**As an opinion editorial piece, this article does not reflect the views or opinions of Vital VOICE **
From Tales From The Emperor, by Chris Andoe
The best bar you [probably] never go to is closing its doors in the wee hours of January 1st. After 10 years in business (five at the current location), the cavernous Bad Dog Bar & Grill joins the long parade of other LGBT establishments shutting down as a tastes and demographics change, leading some to ask if “gay bars” are becoming obsolete.
I’ve always thought of Bad Dog as an alternate-universe JJ’s Clubhouse, its chief rival just a few blocks north. Both appealed to similar crowds, and both were enormous, designed to expand and contract based on the day of the week, or to accommodate special events.
“By all means, yes, Bad Dog was intended to shut JJ’s down,” began former longtime JJ’s bartender Eric Turner, whom I reached at his Fort Lauderdale home. “It all started when [JJ’s owner] Jeff threw [Bad Dog owner] Chris out during Mr. Missouri Leather. The place was packed and Chris and five other guys were talking in the hallway, blocking traffic. We asked them a few times to keep the hall clear and they blew us off. Finally, one of the owners put him out and told him he wasn’t allowed to come back. It wasn’t more than eight months later they began working on the place down the street.”
Turner said Bad Dog’s owners, investors and their entourage were eventually allowed back in JJ’s, but they gave the staff fits. “Oh man, they were always antagonizing us – really cocky with the staff. They’d do just about anything to get under our skin. They’d tell us we didn’t know what we were doing. Their friends would have sex in the bathroom. Man, it was a trip.”
After ten years at JJ’s, Turner moved to Florida, and said at least eighty former St. Louisans live in his area. Among them is a former Bad Dog investor. “We’re friends and we look at each other now like ‘All that drama, and now it doesn’t even matter.’”
CJC John C, Owner/Event Planner at CJC Productions, contracted to bring his show called “International House Dance Party” to the warehouse part of the bar, which featured what many consider to be the largest dance floor in St. Louis. He said that it was difficult to get guys who frequented the Grove, just across Vandeventer, to venture over because of its reputation as a “leather bar.” And the ones who did come were uncomfortable. With thousands of dollars in the hole, he closed the show after only a few months.
“The owners were good people, but they were really handed a cursed venue,” CJC began. “There was an eerie feeling that was deep whenever I would do a show there – almost like something didn’t want anyone there. Almost demonic, if you will. Most people I brought there mentioned a spooky feeling. They did have great food though. You couldn’t complain about that.”
I asked former Entertainment Director ShowMe Charlotte if she experienced anything spooky while working at Bad Dog.
“Funny you should mention that. The eerie vibe was always felt in the dead center of the warehouse. I was never afraid to be in there, it just felt as if I wasn’t truly alone, even when I was by myself,” Charlotte says.
JJ’s customers proved to be fiercely loyal, and the Grove bar traffic wasn’t crossing Vandeventer, so Bad Dog had to get creative, finding their niche in the fetish scene and in catering to other underserved groups.
“Bad Dog was the one singular bar in St. Louis, if not the Midwest, that was home and host to so many of our diverse community groups,” patron Robb Lappe begins. “It was a safe place for people of fetish, for cowboys who needed to line dance, for drag shows for both queens and king – and it’s the birthplace of the Puppy Community in St. Louis as well. Bad Dog was a non-exclusive, all-inclusive, totally accepting bar for those outside mainstream society and community. A melting pot of people, both straight and gay alike, who all became family. The activities I attended there, and the people I met, helped to mold me into the man I am today. It will be greatly missed and I fear no other singular bar in city will ever come close to replacing this one refuge for so many people.”
Bad Dog Entertainment Director Karma T Cassidy found a strong following for her show.
“I’ve been blessed to have a successful show, and I’ve also been blessed to meet some amazing people and get to know the owners and staff,” Cassidy explained. “Bad Dog created a phenomenal performance space for me – I will always remember the audiences. Bad Dog was, of course, known for being a fetish bar and the audience has always been so diverse at my shows. Losing yet another space to showcase amazing talent and allow straight folks to experience our world is a shame. But the more mainstream being gay becomes, the less our bars are frequented by gay people, or so it seems.”
“Oh, and how could I forget the time I performed at International Puppy!” Cassidy continued. “It was my first induction into the Puppy Community. It was a real eye opener. But the thing I walked away with was how sweet, normal, and kind everyone I met was. It made me realize that I had a lot to learn and a lot of prejudices to drop. Working for Bad Dog was one of the best things that ever happened to me in my performance career for that very reason.”
Bad Dog Promotion Director/Executive Chef Christopher “Tyger” Roth confirmed Eric Turner’s account of a former investor’s ill-intent towards JJ’s. “Yes, Chris had a vendetta for JJ’s. One of the reasons he parted ways with Bob & Jim.”
Roth said after Chris was out of the picture, Bad Dog tried to work with JJ’s and invited them to be part of large events, but those offers were declined. “We are a firm believer if we worked together as a community the community would grow stronger. It was a huge frustration that no one really wanted to work together.”
Roth explained their reasons for closing after ten years.
“Economy, costs and Bob and Jim along with Chuck Van Horn and myself are just worn out. Jim wants to be able to retire and Bob has not been able to spend much time in town with work taking him all over. Plus frustration over the community and even the Grove neighborhood group leaving us out of advertising and events even though the Grove goes all the way do the railroad tracks” Roth begins.
“I think a lot of the reasons for closures is not a lot of support from the community. With the apps, you can go to a straight bar and find others of interest. You don’t have to go to a gay bar to find other LGBT community members. Also the economy is a definite factor. Many ‘regulars’ can’t go out as often or at all because they just don’t have the money.”
Roth says if gay bars are to survive, which he believes they will, the community needs to support them and the bars need to work as a team.
The final night will be December 31st, and they’ll close with their New Year’s Eve Fetish Ball.
A favorite memory of mine from Bad Dog was the time I allowed a fetishist to tie me to some kinky table, which was a big deal because I don’t like to be restrained. The entire time the man was tying the knots, he sighed and apologized. “I’m really sorry. This is not a regulation table” he’d say, seemingly embarrassed.
When I was freed and making my way to the exit, a big, bearded man with a gruff, intimidating appearance approached and handed me a matchbook. I opened it up, and in serial killer handwriting was his phone number followed by the message, “Call if you want to do rape.”
Ahh Bad Dog. We’ll miss you.
WRITTEN BY CHRIS ANDOE