The long, wild ride of Back­street

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

“It wasn’t safe any­where, but it was safe there. It was a place where we could be our­selves. It was an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing be­ing there.”

By DYANA BAGBY

It was 1983 and Mitch Grooms had just moved to At­lanta from ru­ral Paris, Tenn., where he found work at a Krys­tal res­tau­rant on Jimmy Carter Boule­vard in Nor­cross.

One Friday night, a co-worker told the 20-year-old Grooms, “I’m go­ing to take you to a fag club.”

“That’s what we were called back then,” Grooms, now 56, said of the in­vi­ta­tion.

That club was Back­street. And when Grooms en­tered the leg­endary nightspot, he was over­whelmed by what he saw and felt.

The ex­pan­sive 47,000-square-foot build­ing with three lev­els at the cor­ner of Peachtree Street and 6th Street was alive with hun­dreds of men danc­ing to­gether to boom­ing beats un­der an elec­tric light show and that un­for­get­table, gi­ant shim­mer­ing disco ball.

“I started cry­ing. I broke down on the dance floor,” he said. “I thought I was the only per­son like me. It was some­thing I never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore in my life.”

Ask any­one who danced at Back­street dur­ing its hey­days in the 1980s and 1990s and you will likely hear sim­i­lar sto­ries. The club be­came a home while the bar­tenders, the staff, the drag queens, the partiers were their fam­ily.

Fea­tured on HBO, the Travel Chan­nel, MTV, VH1 and nu­mer­ous At­lanta TV shows, Back­street wel­comed ev­ery­one and pro­vided that safe haven so many sought.

“It wasn’t safe any­where, but it was safe there,” Grooms said. “It was a place where we could be our­selves. It was an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing be­ing there.”

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