BY LIBBY PETERSON
After falling victim to a homophobic insult while out dancing last year, Olive Lykins decided that he had had enough. “That’s it,” he thought. “Bloomington needs a safe, fun place to dance where people will get your back if something like that happens.” Lykins teamed up with Sara Gardner to open a “queer bar” called The Back Door in the alley behind The Atlas Bar on South College.
Though it officially opened on Valentine’s Day, The Back Door had been hosting underground parties for months while still under renovation, including a Halloween Curious Cabaret and a New Year’s Eve party. It’s as much a performance space as a bar, Gardner says; burlesque dancers, drag shows, and hula-hoopers are just some of the acts so far.
“The bar developed this ‘what is going on here’ feel to it,” Lykins says. “And this is the perfect place to question your perceptions. It can get a little wild.” Inside, people can sit and chat on church pews or dance on casket holders used as tables. Local artist Jordan Trendelman painted the walls in a zebra pattern, and artist Nicci Boroski painted the bathrooms with erotic designs.
The Back Door’s coy name not only refers to the bar’s actual back door entrance but is also “a nod to the old-school gay clubs where people entered through back doors, sometimes with a secret knock,” Gardner says. The bar also pays tribute to local gay memorabilia—the 1970s painted brick sign from the bygone gay bar Bullwinkle’s, for example, sits in the bar’s entryway.
Besides drawing younger crowds, the bar attracts older gay and straight couples, the owners say. They want to add an early-bird time for senior citizens who want to dance and have fun at a feasible hour.
“We like to call this a ‘queer bar,’ not a ‘gay bar,’ because it’s open to everyone,” Gardner says. “If you like to dance and have fun, this place is for you.”