Businesses aren’t people. However, there isn’t any entity more in the business of people than a bar. No one needs anything beyond water to survive, so the only reason we become regulars at a local watering hole is the social connection. Humans are evermore isolated, even as the world becomes more technologically interconnected. Some of us don’t even leave the house for work or to grab groceries anymore, and social media replace real-world interactions some days. But for us inherently social creatures, a contentious Facebook conversation like “Is Beyoncé the heir apparent to Diana Ross?” isn’t as satisfying as debating the topic in a place where drinks are served by someone besides yourself.
It was important to put that into my head as I woke up last Thursday to see that the heart of the Rainbow Lounge had burned away overnight. When the Fort Worth Fire Department finally extinguished the flames three hours after the fire had started, it marked the end of a local institution that was both beloved and controversial. The cause of the blaze is under official investigation, but initial reports point to an errant icemaker. Thankfully, everyone was safely outside.
I wasn’t a regular at the Rainbow, but when I think about the kind of place it was whenever I visited, I’m supremely sad the era has ended. I once got lost in a 25-minute conversation about under-eye concealer tricks with an entertainer, and my crew started scouring the parking lot because they thought I’d pulled an Irish goodbye. After a particularly rough break-up, I broke my rule about unhappy tears in public, and a devastatingly handsome stranger embraced me and said, “You are made of magic and stars. Boys are stupid and gross.” I stopped crying and started laughing, problem solved. But a normal visit was all about dancing to great music with my friends. If you were bored at the Rainbow Lounge, it was your own damn fault, because that group knew how to throw a party.
But being the cornerstone of the LGTBQ community in Fort Worth didn’t always mean lighthearted good times for the place. This month marks the eight-year anniversary of the night members of the Fort Worth Police Department and TABC agents raided the Rainbow and ignited a firestorm of controversy about the rights of individual citizens, diversity, and the use of excessive force. The 2009 incident inspired an award-winning documentary, Raid of the Rainbow Lounge, written, directed, and produced by Robert L. Camina and narrated by Meredith Baxter of Family Ties and GLEE fame. The filmmaker weaves this story from the tragic origins through to the permanent positive change that evolved between the City of Fort Worth and the LGBTQ community.
Perhaps that is what strikes me as particularly sad about the Rainbow Lounge’s destruction. Few drinking businesses can lay claim to spurring on sustaining civic improvement and being a refuge for an often-marginalized sector of the local population. Management of the Rainbow Lounge merely rented the space, and now that the club is a total loss, the property owner has said he does not intend to rebuild. The rumor mill indicates it will probably become apartments. As regulars at one of the few gay bars in Fort Worth, several dozen people have been displaced from somewhere they went for that all-too-necessary human connection with like-minded others. I hope there’s a vibrant new chapter soon to help us over the Rainbow.