My First Night Back at a Gay Bar

by Sarah Gardiner

On July 1, bars in Kentucky reopened. I went out to Chill, and I don’t regret a second.

I wasn’t going to go out. I’m still terrified of Covid-19, and after 3 months of falling into my full Grey Gardens best life, bars and restaurants scare the fuck out of me. But on Monday, I needed a Taco Bell 10pm dinner, so I hopped in my car and drove down Bardstown Road. My windows were down, music blasting, arm out the window, when I heard it: the siren call of the homosexual—Gaga bumping from the speakers of the newly renovated (and absolutely gorgeous) patio at Chill Bar. My hand instinctually turned the wheel, and I was suddenly parallel parking outside the main entrance. 

Walking into a gay bar for the first time in months felt like taking a deep breath after a long workout. Walking into Chill felt like coming home. 

I’ve been having severe anxiety the last few months. I’ve been waking up to panic attacks and world-induced vomiting nearly every morning. I don’t tend to do well, physically, with stress—especially when I feel isolated. And I’ve really not been doing well. 

Walking into Chill Bar, with a mask on and standing 6 feet away from all the other patrons, was the first thing that has felt normal in months. 

Between the music and the drinks, the sparkling lights and the regulars, life felt calm again—at least for a moment. The new table at the center of the bar, where the giant tree used to be, serves as a perfectly distanced communal table. The spaced out tables on the patio and the plexiglass around the bar are honored as means of keeping everyone as safe as possible. We all need community and connection, and Chill has seemingly done their best to make those available with the safety measures needed to protect us all. 

I was 18 the first time I stepped into a gay bar. Freshly out, with big, sharpied X’s on my hands and ready to dance to whatever Britney song was pulsating through the over-saturated bass that night. That night, I felt home for the first time. 

I know how it sounds to say that gay bars feel like church to me. Feel like home to me. But, its not about the alcohol (though you can always buy me a vodka soda if you ever see me out)—its about the love, the acceptance, the dancing. It is about being queer in a space where no one bats an eye. 

I didn’t realize how much I missed our spaces until I walked through that iron fence, and I am still terrified of getting sick, but being at Chill (safely) did more benefit for my mental health than anything in these past few months. 

Be safe, be cautious, but also be aware that we need community and connection as humans and queer folx.