Club Elm & Pearl a fixture in queer black community

Posted on 05 Oct 2012 at 8:45am

While other bars have launched African-American-themed nights, nightclub in Deep Ellum remains city’s only black-owned gay venue

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PARTNERS IN BUSINESS, LIFE | Co-owners Ricky Baker, left, and Glenn Hunter, stand behind the bar at the Elm & Pearl. They will celebrate 30 years as a couple in December. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor

Glenn Hunter and Ricky Baker said they’re old enough to recall the discrimination black patrons once faced at gay bars in Dallas.

During one visit from their native Oklahoma in the 1980s, Hunter and Baker said they were accompanied by an American Indian friend who could pass for white.

Although everyone in their party had Oklahoma driver’s licenses, the American Indian friend was allowed into a gay bar on Cedar Springs, while the others were told they needed Texas IDs.

Other times, black patrons were required to have multiple forms of ID or were subject to cover charges that didn’t apply to whites.

“That was pretty much customary in Dallas — you had to have three IDs,” Baker said. “Based on all those things, we felt like we did not have a voice, so we started our own gay club.”

After Hunter and Baker, who’ll celebrate 30 years as a couple in December, moved to Dallas from Oklahoma City in 1987, Hunter would become one of the original employees of the Metro, a gay black nightclub on Elm Street nestled between downtown and Deep Ellum.

Hunter managed the Metro until eight years ago, when he and Baker bought the club, which is now called Club Elm & Pearl (after the corner it occupies).

While other gay bars in Dallas, including Havana and The Brick, offer African-American themed nights, the Elm & Pearl remains the city’s only black-owned gay club.

Kirk Myers, one of the organizers of this weekend’s Dallas Black Pride events, said it’s an important distinction.

“It’s the first club that’s for us by us,’ Myers said. “That was the birth of the Dallas Black Pride movement, and it’s been a staple for visitors during Pride and outside of Pride.

“I’m 45, so people were raised on the Metro, i.e. the Elm & Pearl,” Myers said. “Anybody doing a night, it definitely is different than having a club that is minority owned and minority specific as far as patrons.”

Hunter said it was after a trip to Splash, Houston’s Black Pride event, about 15 years ago that he and others at the

Metro decided to launch what was originally called Dallas Black Gay and Lesbian Pride.

“I thought oh my God, they have 5,000 people, and their club is half the size of ours,” Hunter said of Splash.

They decided to schedule Dallas’ Black Pride celebration the same weekend as the Grambling State-Prairie View football game at the Cotton Bowl, because it was already the biggest African-American weekend in Dallas.

The Elm & Pearl remained the primary organizer of Black Pride up until about five years ago, before Hunter said it became too much work and other organizations took over. But the club still plays a major role in the festivities, hosting events like Saturday night’s block party.

And while times have changed, people like Clinton Blade — aka DJ 008 — said they believe there will always be a need for a “show bar” like the Elm & Pearl.

“So many entertainers have started on that very stage right there,” Blade said from the DJ booth on  a recent Saturday night, listing Racquell Lord, Sophia McIntosh and Kennedy Davenport among them.

“This is the drag capital,” Blade said. “We have our own style. … Everybody needs a starting point.”

In the last few years, due to the economy, the Elm & Pearl has scaled back to only weekend hours. Friday is men’s night, and Saturday is women’s night.

On Sunday afternoons, the club hosts the weekly Old School Dominoes, Spades and Biz Wiz Tournament.

And on Sunday nights for the last few months, the Elm & Pearl has been blazing yet another trail, as the only gay bar to host a straight night. Hunter said on one recent Sunday, the club drew 300 people for a rap competition.

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Dallas Black Pride weekend

Two separate organizations put on Black Pride events this weekend, Dallas Southern Pride and the DFW Pride Movement. For a full schedule of events, visit their respective websites at DallasSouthernPride.com and DfwPrideMovement.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 5, 2012.

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