As far as I know, I am not queer. And if I thought I were, nothing would change much, really. I would have a boyfriend instead of a girlfriend. Or maybe I wouldn't. My parents might look at me with furrowed brows for a while, but they always did that. My friends, many of whom have theorized on occasion that I was gay anyway, wouldn't care.
Thing is, I only like girls.
Yet I do have some idea what it feels like to be queer in a world that hates queers.
Once while living in Los Angeles, I was attacked by a carload of self-proclaimed gay bashers. I remember each guy had a shaved head and repeated "fuckin' fag" and "butt-fucker" as they laid in. One of the bastards got me good in the chest with a baseball bat. Lots of blood and pain were involved. Later that day, the unsympathetic cops told me there had been a rash of similar "hate-related" attacks on gays in the area.
While living in Manhattan -- one of the queer-friendliest cities on Earth -- I rode the subway home nightly from my job at a record shop in the Village. And if it was late, men of all shapes and sizes would invariably proposition me -- men who looked like they had wives and kids in the 'burbs. I would politely tell them I was not at all interested and that I was very much straight. After one such encounter, I was beaten up by a gaggle of punks who witnessed the proposition and thought me a boy whore.
Other times I have been hassled, harassed and tormented, and called a homo, many times while arm in arm with a girlfriend, or just standing in line at a Circle K.
Predictable as mud sliding downhill, it is always the same hilarious foul-mouth stereotype: the ruddy-faced homophobe long on tool belts and pickup trucks and hours laying pipes in the sun.
All through junior high, I was called a fag. A few times, jock types slammed fists into my face. I figured this was the price for choosing guys like Oscar Wilde and Johnny Rotten as role models. I know for a fact that I was the only guy at Gridley Junior High in Tucson who was reading Phrases and Philosophies for the Use of the Young and listening to Never Mind the Bollocks. I had no friends and had punk rock hair in a sea of scrubbed-faced, intolerant aphids. I didn't last long in school.
So at 16, through like-minded friends, I discovered gay bars as places of refuge. Gay bars were places where a kid could be himself, in every sense of the word, whether you liked boys or girls or punk or glitter rock or homo writers or Ethel Merman or Sylvain Sylvain or wore Keith Richards eyeliner. It didn't matter. A person got in without judgment.
My point to all of this?
I drove past the 307 lounge on Roosevelt in the shadow of downtown Phoenix. 307 was the type of place I frequented as a kid. I have spent many nights in the 307. I noticed the place was shut down, dark and vacant. The club's parking-lot surveillance cameras were gone; so was the 307 sign. The parking lot was little more than a breeding ground for tumbleweeds. The yellowish, freestanding, rectangular building now resembles a large paper bag.
What? No more deep-voiced transgender belles, starlit and awkward in heels, making their way east on Roosevelt?
No mirthful mix of queens and pre- and post-op trannies, breeders and downtown art fags, all framed by De Grazia murals, Gershwin melodies, Budweiser bottles? No 307ers who personify such Wilde chestnuts as, "One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art"?
And the "drag" shows, the lip synchers all sassafras in twinkling sequins, layers of costume jewelry, makeup and tumescent wigs grinding to Diana Ross or TLC; have they taken leave from downtown as well?
The 307 lounge, at 222 East Roosevelt, was once considered the town's crème de la crème of seedy joints. In later years, it proved to be safer than your average downtown sports bar.
And to my relief, it turns out that the 307 is only relocating.
"This will be the third location for the 307," says Richard Black, a.k.a. Celia Putty, who works for Echo, a bi-monthly magazine regarded by many as the Valley's premier voice for the gay community. "The first 307 was actually at the address 307 (on Roosevelt), but that had been torn down years ago when they put up the Bank One building down there."
Black says the 307's lease is up, and the proprietors "wanted to move to a bigger location so they can start putting on an even better cabaret."
The 307 lounge has been a gay bar in Phoenix since the 1970s.
The new 307, I am told, is coming to Central Avenue and will be sandwiched between The Jungle strip joint and Kings lounge on one side and gay-friendly Crowbar and Amsterdam bar on the other. The new 307 will be at 504 North Central, to be exact. Hence the new moniker, 307 on Central.
Mike Elrod and a partner have owned the 307 lounge since 1995. Elrod says that along with the purchase of the historic building -- for years it was a downtown drugstore -- they have also snagged an empty lot adjacent that will guarantee ample parking. And the 307 on Central has correct zoning for after-hours.
Plans also include a food and beverage operation that will offer what Elrod describes at this point as "Grub."
"We want to fill a lot of niches when it comes to food and beverage downtown," says Elrod. "And as you know, the 307 and the Crowbar have quite a bit of crossover. I think that having all those gay bars together on that part of Central will have a second center of gravity for the gay community downtown. And of course there is always after-hours appeal. I think it would be great to have a gay-friendly [place], or partygoer-friendly, as much as anything, for people from the Crowbar, the 307 and the Amsterdam to have some after-hours breakfast before they go home on Friday and Saturday nights."
307 on Central is set to open in April to coincide with the Gay Pride weekend.
"We have the Gay Pride parade and festival at Deck Park April 14th and 15th, I think," Elrod says. "And you get 5,000 homo-Americans downtown, it would be a good time to have a grand opening."
For years the old 307 has been blamed for bringing a male prostitution and druggy element to the neighborhood. So the 307 has had to be straight up with the city and the liquor board on all accounts. The 307 lounge shows a record of few liquor violations.
"We are pretty straight arrows about all our things," says Elrod, "and we take our responsibilities seriously. We want to be held accountable for the type of operation we are."
The old 307 building is rumored to be the impending home of the much-storied gay bar Cruisin' on Central.
The old building sports a 47-foot-long Ettore "Ted" De Grazia mural along one interior wall. The mural, created in 1950, is more of an eyesore than anything, its relevance having more to do with the romantic notion of a struggling artist drunkenly dabbling away in exchange for a bar tab.
De Grazia was known to say, "I always assess the value of my work in shots of whiskey."
". . . we left the place in good order," Elrod says. "Of course, the De Grazia is in excellent shape."
Black says nobody should lament the closing of the old 307.
"It's a hurrah, actually," he says. "The new location will be bigger and better."
Is Elrod going to miss the old location?
"To tell you the truth, I was really not nostalgic about leaving," he says. "There have been so many problems. The old location had terrific problems with water, heat and electrical. It had no heat. So it will be nice to start from scratch in this building and put together something that is both fun and stylish."
Elrod promises more of the same, only better. A lounge, he says, that will be intimate and welcoming, and also fun and funky, "like the old place." And, of course, the drag shows.
Besides, the 307 can never once be accused of taking itself too seriously. That would be gauche.
Contact Brian Smith at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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