A year after arsonists destroyed Denton’s only gay bar, owner Kelly Sanders prepares to open the doors on a new, bigger space
DENTON — Mable Peabody’s Beauty Salon and Chainsaw Repair may not be rising from the ashes, but it’s rising near them.
One year after the city’s only gay bar was gutted by arson, owner Kelly Sanders is preparing to reopen in a bigger, better location that’s less than a block away.
Mable Peabody’s, which first opened in 1979, has been closed since fire destroyed the bar’s previous home at 1125 University Drive on March 21, 2007.
Sanders, who’s owned Mable Peabody’s for the last 14 years, said she’s awaiting the necessary permits so she can reopen the bar in a building she’s remodeling at 1215 E. University Drive. The new building is more than twice the size of the old one and, unlike its predecessor, directly fronts the roadway.
"We’ve got a little ways to go, but I’m going to be very proud of it," Sanders said recently, adding that she’s hoping to reopen within the next several weeks.
Sanders and others have speculated that arsonists targeted Mable Peabody’s because it was a gay bar, but Denton fire officials say there’s no evidence to suggest the incident was a hate crime.
The arson investigation remains open, according to Denton Fire Marshal Rick Jones, and there are no suspects.
Jones said although he can’t rule out anti-gay bias, there were no threats prior to the arson and nothing had been written on the walls of the burned-out structure. Jones said whoever broke in to the bar emptied coin-operated machines and a cash register before setting the blaze.
"Obviously, the bar was targeted to be burglarized, and it was targeted to be set on fire," Jones said. "I won’t know the motive behind that until we catch the individuals or individuals who did it."
Regardless of whether it was fueled by hate, the arson had a chilling impact on Denton’s LGBT community.
Mable Peabody’s was torched less than two weeks after a suspect was acquitted in a gay-bashing assault that occurred on a busy Denton street in December 2005.
In response to the fire, the LGBT community rallied around Sanders, putting on a benefit at Buddies II in Dallas that raised more than $10,000.
Sanders, who didn’t have insurance, initially planned to reopen Mable Peabody’s in the old building. But, she said, the owner sold the building shortly after the fire, and it took several months for her to find a new location.
Sanders said she regularly receives e-mails and phone calls from people wanting to know when Mable Peabody’s will reopen. She also said people have volunteered to help remodel the new building.
Adam Reese, a longtime customer of Mable Peabody’s, said when the bar reopens, it will fill a void left by the fire in the college town.
"It’s kind of a home away from home," Reese said. "You really can’t be who you are in any other place."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 21, 2008