Three years ago, I was writing a story for this paper on the local gay political scene. Spent a lot of time hanging out at Best Friends nightclub on Lancaster Avenue, doing interviews and drinking with the boys. Even got to listen to a drag queen’s rendition of “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.”
One Saturday night out there, I got a hankering to, y’know, be where I belonged, so I split and made my way to my local tavern, J&J’s Hideaway, in the Cultural District, across the street from a post office and cattycorner to a 7-Eleven. I sidled up to the bar next to a relatively attractive woman, who proceeded to tell me that she, oddly enough, worked at Queer TV, a national GLB network that had recently relocated from Los Angeles to, of all places, Haltom City. After a few hours of conversation, she gave me her phone number. Said she’d like to have someone (i.e., me) show her around town some time. I said sure.
The next afternoon, on my way to the post office, I heard someone calling me from the bar. I turned to see bartender Brian Sharpe waving me inside, where he was poised in front of a laptop. “Wanna see who you were trying to pick up last night?” he asked. I shrugged, prompting him to pull up a web page where I saw that my new acquaintance was actually a man in the middle of a sex change.
Sharpe seemed kind of amused – more because I was involved than because someone was getting a sex change – but I was honestly kind of blasé about it. I’d been going to JJ’s for more than a decade, and I’d seen so many characters in there that a gay, pre-op transgender TV person from Haltom City via L.A. didn’t exactly seem beyond the norm.
I’m gonna be sad to see the place go.
After 25 years, JJ’s will pour its last drink on Sunday, July 13. The flat, narrow, ski-lodge-looking joint will be replaced by part of a high-end development called Museum Place. There’ll be apartments and garages and chain eateries and bars there but, I suspect, no characters.
JJ’s wasn’t much on the surface. For one thing, there was no jukebox – just some classic-rock radio on the house stereo – and, for another, the signature drink was a draft domestic beer with olives in it. Perhaps the only unique architectural characteristics about the place were its macramé planters hanging from the sloping log ceiling and a wall of craggy stones covered in candle wax that probably hadn’t been touched in 20 years.
But if there was one place in town that attracted loyal and eclectic customers, it was JJ’s. On any afternoon or evening, you could find trust-fund babies, doctors, and lawyers sitting around and chatting with restaurant-worker-bees, hand-to-mouth musicians, and other blue-collar types. The small parking lot out front was as liable to be occupied by a Hummer or Beamer as by a bicycle or battered and bruised grocery-getter from 1987.
The bartenders, of course, drove the bus. Most of them – Peter, Chris, Brian, Chad, and a few others – had been there for years and didn’t bore you with that “How’ya doin’?” crap. If they knew you, they were gonna give you shit. Never anything mean. Just good-natured ribbing. Which probably made a lot of customers feel at home. When the staff seems to love being there, you can’t help but feel the same way. (Regular Teddy had a group of regulars – up-there-in-age women – he referred to collectively as “Menopause Manor.”)
The regular crowd was just as lively. Fitz the lawyer could tell you all about a cheerleader at the University of Texas named Kay Bailey Hutchison, and the view he had of her one game when he was playing fullback for Tulane University. Brian could tell you about the hybrid bass he caught at Benbrook Lake. Bo is good at chuckwagon cooking; he knows everything about railroads, and he paints murals. Blackwell’s tattooed ladies on his neck always seemed to be fighting. Doc Terry gets credit for teaching me the right way to think about politics.
Where the regulars will end up, nobody knows. Bars come and go, though J&J’s Hideaway lasted a long time. There’ll be no shortage of places to imbibe at when all of the development along West 7th Street is finished, but one place will be sorely missed.