Saying goodbye to Friends

Nationally known Cedar Creek Lake bar closes after 15 years

Friends-001

BUSINESS DRIES UP | Owner Leo Bartlett said low lake levels caused by the ongoing drought resulted in fewer visitors to the area, forcing him to shut down his club for good. (David Webb/Dallas Voice)

DAVID WEBB  |  Contributing Writer
davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com

GUN BARREL CITY — For 15 years Friends was the little gay bar that did it all in the most unlikely of settings, but it came to a sad end just before Christmas.
Friends owner Leo Bartlett sent out a message on Facebook Dec. 20 saying he was closing the iconic gay bar, and he never unlocked the doors for business again. Situated in the middle of one of the most conservative areas of the state, the humble little private club had featured charity drag shows and raised many tens of thousands of dollars — benefiting homeless animals, the elderly, the poor and HIV patients — for years.

Known not only throughout Texas but literally around the world, Friends often saw visitors from far away who had read or heard about the bar. Reporters for major mainstream U.S. newspapers like the Washington Post contacted the bar’s management for comments on LGBT issues. In 2007, Out magazine named Friends one of the top 50 gay bars in the world, saying the atmosphere was the friendliest in the state, the fish tank was filled with well water and the drag queens’ hairdos tended to be big, much like they were.

In a clever complement to the drag shows, a local theater group known as Friends Players put on variety shows that were well attended by the lake’s gay and straight residents alike. The entire cast, including performers in full drag, traveled down the road to the American Legion Club a couple of times each year to put on performances.

But now, the music, acting, dancing and laughing are just memories for Bartlett, who opened the bar door late one afternoon this month to allow a few customers to retrieve several pieces of personal property. The walls that once were covered with pictures of bewigged drag queens wearing tiaras are now bare.

“It’s all over,” Bartlett said as he stood in the sunlight flowing through the open door into the dark bar. “I said my goodbyes on Facebook. It’s all there to read. I’ve thanked everyone. There’s really nothing else to say.”

Bartlett said sending out the Facebook message was painful for him, and he didn’t want to have one last party in the bar to mark its closing, although many former customers had hoped he would.

Bartlett.Leo

Leo Bartlett

“It would just be a funeral for me,” said Bartlett, who noted the bar’s net revenue had been on the decline for about three years, just as with many other lake businesses. “I didn’t see any point in that. I’ve already said my goodbyes.”
Bartlett said economic conditions on the lake led to Friend’s closing, and he didn’t blame it on the competition from a new gay bar, Garlow’s, that opened nearby two years ago.

He disputed the popular opinion among some members of the lake’s LGBT community that there weren’t enough customers on the lake for two gay bars, and that the newer, more attractive Garlow’s had stolen his customers.

“There were enough customers,” Bartlett said. “There just wasn’t enough participation. If you talk to the owners of the straight bars, you will hear the same thing from them. Everybody is having trouble.”

The lake has a sizable LGBT community made up of retirees, Dallas commuters and natives, but many just don’t enjoy the bar scene. The gay and lesbian population increases greatly on weekends, holidays and during the summers when LGBT second-home owners are in residence, but many of them also prefer not to go out to the nightclubs.

Last summer’s drought — which caused the lake to drop almost 8 feet, leaving boat docks sitting in sand and beaches where water once stood — finished Friends off, Bartlett said. People avoided the lake, and that made all of the lake’s businesses suffer, resulting in several businesses shutting down in 2011, he said.

“It was time for me to close,” said Bartlett, who also separated this year from his longtime life partner who had helped him run the bar. “It was 15 good years. That’s what is important.”

For many customers though, the closing has left a void, and some seem almost resentful about it. Many of Bartlett’s customers would not go to Garlow’s out of loyalty to Friends, but others who went to both bars are also disappointed. And some who didn’t go to Friends at all also expressed dismay.

Friends’ closing is a loss to the lake’s LGBT community, said Troy Luethe, who with his life partner owns a bed and breakfast in nearby Ben Wheeler. The couple once participated in the Friends Players productions and visited the bar socially as well.

“I think it is sad,” Luethe said. “I never like to see a business fail, and it was part of the history of the area and held a lot of memories for me and others.”

For Jennie Morris, another former member of Friends Players, it is more personal. She also went there socially to meet with her friends.

“I feel like I lost a good friend, really, and one of my major connections to the community,” Morris said. “As a member of Friends Players it has left a pretty big hole there, too.

Friends was my Cheers, I guess — a place where everybody knows your name. Friends was safe, comfortable and like an old flannel shirt — just home.”

Several former customers of Friends declined to comment for the story, saying they had mixed emotions. Some people complained that Bartlett ran the bar too much like a nonprofit organization rather than a business, and blamed its closing on that.

Michael Slingerland, owner of Garlow’s, said he was shocked when he first heard about Bartlett announcing the closing of Friends. Slingerland formerly worked part time at Friends as a bartender before opening his own business, which appears to be doing well.

“We’ve talked about it a lot here,” Slingerland said. “It’s really sad.”

Slingerland said he had hoped for a cooperative effort between the two bars that would have helped both prosper, but that never happened.

“We could have helped each other out a lot,” said Slingerland, who envisioned back-and-forth traffic between the two clubs.
Regardless of what factors led to the closing of Friends, it is now a reality that the bar is gone for good. Although Bartlett has said he has no plans to return to his nativeArkansas, he is exploring other options for his future life in the Cedar Creek area.

