Atlanta’s skyline is changing. Along with the iconic high-rises, cranes building new condos find themselves in the silhouette. And with new condos come new people, which brings new concerns for the preservation of history in LGBT Atlanta.

“Throughout the years, there have been instances of bullying, meaning that the residents and visitors in Midtown, they disagree with what the fabric of Midtown is, so they try to change it,” said resident Jason Dabbs. “They want their neighborhood to be exactly like they want it to be. They don’t want the gay bar. They don’t want the bar that has the dance music on Sunday afternoon, because they are seeing that the price of the property would probably increase if they eliminated anything that was not bright and shiny.”

Following repeated alleged harassment of lesbian bar My Sister’s Room and the cluster of LGBT bars around the rainbow crosswalks of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue, Dabbs was inspired to create the I Am Midtown movement: an empowerment movement aimed to end bullying against these and other businesses.

Right now, it has an active Facebook group and members are planning rallies at local bars and restaurants. Dabbs said members hope to raise money to help business owners recoup some of the money they have to pay for the noise violation calls being placed against them by residents in the new condo complexes.

“The goal of I Am Midtown is not to make money, but to balance what’s existing so we can keep the fabric of Midtown there. We want it to be there in 20 years,” he said.

Dabbs defined the “fabric of Midtown” as “a community that welcomes everyone without bias, without judgment” and one that is open to a difference of opinion, while also respecting what those who came before worked so hard to achieve.

“Our population, everyone’s coming. It’s progress that we can’t really stop, but maybe we could guide it into the right direction,” he said.

I Am Midtown founder Jason Dabbs

Atlanta resident Jason Dabbs started the I Am Midtown movement in late 2017 after repeated — allegedly unfounded — noise complaints were filed against lesbian bar My Sister’s Room, TEN and Blake’s on the Park by residents in nearby condos. (Courtesy photo)

In the crossfire

“There’s a couple, a husband and wife, that moved in adjacent to the [Blake’s on the Park] parking lot. They immediately started bullying the owner of TEN for the music being too loud. We’re talking normal business hours, 9:00 on a Saturday night,” Dabbs said. “They started the same thing with other businesses right there.”

Dabbs said the owner of TEN spoke with the complainants, who told them that he wanted to work together for a common goal. The couple appeared to agree, but according to Dabbs, allegedly began making moves intended to have the LGBT bars shut down. This included taking photos of trash in the streets and parking lots near the businesses, and complaining about gay couples kissing in public.

“Now there’s a resident at 77 12th Street that lives across the street from the lesbian bar My Sister’s Room, constantly complaining about the karaoke,” Dabbs said. “Every time that a resident calls the police and reports a noise ordinance, it costs the bar $50. The owners had the same resident call the police several times in one night; multiple times over the course of the month.”

My Sister’s Room opened in Midtown three years ago after a long history in East Atlanta Village.

“It’s never our bar. It’s usually another club making the noise — or there’s no clubs making noise,” co-owner Jen Maguire said. “The police are being called to our establishment because they have to answer every call. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the police department’s been like, ‘Why is she calling on you guys?’”

The neighbor who makes the complaints wishes to remain anonymous. The Maguires met with former Mayor Kasim Reed, two LGBT liaisons, Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields and other city officials to discuss what they say is harassment. Likewise, Dabbs said members of I Am Midtown met with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who indicated “she is on board to fight with us.”

“Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is aware of the alleged false noise violation reports against some of the longstanding neighborhood LGBTQ bars,” a spokesperson for Mayor Bottoms told Georgia Voice. “Atlanta’s LGBTQ community are a critical part of our city’s diversity and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated in the city of Atlanta. LGBTQ-owned businesses are welcomed in every neighborhood of this city. Mayor Bottoms looks forward to working in partnership with APD, the Midtown venues and neighborhood organizations to ensure that Atlanta continues to honor its core values of diversity and inclusivity in all our communities.”

Jen Maguire is frustrated with MSR being singled out.

“This has been going on for three years. We’re a small business paying triple the amount of rent in Midtown. We’re in East Atlanta for seven years, had neighbors behind us, never, ever had the cops called on us. We’ve probably had the cops called on us 200 times at least,” Jen Maguire said. “The last one, I had had it. The cop came in a paddy wagon and this is the second time they came in a paddy wagon to our bar. I said, ‘This is embarrassing.’ They pull up out front with the blue lights on. I feel like we’re becoming known as a trouble spot because the cops always come up out front.”

The Maguires met the complainant on several instances. She’s called the bar and screamed over the phone at them, and one day walked into the bar to scream at the bartender.

“She does straight up not like black people or white people and gay people,” Maguire said. “One day she called and said I had too many black people out in front of the bar, and that was why we had cops outside. … If that lady wants us gone, I’d be happy for her to buy us out of our lease.”

Maguire’s wife and co-owner, Jami, echoed her concerns. Both said My Sister’s Room plans to find a new location when its lease is up because of the problems.

