LGBTQ community bids farewell to Louisville gay bar ahead of pride month

In the days leading up to Christmas, Mike Flatt and his team were wrapping hundreds of gifts for Tryangles customers.

The owner of the bar knew that many of them did not have a home they would be welcome in for the holidays.

So, in many ways, the recently closed Louisville gay bar has become their home.

This meant that on Christmas everyone was leaving the bar with armfuls of goodies, and on Thanksgiving people crowded into the bar for a full turkey dinner. When the bar first opened in the early 90s, fewer families were kissing gays and their partners. Getting home from mom and dad meant her customers often had to pretend to be someone they weren’t at the table or the men they loved weren’t invited. So Flatt decorated the hallways and put on the best possible celebration.

Acceptance of the LGBTQ community is not universal today, but it has certainly increased. This means that while there are more inclusive and safe spaces around town for the LGBTQ community, it creates a sort of loss for places like Tryangles which traditionally cater to a specifically gay crowd.

Flatt saw the declineamong patrons over the years as her Thanksgiving table cleared up and her clientele became more comfortable in traditional bars.

Mike flatt

Today, gay men have so many other places to go, Flatt saidme when I met him on a South Indiana porch in late June, about a month after Tryangles closed its doors for goodat 209 S. Preston St. They can comfortably walk into any bar on Bardstown Road or downtown Louisville.

It’s a beautiful, but difficult, problem for anyone who owns a traditional gay bar, he said.

Tryangles hadn’t really made any money in about 12 years, Flatt told me. After nearly three decades of activity, the bar could no longer maintain itself.

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Flatt has since moved to Mexico, but I hadn’t followed himon a recent trip back to town to talk about the drop. When the bar closed in May, it was Louisville’s oldest gay bar and an institution for the LGBTQ community. So in tribute, I spent timeafter closing by chatting with the people who were instrumental in the heyday of Tryangles.

Flatt was frank with me when we first met. He was never a drinker and the whole story of “owning a bar” started as fluke.

Flatt bought his original bar, Teddy Bears at 1148 Garvin Place, on a whim for $ 2,700 in 1987. The previous owner needed the cash quickly, and Flatt had a wad of it in his pocket because ‘he was buying old paintings.

The old Tryangles bar, on South Preston Street in downtown Louisville, Ky. June 17, 2021

He didn’t know anything about drinking culture or running a bar, he told me, but he figured he could throw beer. He was right, and about seven years later that success spread to a second bar with Tryangles.

Flatt hired Teddy Bears bartender Richard McLargin Jr., better known among the guests as “Turtle,” to run the yard at Tryangles. They left him with “a lot of wood and a lot of money” and from there he created a country western themed bar with a corral-like dance floor, porches and a bar that was supposed to look like downtown. .

The focal point was a saddle adorned with a mosaic of small mirrors to make it look like a disco ball.

“It was beautiful, and it was sharp as hell,” McLargin recalled, as he described hanging it on the wall.

Tryangles was supposed to open on April 1, 1994, he recalls, but that was postponed. When the carpet appeared just days before opening, it was pink – and it wasn’t meant to be pink.

“Don’t look outside,” McLargin recalls telling Flatt and his partner, Charles Baker Sr.

“It’s a gay bar, isn’t it?” the carpet company told McLargin, which infuriated everyone involved.

A black carpet was installed instead and Tryangles opened a week later.

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Tryangles float participants at the 15th Annual Kentuckiana Pride Parade in Louisville.  June 19, 2015

The back room has evolved like the bar, Flatt recalls. Connections, near 120 S. Floyd St. was the popular place to dance, so eventually they reinvented this corral and brought in strippers instead.

They were energetic and talented straight boys who submitted to the University of Louisville.

One became a doctor and another has since secured a prominent position at a large Louisville company, said Flatt, speaking proudly of them and also carefully to avoid revealing their past as a dancer.

Privacy, as you can imagine, is essentialfor many in the LGBTQ community.

This is part of the reason why there are no photos of the 27-year-old’s nightlife attached to this column. Photos from the early days of Tryangles are exceptionally difficult to find.

Flatt had nothing of the interior on hand, and even as we perused the shutter bar’s Facebook page, he was respectful tothe bar clientele. He has spent nearly three decades protecting his family. It wasn’t going to stop now that the doors were closed.

Darrell Robinson, a retired drag queen known as Cissy Blake, told me he had always felt like part of this family. Stepping into Tryangles was like stepping into that bar from the sitcom “Cheers”. The bartenders knew his drink, which was vodka, soda, and a dash of orange juice. He had hisown stool and he spent most afternoons at Tryangles during happy hour. For a brief period, he hosted a karaoke for the bar, which filled Tryangles with endlessshow arias and songs by Elvis Presley.

It was the kind of place where if you walked in as a foreigner, you didn’t stay a foreigner for long.

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A painting by Louisville Archivist David Williams of the exterior of Tryangles, a popular Louisville gay bar that recently closed.

Robinson, who was one of the first publicly HIV positive people in Louisville, remembers young gay men coming to the bar, pulling him aside, and confiding their own status on him. During his own trip, he fell to 133 pounds and his outlook grew so bleak that his family put a marker on his funeral plot.

“If I can get through this, you can get away with it,” he would say to the frightened men at the bar, trying to be the moment of light they were looking for.

In many cases, Tryangles had been his family, especially when his own family began to disappear. He also wanted to be that for others.

The warmth you felt upon entering the bar was really what set it apart from its competition, Robinson told me.

It was theattitude Flatt insisted on, and that was part of the reason he named his first bar Teddy Bears. He didn’t want someone to walk into his business without a hug. He tried to keep the bar to become click-ish. The people who came to his bar were his friends. They didn’t just buy him drinks. Flatt invited many of them to his home in southern Indiana and for day trips on his boat. When they were going through difficult times, he often paid their water or electricity bills.

A poster of Tryangles last night.

He tried to build a culture of love and acceptance for people, who often never felt it elsewhere.

Eventually, however, Flatt’s health declined and about 13 years ago he began dividing his time between Louisville and Mexico City. He hung on to the building, but handed the business over to the son he and Baker raised together. As the bar struggled and finances dwindled, the sale of the building became necessary.

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He is proud that the place of the LGBTQ community in this city has evolved so much that his family feels comfortable wherever they want to go.

It hurt, however, to see the bar close. It was like losing a piece of himself.

It doesn’t change what space meant to him for 27 years. As he spoke about what he had created, his smile was as striking as that beautiful, beautiful mirrored saddle.

“I had fun,” he told me. “It was the main thing, I had fun. No matter where I went I wanted people to have fun and this is how I lived my life. Trying to make everyone have a smile on their face. “

Specialist columnist Maggie Menderski can be reached at [email protected]

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement