NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - In an era when people find romance through apps and same-sex marriage is legal, it may seem as though the importance of a physical LGBTQ bar has been diminished.
But on Saturday night, as people filtered into Norwalk’s newly opened Troupe429, patrons testified to the continued need for safe spaces.
LaReissa Skinner, a transgender man from Norwalk, described going out to a bar on Washington Street, only to be forcibly dragged out of the men’s bathroom in front of his friends and family.
T.J. of Danbury, who requested his last name not be used, recently had a stranger at a local bar volunteer that he wouldn’t want his son to be gay.
“Why have a gay bar?” asked T.J. “That’s why.”
Saturday night was T.J.’s first time at Troupe429. Behind the bar, where he sipped his drink, were a dozen portraits of famous figures from the LGBTQ community, ranging from Sylvia Rivera (known for her activism during the Stonewall Riots) to RuPaul Charles (quite possibly the most famous drag queen in the world). While the venue has only been open for little over a month, bartender Jeffrey Diman could already greet regulars by name as he poured beers and put out copper mugs of complimentary Goldfish and animal crackers.
Troupe429 got its start January of 2016 as an underground party in a basement Italian restaurant in Times Square. The name is partly a reference to the word “gay” spelled out on an alphanumeric keypad and partly homage to the film “Troop Beverly Hills,” a favorite of the owners, said Diman. In November, the party debuted at its permanent location in Norwalk.
Already, it has hosted arts and crafts nights, movie screenings and appearances by celebrities including April Carrion, a contestant from the television show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Jeda DeVore, a Norwalk native who was visiting Troupe429 for the first time, walked over to his friends to share his verdict. “I love it. I love the bathrooms,” which are gender neutral, “I love the crayons.”
“Let it be known that this club is all the way love,” said Keisha Greene of Norwalk.
“It’s awesome sauce,” agreed DeVore. He said that after seeing Chick-Fil-A - a franchise of a company criticized in 2012 for donating millions of dollars to organizations against same-sex marriage - open in Norwalk, he was especially gratified to see a place like Troupe429 come to the city.
“That’s why I was so happy when this place opened. There has never, ever been an LGBT bar in Norwalk - and I’ve lived here 25 years, my whole life.”
Fairfield County was once home to what was reputed to be the longest-running gay bar in the country, the Cedar Brook Cafe in Westport, and the largest monthly transgender/queer party in New England, which took place in Triangles Cafe in Danbury. The Cedar Brook Cafe closed in 2010 after 71 years of operation; Triangles Cafe closed in 2015 after over three decades.
John Rizzo, who had been a longtime DJ at Triangles, came to Troupe429 on Saturday to spin tunes for former Triangles-goers who had travelled to Norwalk for a reunion. As he set up his equipment, he meditated on the importance of LGBTQ bars throughout history.
To him, they represented a freedom in the face of hardship. “They didn’t care what was playing,” he said of the people he played for. “They wanted to get lost that feeling, to feel that love. To feel free. Feel acceptance … People can be going through some really, really tough times, and they always give feedback - they say thank you, because the music helps them.” While sometimes that feeling is hard to tap into, he said when it does, it’s magic. And it’s a culture he hopes Troupe429 will help preserve.
“It’s touching history - the people who paved the way for everybody. I guess to understand where we are today, you have to remember where we came from. And the relevance, the importance of it.”
Outside at the bar, others remembered how LGBTQ bars of times past had shaped their lives.
“It felt like home,” said Alex from Bethlehem, who asked his last name not be used. “You wanted to be there all the time. Not just Saturday.”
For him, it was difficult to even remember what the inside of the bar looked like - what was important was the feeling. He pointed out that it welcomed all people - not just beautiful young club-goers. Triangles Cafe’s first Yelp review describes a “surreal combination of young, just-off-the-plane Brazilians; established gay elders; children of ‘the ice storm’; prosperous guppies; hardscrabble bears; deep woods trannies; expat New Yorkers; and closeted married guys.”
Andrew Adam of West Haven also described Triangles Cafe as “home.” And he remembered when it began to decline. “When you walked in before all the apps, there’d be 300 people on a Saturday night,” he said. “And one day, we walked in there, and there was nobody in there anymore - because of the apps.”
They hoped that places like Troupe429 would help fill the hole left by the closures of legendary establishments like the Cedar Brook Cafe and Triangles.
“It’s good! We need places to go,” said Alex. “Are they going to survive? It’s up to us.”
Information from: The Hour, http://www.thehour.com
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