“I’m thinking about a number of things,” said Bartlett, who acknowledged being a “hermit” since he announced the closing.

In the meantime Bartlett has listed the building for sale or lease with a gay Cedar Creek Lake real estate agent. The ad might run something like this: “Little private club with an unusually intriguing past available for new operator and members.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Boy wonder

Patrick Mikyles brings a decidedly masculine vibe to S4’s drag stage

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR | Mikyles raised eyebrows when he was named newcomer of the year, defeating more than half a dozen female impersonators. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

 

DRACONIS VON TRAPP  |  Intern
intern@dallasvoice.com

Patrick Mikyles raises the roof Thursday nights at the Rose Room, but he also raises some eyebrows: Entertainers dressed as men aren’t the norm at the venue famous for its drag shows. But Mikyles has made his way into the ranks of queens and kings as a pioneer in his category.

Originally from Odessa, Mikyles started dancing in a show at Club Sin City there. His break came four years ago when he was supposed to dance back-up for a drag queen. At the last minute, the queen changed routines, so Mikyles approached the show director and asked if he could do a fill-in performance. The director agreed and said he could do the second show for $30. When Mikyles asked if he had to pay before or after he performed, the director gave him an odd look. “No, honey, I pay you $30.”

That was when Patrick Mikyles was born.

Since then Mikyles has performed at multiple clubs from Amarillo to Florida. He refers to himself as a “true male entertainer.”

“I can entertain the crowd with my clothes on,” Mikyles jokes.

While he doesn’t have a classical dance background, Mikyles has a eidetic memory when it comes to dance. He describes his style as “very energetic, go-getter” and says his influences range from Michael Jackson and Beyonce to James Brown. “It’s really eclectic,” he says. “There really is a lot of choreography that goes into it.”

When he first moved to Dallas, Mikyles set as his goal to be the first entertainer to work the Rose Room as a male.

“[The Rose Room] is a staple in drag and performing arts, I think. It’s really big for the LGBT community,” he says.

While he encountered controversy upon winning the newcomer contest, Mikyles soldiered through until he was accepted. He knew it would mean a lot for the drag king community and other male entertainers to become a regular at the club. Since achieving that, Mikyles has opened the door for other male entertainers and drag kings, giving confidence to performers who don’t specialize in female impersonation.

Even though he’s a crowd favorite and gets plenty of tips each show, Mikyles still gets a few odd looks backstage.

“I’ve met a lot of people while in the community,” he says. “Layla LaRue has been a mentor, and I’ve known some of the queens up there for years; they’re not strangers. But some of the up-and-coming girls are kind of uneasy about it. I think it’s just a matter of [them] not knowing me. I’m just an easy-going guy; I’m not here about the drama.”

It’s not just the other performers — sometimes the audience is unprepared for his act. The initial reaction can be something like, “What is this guy doing on stage?”

“By the second number they usually come around,” he says. (The main performers usually do two numbers a night between the amateur acts.)

Even as an experienced performer, Mikyles still gets nervous. How does he get pumped for a show? “I take in plenty of alcohol,” he quips, then adds quickly, “No, I’m kidding.”

He still prays before every show and lets the music move him. Some of the thoughts swirling through his head include, “Don’t fall,” “Are they gonna like me?” and “Am I gonna remember the steps?” And while much of what he does is choreographed, Mikyles still improvises.

Mikyles has also won Mr. Amarillo USofA and hopes to tour while getting a few more titles under his belt before trying an acting career on radio, television, stage and in film.

When he’s not on the dance floor, the 29-year-old works as a loan officer for Cash Store. “Some people say I’m a loan shark,” he chuckles. And when the work-week plods along, he always has Thursday to look forward to.

“Dallas has been great,” he says. “I didn’t think it would open its arms as much as it did. I still feel like a kid in a candy store.”

Mikyles performs at the Rose Room inside Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road on Thursdays. PartyAtTheBlock.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

What’s Brewing: Right-wing evangelist puts out ‘voters guide’ for Fort Worth city elections

Richard Clough

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A right-wing evangelist from Kenneth Copeland’s church has distributed a “voters guide” to Fort Worth city elections, the Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy reports. The Rev. Richard Clough, a failed political candidate operating under the name Texans for Faith and Family, sent questionnaires to city council candidates seeking their positions on so-called “precepts” about sharia law, abortion and, of course, LGBT issues. Nine of the 22 council candidates actually responded to the survey, with some indicating through their responses that they strongly oppose LGBT equality. So perhaps this is as much a voters guide for the LGBT community and its allies as it is for the fundies. View the candidates responses by going here.

2. East Dallas garden designer Robert Bellamy will host a second “Light A Fire” anti-bullying event benefiting Youth First Texas tonight, the Dallas Morning News reports. While the first “Light A Fire” event was geared toward teachers, this one will be geared toward parents. Speakers will include Dallas mayoral candidate Mike Rawlings, YFT director Sam Wilkes, Dotty Griffith from the American Civil Liberties Union, and Wendy Ringe of the Human Rights Campaign. Admission is free, but a $25 donation to Youth First Texas is suggested. The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary, 3120 McKinney Ave.

3. In its cover story this week, the Dallas Observer takes a look at the Latin American drag shows, or “travesty shows,” that have become popular at Taquerias around Dallas. Although the topic is hardly new, it’s a pretty good story with some really good photography. But we’re not sure some transgender advocates will appreciate the online headline for the article: “Tortillas and Trannies at Dallas Taquerias.”

—  John Wright