Deana Collins loves her “kids.” She also loves her children, sure, but when Collins says her “kids,” she means all the members of Atlanta’s LGBT community who pulled up a stool over the years at her various bars and clubs.
It started in the 1980s with Deana’s One Mo Time, then continued in the 1990s and 2000s with popular country bar Hoedowns and more recently 3-Legged Cowboy, which closed in 2011 but is still a theme night at the Heretic every Thursday.
So Collins has seen more than most members of the city’s gay community over the years and has lived to tell about it. Whether it’s avoiding arrest at drag shows, enduring the worst days of the AIDS crisis, succeeding in gay Atlanta nightlife or going through a recent bout of cancer, one thing’s for sure:
You can’t keep a good hoe down.
So Deana, you moved here from Jacksonville via Oakland in the 1960’s. What were those days like in Atlanta?
It was about 1961 and me and Billy Jones, we were the hoot, God rest his soul. There were so many of them old timers that were so wonderful. We were at the first [gay pride] march and they threw shit at us. There couldn’t have been 15 of us who had the balls to get out there. We marched to the Capitol.
And later on came Frank Powell, he had to own 13 damn bars. He went through hell. He had the Sweet Gum Head, that’s where I met most of the kids and queens I know today.
And back in the old days if you were a man that got caught in women’s clothes, they arrested them. When we did drag shows, we would take turns holding a flashlight outside the bar and we’d flash the lights back at the bar to let them know if cops were coming. Diamond Lil would remember all of that, she’s still crazy as hell and I love her.
The gay guys, I was more close to them. What do they call them, fag hags? I didn’t care what they called me, I just had a good time.
How did you get into the nightclub business?
Well, I used to help this girl out over at the Sports Page. Then from there…well, I had a benefactor and I don’t even know if I should use their name because they’re Coca-Cola heirs. The woman handed me a $100,000 check and said, “Deana, you can go build your dream or take off with this money.” And I said, “I’m going to build my dream,” and so I opened up Deana’s One Mo Time. Of course it was set up to pay back through her attorney.
She was gay and didn’t want nobody to know her business. She could see how hard I worked at the bar. I’d take a knife and pull up gum off the floor, I worked in the kitchen, whatever they needed.
When did Deana’s One Mo Time open?
1986 I think. Right on Cheshire Bridge, it was right next door to that strip club that’s on the corner now [Onyx].
Right in the middle of the AIDS crisis.
It was the most devastating thing. And boy our community came together. They were champions. People tried to blame us for the AIDS. I was a resident manager over at Peachtree Hills Apartments and had rented all the apartments to gay guys, then all of a sudden comes this flier saying not to rent to gay people because they have AIDS. So the manager fired me for renting to all these gay guys.
I’ll tell you one damn thing, those women were champions when their brothers came down with AIDS. These gals they came with TVs, they came with money, they came with everything they could to help.
Then you moved from Deana’s One Mo Time to Hoedowns on Monroe in the 1990s.
I’m the originator of Hoedowns and the thing of it is that the people that went in there [gay businessman Ben Elliott, who later became a majority shareholder and is currently in prison for wire fraud and money laundering], they didn’t honor what they said they would do, which was keep it country and not change anything. They tore a lot of stuff out of there. It was making money but you know how people get. Too many partners sometimes is not a good thing, honey.
How did you come up with the name 3-Legged Cowboy?
I just love John Wayne. I still have an eight-foot tall statue of him at my house. John Wayne was in this one movie and he’d come walking up with a cane and he was laughing and says, “Well I guess you could call me a three-legged cowboy now.” Well, I didn’t think of that meaning someone’s penis. That thought didn’t occur to me but it did for all of the kids [laughs]. Oh jeez.
What do you remember best about those times?
Billy Jones was my favorite. He’s infamous, believe me. He was always in drag, doing Shirley Temple shit or something like that. You would have loved it, he made you laugh. Every year I’d put him in the Pride parade in a limousine.
The one thing I really miss is our Christmas tree. I would spend Christmas Eve down with the kids and some of them wouldn’t have a place to go. I’d always have presents for them. It was my thing, it was fun.
You’ve had some health troubles recently.
I went through 28 rounds of radiation. [The cancer] was in my nose of all places. Emory was very good to me. It was 2012 and I had to go every single day—it was a nightmare. But hey, I woke up and there weren’t no dirt on my face!
I’d go in there and jack everybody up. Everybody, the staff and some of the patients, had Hoedowns T-shirts on saying “You can’t keep a good hoe down.” They’ll remember that for a long time [laughs].
How are you doing healthwise these days?
Well I’m supposed to be okay. And hey, I don’t think about it. I just kind of let it go and put it in God’s hands. Just like I had to do the bar, I had to put it in God’s hands. But I hated to leave the kids, that was the worst thing. I think that had to be even worse than the cancer. I’m sure there’s some that didn’t like me but that didn’t matter, I loved them.
What’s the biggest difference with the LGBT community now and in those days?
Ahh they’re too damn cocky today. They need to get off them damn phones with that texting and crazy shit.
[Laughs] Not a big fan of texting?
Uh! I hate it! I hate cellphones, I hate the computers. We need that physical contact, we need to look in each other’s eyes before we make out [laughs]. You ain’t conning me.