Iconic At­lanta gay bar cel­e­brates mile­stone 30th an­niver­sary

At­lanta Ea­gle owner, pa­trons weigh in on bar’s im­pact, At­lanta Leather Pride

GA Voice - - Georgia News -

By ROB­BIE MEDWED

At­lanta’s most fa­mous gay bar has seen it all, and this month, the At­lanta Ea­gle is reach­ing a new mile­stone: 30 years serv­ing the city’s LGBT com­mu­nity – or, more specif­i­cally the leather and and fetish com­mu­nity.

The dark, stucco build­ing at 306 Ponce de Leon Av­enue first housed Rene­gade’s, a gay coun­try bar opened by the Ea­gle’s first owner, Jay Evans, that lasted less than six months. Evans pre­vi­ously owned the Texas Drilling Com­pany (where High­land Tap is now). When Rene­gade’s failed, he de­cided to paint ev­ery­thing black and re-open as the Ea­gle – though ac­cord­ing to Robby Kel­ley, who pur­chased the bar with his part­ner (and cur­rent owner) Richard Ramey after Jay died of AIDS soon after open­ing, Jay of­ten joked that if the Ea­gle failed, he’d “find a poo­dle, dye it pink, put it up on a pole and call it ‘The Pink Poo­dle on Ponce.’”

Ramey and Kel­ley found their way to the Ea­gle when they were of­fi­cers in the South­ern Bears Club. The Ea­gle has long been a home to sports teams, in­ter­est clubs and other LGBT com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions. The man­ager run­ning the bar after Jay’s death floated the idea of end­ing the club nights, which would have ef­fec­tively sev­ered the re­la­tion­ship with the many com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions that called the Ea­gle home. Ramey re­fused to al­low that to hap­pen, and to­gether with Kel­ley, pur­chased the bar – and fired the man­ager.

‘We em­brace ev­ery­one’

As much as the bar may have changed since then – a fresh coat of paint, a re­design of the out­door sig­nage to add the bar’s name – the essence has re­mained the same, Ramey said.

“Peo­ple are still look­ing for a place to be them­selves,” he told Ge­or­gia Voice. “We em­brace ev­ery­one. If you’re a drag queen, or a leather man, or you have a spe­cific fetish, there’s a place for you at the Ea­gle.”

Michael Baker, an Athens res­i­dent and

March 31, 2017

long­time Ea­gle pa­tron, first fell in love with the bar in 1999 when he lived in At­lanta.

“My week­ends would start at Hoe­down’s, and then I would end my nights on the dance floor at the Ea­gle. I used to play on both of the Ea­gle soft­ball teams,” he said.

Baker also echoed Kel­ley and Ramey’s fa­vorite points of pride: “I have al­ways found it one of the most wel­com­ing bars in the city, and walk­ing in after a few weeks with­out a visit feels like com­ing home.”

2009 raid, a look into fu­ture

Thirty years in busi­ness is al­most un­heard of for a gay bar in At­lanta, and in some ways the Ea­gle has seen enough ups and downs for twice that time pe­riod. Its most fa­mous mo­ment came in 2009 when the At­lanta Po­lice Depart­ment’s Red Dog Unit raided the bar, act­ing on a tip that there was nu­dity, sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties and drug use on the premises.

“They threw us to the ground, searched ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing in the bar, kicked us and stepped on us, and called us names like it was the 1950s,” Kel­ley re­mem­bered.

The Ea­gle, with the help of lawyer Dan Gross­man, suc­cess­fully sued the city of At­lanta and the po­lice depart­ment, prov­ing the charges against the bar and its pa­trons were false. Ramey is proud of the re­sults of the law­suit, not­ing that “the Red Dog Unit was dis­banded, which was good for the en­tire city. This was a unit that was go­ing after young African-Amer­i­cans in other parts of the city and at other bars, too. I’m glad we helped to end that.” The APD still uses The Ea­gle raid in its train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties – as an ex­am­ple of what not to do.

Soon after the court case re­solved, Kel­ley sold his own­er­ship stake to Ramey and moved to Texas. The two en­joyed an 18-year busi­ness re­la­tion­ship and a 13-year ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship and still speak fondly of each other.

Ramey spoke con­fi­dently about the bar’s fu­ture. He has plans to bring the bar a bit more up-to-date and freshen some things up, but the core of what the Ea­gle is will al­ways re­main the same, even as a new land­lord brought ques­tions of re­de­vel­op­ment.

“The new lan­dord, Dr. Shahzad Hashmi, re­fused to pur­chase the build­ings with­out guar­an­tee­ing we’d stick around,” Ramey said. “He’s com­pletely sup­port­ive of us and wants us to re­main suc­cess­ful. We’re not go­ing any­where.”

The At­lanta Ea­gle’s 30th An­niver­sary Party co­in­cides with the At­lanta Leather Pride cel­e­bra­tions and its cen­ter­piece events, the Mr. and Ms. At­lanta Ea­gle and Mr. South­east Rub­ber 2017 con­tests at the Ea­gle. Those reach­ing for a ti­tle will need to score well not just on leather/rub­ber at­tire, but au­di­ence ap­peal, gen­eral con­fi­dence and per­son­al­ity.

At­ten­dees to the full week­end of At­lanta Leather Pride events can ex­pect par­ties fea­tur­ing DJ Neon the Glow­goBear, boot­black­ing, BDSM demos, BBQ lunches, a wrap-up brunch at Roxx Tav­ern and, of course, lots of leather and kink.

Pro­ceeds from At­lanta Leather Pride are do­nated to a char­ity each year, and 2017’s ben­e­fi­ciary is the Sharon St. Cyr Fund, which pro­vides grants to or­ga­ni­za­tions for Amer­i­can Sign Lan­guage-in­ter­pret­ing ser­vices for the deaf and hard of hear­ing and pro­vides hear­ing aids to those who are hear­ing im­paired.

At­lanta Ea­gle 30th An­niver­sary Week­end Kick­off Party

Fri­day April 7, 2017 10 p.m. – 3 a.m. At­lanta Ea­gle www.face­book.com/ events/769468693208113

At­lanta Ea­gle 30th An­niver­sary Cel­e­bra­tion feat. Mr. & Ms. At­lanta Ea­gle Con­test and Mr. South­east Rub­ber Con­test

Satur­day, April 8, 2017 7 p.m. – 3 a.m. At­lanta Ea­gle www.face­book.com/ events/1849664321942351

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