Hunky’s move will cost gay community some history

Re: "Coming to Crossroads: Hunky’s to move to old site of coffee shop after renovation project" (Dallas Voice, July 31).

Some 25 years ago, the Dallas gay community was a very different place. Oak Lawn was a vibrant community of apartment dwellers that patronized the establishments on Cedar Springs, reviving the area, while also attracting gays from all over to a place they felt safe and comfortable. Halloween was not a sponsored, organized event where the police were hired to close the street; Halloween was something that spilled out onto the street from the bars. It grew so large that the police had to come just to control the traffic created by gawkers who’d come to see the show. I recall seeing drag queens sitting on the back of police cruisers with the police laughing all the way. I also recall seeing the police haul away gays and lesbians in police vans for no reason. The word AIDS was only two years old.

On the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton, a new tenant was taking the place of a precursor to the Container Store called The Space Place. That new tenant was Hunky’s. Started by David Barton and his brother Rick, the restaurant was an almost instant success. AIDS would ultimately take David away like so many others, including many employees of Hunky’s. It must be a sea of emotion that Rick Barton feels leaving that space, the memories, the good works, the charity, the camaraderie, the loyal customers, the parades, the Halloweens, the joy and all the sadness.

Things change, it is inevitable. But is change always necessary or better or right? Nobody in that area is paying $50 a square foot. Hunky’s was asked to do so because of its success. Commercial rents are falling. That is a fact that anyone with a TV is aware of. Somebody played chicken with the gay community’s history and lost. We are all losing something now, because of the greed of a commercial property owner.

At some point along the way, before gays were on TV or in political life openly, and about the time President Reagan finally brought himself to say the word "AIDS," Dallas’ gay leaders sat in Hunky’s or Crossroads Market and planned and organized the strategies that brought about many of the changes we take for granted today. Even though Hunky’s will be across the street, something will be lost of the gay community’s history. Before very long, all that may be left us in Oak Lawn is the monument recently erected on the corner of Cedar Springs and Oak Lawn. While nice, it is hardly a substitute for real tangible spaces and institutions. That is incredibly sad.

One of the tactics used back then was to boycott those who mistreated us. The landlords of the current Hunky’s have not discriminated against the gay community per se, but their actions show a lack of sensitivity. The fact that Hunky’s was told the matter was not up for negotiation was particularly uncouth.

I personally will never set foot in that space again until someone else owns the building. I will do it for myself, for those who went before me and for those still to come, so that the corner of Cedar Springs and Throckmorton will continue to exist as a reminder — a reminder of what a once-reviled minority can accomplish in relatively a short period of time and the sacrifices that made that accelerated success possible.

Michael Amonett

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 7, 2009.
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