PPP loan and crowdfunding: how Gainesville’s only gay bar survived the pandemic
The University Club will transform its space from a beloved nightclub where you can dance for hours on end into a place of entertainment showcasing new talent and talent.
The historic bar is committed to adapting to ensure the safety of its patrons and hopes those changes will be completed by the end of the year, said show director Jay Brooks, also known as drag performer Kelly Kelly.
The club hopes that by adding more talent and shows per night, it will encourage people to stick around for a show and a drink rather than dancing and partying in large groups, Kelly said.
The University Club celebrated its 30th anniversary this year. Kenny Scott, 57, has been employed since it opened. With the exception of the Spectrum Disco in the 1980s, a popular club located in what is now High Dive, the University Club was the only LGBTQ nightlife space in Gainesville.
Members of the LGTBQ community speak out on the importance of nightlife. Places like University Club were once the only places gay people could really be themselves, Kelly said. Often shunned by loved ones because of their gender or sexual identity, people find a new loving community in these spaces.
“You can go to any club to party, but you go to a gay club to call a family,” Kelly said. “We can’t just wake up and walk outside and say, ‘Let’s go to this super comfortable place right now where I can be with people who are like me, who think like me.’ You don’t understand this unless you are at a gay club.
University Club employees have formed their own families over the years; It is the one who welcomes people of all identities and expressions.
Daryl Marshall, 33, said he was looking for a gay bar where he moved to Gainesville for college about five years ago. He frequented the club as a boss and eventually became a bartender.
When Alachua County enacted its stay-at-home ordinance in March, non-essential businesses like the University Club shut down. It remained closed for most of the summer. The University Club briefly reopened for about two weeks in June, but closed again when cases increased, Kelly said.
Not being able to work was like losing a piece of your family, Marshall said.
College club management was able to pay their employees through a payment protection program through the Small Business Administration for about three pay periods, Scott said.
While management knew they could manage the first two months without earning any income, Kelly Kelly said she created a GoFundMe page in late June called “The Family Fund of the University Club” to cover the club’s rent and other expenses, as well as to pay its employees. In just under two weeks, the page reached 90% of its goal of $ 10,000.
“The community just showed up and really rallied behind us,” Kelly said.
Scott said it’s important for places like the University Club to be open because it shows someone’s got their backs. For Scott, the financial impact is not the hardships throughout this pandemic. The connection loss is.
Others in the service and entertainment industry agree. Eveleena Fults, also known as Ivy Les Vixens, is the frontman of the burlesque troupe Les Vixens. A frequent University Club artist, Fults said being able to entertain for your community helps people feel more connected to each other. Entertainment, even in the LGBTQ community, is primarily aimed at men, Fults said.
“Someone struggling with their identity can come and see a show and see these powerful queer women do their thing and own it and be proud and proud,” she said. “Just to be a proud and open lesbian, in all spaces, and to represent our community wherever I go and whatever stage I am on. For me, it’s a responsibility, but it’s also kind of what I prefer.
When theaters closed, artists like Fults and Kelly Kelly switched to digital shows to maintain their livelihood.
Playing online from home doesn’t compare to the glitter, bright lights, and cheering fans provided by the University Club. Fults said she went from more than 15 shows a month to nothing. “Going digital is sucking my soul a bit,” Fults said.
These artists took the pandemic as a learning experience to try something new. Now they need to know how to set up digital platforms, stream and wear protective gear while delivering signature looks, Kelly said.
We have entered an era of digital switchover, Kelly said. The drag and burlesque shows at the University Club are offered at no additional cost to visitors, so the performers rely heavily on public advice. This aspect of entertainment is popular in LGBTQ clubs across the country, which makes these spaces even more special.
Digital tipping through apps like Venmo and Cash App allows people who are still hesitant to go out to contribute to their favorite artists as well as people in person who use money less often, Kelly said.
Performers should also be aware of all rules and regulations implemented to maintain safety and health.
These rules are something the University Club strictly follows, Scott said.
Hand sanitizer bottles are placed throughout the club and visitors are encouraged to wash their hands every 30 minutes in the available bathrooms upstairs and downstairs. Masks are mandatory for entry but can be removed for drinking drinks. Scott said he uses more plastic cups when serving drinks to minimize the spread of germs. He also makes sure to disinfect everything frequently throughout his shift.
Scott tries not to worry too much about the future. “It’s kind of like a yo-yo,” he said, watching the number of COVID-19 cases go up and down. He said he was concerned the University Club would have to shut down again if there was a spike in cases. For now, he will continue to follow the strict guidelines the club has in place to protect not only its customers, but most importantly, its employees.