1851 Club, 931 W Division St, Arlington. 817-642-5554. 4pm-2am Mon-Fri, 12pm-2am Sat-Sun. All major credit cards accepted.
My first impression of 1851 Club was that it was clean, unpretentious, and welcoming. The staff certainly appeared polite and attentive. During my first trip to the bar, the bartender noticed that I was a new face and welcomed me.
The spacious club has several pool tables, a longish bar in the back with a bright, backlit rainbow, and a central dance floor that is surrounded by a dozen lounge tables. By the drag show’s start time, the club was packed.
I ordered the Ms. Sherry (vodka, orange juice, lemonade), which tasted like a boozy lemonade that wasn’t overly syrupy. The Beehive (Tennessee Honey, 7UP, lemonade) was honey-forward and reminded me of the Bit-O-Honey candies I used to enjoy as a kid. The 1851 (Tennessee Apple, ginger ale, cranberry juice) tasted a bit like an apple Jolly Rancher and left lingering fruit notes while the Fancy Nancy (Korbel, Chambord, cranberry juice) was a fizzy cranberry delight. Each of the drinks was smooth and had a clean profile. Beyond cocktails, the bar offers wine, beer, and liquor. Jell-O shots were $2 that night.
After a fog machine filled the dance floor and an intricate laser light show transformed the space into an otherworldly experience, the evening’s MC, Kiana Lee, stepped out on the central floor, which had a Halloween-themed backdrop that featured ghostly portraits. Decked in a green sequin dress, Lee made the rounds and sized up the night’s audience.
“Any newbies?” she asked the excited crowd before pointing to someone raising his hand. “You’re not new. Shut up.”
“Hi, Tits,” Lee told one laughing woman who wasn’t surprised by the nickname.
The night’s first performer, Kolby Jack Davenport, took the stage wrapped in a poofy black scarf while lip-synching Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.” After dropping her outerwear to reveal a skimpy black leather number, she picked up the tempo and strutted her stuff before an enraptured audience. Salem Moon was a crowd favorite. With a brightly colored leather jacket, black bra, and black hot pants, Moon swirled, gyrated, and danced until the floor was covered in dollar bills. With her long, red dress, Rochelle Roulette had a slow and sultry swagger that the crowd also loved.
The performers took time to engage with the audience. Salem Moon’s parents, who were visiting from out of state, were invited to the stage where they received sustained applause. From the well-crafted drinks to the entertaining and hilarious performances, my first visit to 1851 Club was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
A few days after my visit, I called club owner Dalton Haynes to learn about Arlington’s lone gay bar. The owner said he bought 1851 Club in January, two days after the previous owners had closed it down. After years of frequenting the business, Haynes said he couldn’t let it close for good.
“It has been really a home for a lot of people, including myself at times,” he said. “I had a lot of memories of my grandmother. My grandmother and I played poker there every Monday. I lost her last December. We were very close. It was almost in memory to her that I decided to keep this place because there were so many memories that I had with her.”
Haynes accepts the descriptor of “gay bar,” but 1851 Club is really a place for anyone, regardless of their gender identity, race, or religious beliefs, he said.
Shortly after taking over ownership of the business, Haynes said past patrons volunteered to help repaint and upgrade much of the interior. Haynes said he invested in high-quality laser lights and lighting to give the performers the experience they and audience members deserve. Arlington police department, he added, has been supportive and quick to respond to the rare emergency call. The club’s location in Arlington makes 1851 Club a convenient destination for pretty much anyone in North Texas, Haynes said.
Although the locations have moved, Haynes has been able to trace the bar’s history back 60 years. During those early years, the bar and club would have been a refuge for the area’s gay community during a time when homosexuality was outlawed. Haynes said his establishment has a mission of providing a safe space for people from all walks of life to enjoy a good conversation, a cold drink, and a fun show. Keeping the historic bar open has been a deeply personal effort.
His grandmother’s death, he said, was “a really devastating time for me and my family. I wanted to save the bar to save those memories of her. In doing that, I feel like the bar also saved me.”
The 1851 $9
Fancy Nancy $8
Ms. Sherry $8