“Other cities, if you move next to a bar, that’s what you did. Here in Atlanta, the city is like, ‘Oh, this poor person having to listen to this bar that’s been there for over 30 years,’” Jami Maguire said. “I feel like Atlanta is favoring churches and residents over the entertainment industry that brings millions and millions of dollars into the city. Atlanta needs to change its way of thinking.”

APD speaks out

Similar noise complaints plagued LGBT bars during 2017 Atlanta Black Pride Weekend, when Atlanta police forced several locations to close early, despite a city ordinance allowing them to be open past regular Sunday night business hours.

If a resident reports a noise violation, a patrol unit is dispatched.

“If no violation is found, no further action is taken,” Atlanta Police Zone 5 Commander Maj. Darin Schierbaum told Georgia Voice. “If the officer believes a violation is occurring, then he or she will meet with the manager to seek voluntary compliance with the noise ordinance. A return call could result in a citation being issued.”

He said if a caller is found to be intentionally falsely reporting businesses for noise violations, that caller could potentially be charged. As for businesses that feel they’re being harassed, Schierbaum said there’s the possibility to seek private and civil relief “if a matter does not rise to a criminal offense, but is still deemed by the citizen to cause harm.”

“The zone commander remains available to meet with any individual who wishes to discuss concerns related to their home or business in Midtown. The Atlanta Police Department values the vibrancy and diversity of Midtown, and is committed to providing for the safety and security of residents and business owners alike,” Schierbaum said.

He told Georgia Voice that in the last year, 42 noise complaints were logged against My Sister’s Room and six against Blake’s on the Park. None resulted in citations. However, he said, “no citations” may mean that a violation was observed, but a manager voluntarily lowered the volume or took other steps to address the issue.

Stitching a new fabric

“If we sit back and don’t do anything, then the neighborhood that is there for you, your family and friends to come and enjoy an afternoon dancing at TEN or eating at Campagnolo … that’s being taken away from us. That’s being taken away from you,” Dabbs said. “Midtown is everybody’s. It’s not gay, it’s not straight, it’s everybody’s.”

Fears of stalwart LGBT bars closing are the latest in a series of events to threaten Midtown’s history as a gay Mecca. Cowtippers — which won several placards in Georgia Voice’s Best of Atlanta awards over the years — announced it will close later this month, and bars around the Cheshire Bridge area and the BeltLine face mixed feelings as to their future. Jungle Atlanta shuttered its doors late last year, and recently courts told Tokyo Valentino, an adult store, that it couldn’t remain open on Cheshire Bridge because it violated the city’s adult entertainment ordinance.

“Clearly, they are trying to ‘clean up’ Atlanta from gay everything,” Georgia Voice reader Cazenrique Oliveira said via Facebook.

Readers Jason Hall and Justin Ziegler, however, attributed the change more to assimilation of LGBT individuals into the mainstream population.

“If we are talking about bars, clubs, restaurants with a primarily LGBT audience, I think location-based dating and hook-up apps have been more influential in their decline than development of new, high-density residential [developments],” Ziegler, a realtor, said. “I think the increased acceptance of LGBT people has also made it easier for people to be comfortable in places that aren’t necessarily LGBT-centric.”

Jen Maguire said it’s up to LGBT Atlanta and its allies to make sure these businesses survive.

“Come back. Where the hell are you guys?” Jen Maguire said. “We’re getting shut down because there’s not enough support. Come support your LGBT-owned businesses, your black-owned businesses. We’re not saying you have to come to the bar every day, but … if we want to save our bars, come out and support. We’re fighting the good fight to try to keep these bars and establishments alive.”

Dabbs hopes developers will consider the legacy they want to leave.

“Are you going to be just another mid-rise condo that looks the same everywhere, or will you represent some of the community that developed there over the last 20 or 30 years? That is a really good balance if you just look for it,” he said.

For the neighbors who aren’t enthused about being so close to bars, LGBT or not, Dabbs wants them to come off their porches and become part of that Midtown fabric.

“Take some time to get to know us. Go to the bars. Go to the restaurants. Give your community a chance,” he said. “You might find that you have some great friends.”

12 Responses

  1. Kimber

    There’s a lot of interesting points in this article.
    First I would like to say if you buy a home near already established bars then tough shit, get over it.
    Second I would like to say I think it’s a good thing that it’s becoming less of a need to hide my gayness in a gay establishment. Yes that means the gay bars are losing business but in the big picture this is what we and gays before us have been fighting for.
    Third most of the gay bars only cater to 20 somethings that love the music so loud you can’t even talk to whomever you’re there with but those of us that are grown ass adults not looking for a hook up, it’s not our idea of fun. This of us that are in stable lasting relationships like to be able to talk to each other and our friends, eat good food, drink good drinks and if there’s entertainment it’s not so loud that we can’t hear anything else.
    Not to mention even the 20 somethings don’t need a club to hook up anymore. There’s a million apps for that now.
    Just my thoughts…

