HIGHBALL TAVERN OPENING NIGHT2By Bob Vitale

It’s been well-chronicled, how the Internet, dating apps and disappearing social segregation between gay and straight have taken their toll on gay bars.

Ohio lost five of its LGBT gathering spots in 2015, including Columbus’ Wall Street, which planned to turn out the lights after one final party on New Year’s Eve.

But 2016 also starts with two new places on the LGBT map that are taking opposite approaches to luring in the back doorbusiness.

On the West Side of Columbus, where LGBT populations have been growing in neighborhoods such as Westgate and Franklinton, the first gay bar in several years opened in late November. Owner Robert Lawrence describes The Back Door as a low-key, affordable place to hang out with friends.

On the city’s South Side, where five places already occupy that neighborhood-gay-bar space, the owners of The Toolbox are aiming upscale with The Highball Tavern. The club opens on Dec. 30.

Raphael Stokes, who’s coordinating events for the Highball, said it’s a martini-and-cosmos kind of place, where “big-budget” drag shows are planned for Saturday nights and the weekends will last a little bit longer with a Monday night DJ.

Other event nights include karaoke on Thursdays and male dancers on Fridays.

The Highball Tavern is located at 1071 Parsons Ave., in Columbus’ Merion Village neighborhood. It’s in the space once occupied by Garrett’s, another gay bar.

The Back Door also has the space of a former gay bar. It’s at 1662 W. Mound St., which was once home to The Far Side, a lesbian club.

Lawrence, who moved from Cincinnati to Columbus last summer and opened The Back Door with his fiancé, doesn’t consider other bars – even other gay bars – the competition for his new venture.

“I want to be competitive with sitting in your underwear at home,” he said, alluding to the comfort level of the place (not actual barside underwear-sitting). “I don’t like going to a bar, paying for parking, paying to get in, just for you to take my money.”

“We are not what gay clubs were a decade ago,” he added.

Lawrence promises a clean, comfortable, safe space with long happy hours. The Back Door has two pool tables, a dance floor, a big bar and a spacious outdoor smoking area. Its schedule includes open stage on Sundays, male dancers on Tuesdays, karaoke on Wednesdays and drag on Fridays.

And although he deliberately chose a location away from Columbus’ two clusters of gay bars, Lawrence points out that his bar is still just about a five-minute drive from the gayborhoods of the Short North and South Side.

The Back Door is at 1662 W. Mound St., Columbus, 43223. Phone: 614.817.1444. FB: The Back Door.

The Highball Tavern is at 1071 Parsons Ave., Columbus, 43206. Phone: 614.216.0023. FB: The Highball Tavern

Has Outlook Editor-in-Chief Bob Vitale told you about the gay bars of the 1990s? OK, thought so. If you have story ideas about LGBT-owned businesses or any other LGBT topic, email him at bvitale@outlookmedia.com.

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