The Gay Brigade
The doorman at the Beer Sellar looks a bit miffed this particular Thursday night.
He greets me with a face that seems to say “another one” as he checks my I.D. He must have discovered the pattern – gay guy, gay guy, gay guy, gay guy - just before my arrival.
He's not the only Sellar employee who looks confused. A lady bartender paces back and forth handing out 2-for-1 beers to a line of men in t-shirts and scarves - Thursdays here are usually dead. Another bar worker shoots a fleeting glance to the door guy and giggles as she passes him.
Heath Bish, 30, pushes aside his beer to offer his take: those subtle, non-verbal cues are the staff's polite way of acknowledging amongst themselves that something strange is happening in their bar.
"It's like we've taken over and the staff has no idea what's going on," Bish said. "It's so cool. It's about time Nashville has something like this."
He's talking about Guerrilla Gay Bar - a group who's anonymous organizers tout as the most secretive gay organization since Opus Dei. Prepare for a revolution, they say on their Web site, because gay nightlife in Nashville will never be the same.
The GGB movement began in San Francisco in 2000 and has spread to major cities across the U.S. including Dallas, Detroit, Boston, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Lexington, Ky.
The idea behind Guerrilla Gay bar is simple: one night a month, GLBT people will infiltrate a predominantly straight bar en masse in order to make known their presence in mainstream society.
On the first Thursday of each month, Nashville's GGB organizers (who operate under the name 'HQ' for "headquarters") send an email to guerrilla members including the time and location for the evening's takeover. (Sign up for the email at guerrillagaybarnashville.com.)
More than 50 gay men and lesbians showed up for the first attack on Beer Sellar on Thursday, Dec. 3, for 2-for-1 drafts and a chance to socialize outside of the GLBT scene. Located on Church Street below Hooters, the Sellar is a Nashville staple that offers more than 50 beers on tap, a live band in a pub-like atmosphere.
The turnout for the event was a whopping figure compared to the handful of patrons drawn in recent months by weekly 'gay nights' offered by straight bars including Karma and Silverado's.
For its mystery, rarity and apparent exclusivity, GGB has a lot going for it. Joseph Conner, 31, who attended the Beer Sellar takeover, said the intermittency of the revolution builds anticipation and offers a refreshing change of scenery at the perfect intervals.
"This allows people to deviate from their routine without having to abandon it," Conner said.
He and his friends were some of the first to arrive at the Sellar and wouldn't have stayed long had other guerrillas not shown up, he said. That's part of the GGB's appeal. Guerrillas are able to socialize in a new venue with a 'safety in numbers' mentality, Conner said, and getting gays out of their comfort zone to 'turn' a straight bar for a night encourages people to interact because they are no longer gay men at a gay bar. They are members of a secret society. They are revolutionaries.
"There's something that can be intimidating about a gay bar," Conner said. "Here, people are more inclined to interact. They're less like sharks swimming around and are more interested in the fact that we're all here for the GGB. There's more camaraderie."
HQ and many of the GGB patrons present at the Sellar takeover were quick to point out that this guerrilla movement is not intended to be a slam against Nashville's gay and lesbian bars.
"As you saw with last night's attendees, many of us frequent the gay bars and love them and their support of the community," HQ wrote in an email to O&AN following the first infiltration. "GGB is just something fun to mix things up once a month."
GGB naysayers across the country have postured that the so-called 'revolution' is an example of gay folk grasping at straight straws and trying to make the whole world homo. The GGB Web site offers a firm rebuttle.
The site states, "This isn't about being militant or shocking people or getting up in straight people's grills. It's just about showing folks that we exist, being adventurous and seeing new places to hang out, and making new friends outside of the regular 'gay bar' setting."
Conner said the GGB movement is more about having fun than enacting change.
“We’re not trying to turn the bar gay, we’re just taking gay Nashville mainstream,” Conner said. “We’re going (Lady) GaGa on this bar.”
While the GGB's emphasis is on revolutionizing Nashville's gay nightlife, the ramifications of the group's concerted efforts don't stop there. In fact, Rachel Audretch, a Sellar bartender, said she couldn't remember the last time the bar had been so busy on a Thursday.
“If it wasn’t for you guys, nobody would be here,” she said. "We love it!"
From neighboring bar Riverfront Tavern, a female bartender made a quick appearance at Beer Sellar around 8:30 p.m. to see what all the hoopla was about.
“Next door, they’re hearing that the bar is packed,” Bish said, “They want to have it [Guerrilla Night] there. And honestly, why wouldn't they? Aren’t the gays more fun?”