    Reply
  2. THOTpolice

    The comments about location-based apps and increased acceptance in general are hogwash. Grindr debuted in 2009 and the gay bars have gotten more and more crowded the whole time I’ve lived here. We had Adam4Adam and Manhunt years before that and gay.com since the 90s. Try again boo. Feeling more comfortable in a straight establishment doesn’t make me want to surround myself with more straight people and stop enjoying gay culture. That makes no flippin sense. I’m going to suddenly stop drinking alcohol and dancing because of an iPhone app. No flippin sense. I’m going to start hanging out at Johnny’s Hideaway and MJQ because the only thing keeping me at Blake’s and Ten were my personal discomfort of being an insecure gay in a straight world I’ve already been in for 21+ years. Again no flippin sense. Need to stop jumping on thought trends and open our eyes to what’s really going on.

    The actual reason that bars are closing are gentrification of the gayborhoods. Of course a real estate agent doesn’t want to bring up the actual reason because that’s his meal ticket on the line. Also, the City of Atlanta has done a piss poor job of valuing LGBT nightlife. COA has bullied Eagle, Batob Bob, Xion, Blake’s/Ten and even the LGBT police officers thought it would be a great idea to bring PADDY WAGONS to midtown to shut down the bars???? These people haven’t heard about stonewall and saying they are gay??? And acting qualified to be a liaison??

    Help us Jesus. Grindr and Acceptance are the least of our worries.

    Reply
  3. Richard

    How is it that no calls resulted in citations yet it costs $50 each time the police come?

    Reply
  4. Douglas

    Lame article. Headline should read failing businesses seek sympathy despite law breaking. Bad owners, gullible supporters.

    Reply
  5. Dennis Collard

    A good read for Midtown residents and the whole LGBT Atlanta community! In my view, if someone buys a home adjacent to any historic feature that includes a certain amount of noise, or the presence of people – whether that historic feature is gay bars and restaurants at 10th and Piedmont or any bar or restaurant in any of Atlanta’s many historical in-town neighborhoods – then the buyer must accept that local flavor. Don’t buy your house and then try to change the neighborhood. We cannot allow Atlanta to become all steel and glass. And as for Midtown, ironically, once again, it’s “the gays” who improved this area, house after house, after the blight of the 70’s and 80’s, and now people want to say, hey thanks for the awesome neighborhood, now pack up your bars and restaurants and get out. It’s frustrating and we need to stand firmly against it.

    Reply
  6. Patrick

    These a$$hats bought a townhouse that is literally in the parking lot of a bar. WTH did they expect? Don’t live in the City if you expect 24/7 peace and tranquility; take your overly sensitive ass back to Cobb!

    Reply
  7. George Max

    Hold on. These business take on leases in full knowledge that have neighbors all around them then wonder why they get upset when they hold outdoor parties until whatever hour in the morning. Did MSR not realize they had a massive condo development opposite? Same for 10 and the Azure building. That hole in the ground opposite wont stay like that long. Look up everyone Midtown is changing. Figure out how to work with others, stop living in the past.

    Reply
  8. Dave

    I have been going and lived in Midtown for years near 10th street. I Just love it and it should be saved. We all love to go out from time to time and enjoy ourselves and our friends. These people who move next to a bar, or in the vacinity of Gay pride Events or establishments, knew it before they moved here or should have known what it was and done their homework first. tough s..t if they didn’t. These people who are causing fines and so on because they don’t want anything gay including kissing in the park in MIdtown are insane and they should either accept it or get over it and move AWAY if they don’t like Midtowns presence of entertainment. WE WERE HERE FIRST!!
    We(some of us now 50-60) helped shape and build Midtowns acceptance of surroundings by supporting the clubs for many years including myself going to Blake’s and other clubs weekly, some that even came and went previously-Our money spent! I still go out to enjoy myself. If it wasn’t for some of our help, the LGBTQ community wouldn’t be what it is today in Midtown, Cheshire Bridge and Ponce.
    I’m glad Ms Lance Bottoms is on our side. Maybe she will change things for the better for all of us, our clubs and entertainment mega plex! If we don’t save it, what will become of our hard work getting as far as we have got, as of today, on so many issues?!
    Yes, maybe there are some things that need to be addressed like the 20 year olds getting into too many drugs at clubs on the dance floor, or whatever. That is up to the individual but happens in all walks of life, not only gay-that’s stereotyping. Hopefully things will get better. We Shall Survive! (Gloria Gaynor)

    Reply
  9. wogo

    City of Atlanta is doing some very poor planning on Midtown development. Handing out permits like candy. Stop and think it through a little bit, put some space between retail, restaurant bar and high rises.

    Reply
  10. shoshoina

    noisy bars with lots of drunks and smokers and low paying jobs make bad neighbors. I don’t see them as particularly desirable businesses to encourage

    Reply

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