBT past. Bars come and go, but the passing of Clems and Magnolia’s this year is significant in that they were mainstays. It’s vital we document their history and collect artifacts for preservation.”
Jim Weckmann, owner of Rehab St. Louis, learned of the sale yesterday. He said Clems was the first gay bar he’d ever been to, and he’s sad that it’s closing but happy the owners are able to retire – which is not a given in the bar business.
“It’s sad to see any part of history go away,” Weckmann says. “However, I’ve known it’s been for sale for some time, and am happy for Jan and Gary. It’s the original cruise bar, and I think in this day and age the cruise bar concept has pretty much dissipated with smart phones and the Internet. I think it’s great they are going out while still on top and can enjoy retirement. It’s also a sad day for the community.”
It really is like the death of an old friend, and I invite everyone to share their favorite memories on the Vital VOICE Facebook thread, or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be updating the story over the coming days.