Ripped at JT’s Bar in 2000

[Editor’s note: Set your Gayback Machine to the last few months of the Clinton administration. For this week’s essay we’ve once again pulled out a relic from the archive of Slim Goodbuzz, who visited JT’s Bar at 1506 N. Third St. in Superior and penned this report for the June 28, 2000 issue of the Ripsaw newspaper. Additional historical notes: JT’s closed in the summer of 2011 and was replaced by Shenanigan’s Bar. In late 2012 it became the Whiskey Ward, which closed in 2013. Izzy’s BBQ Lounge & Grill opened in August 2014 and remains there today.]

The first time I went to JT’s, I was young and foolish. I didn’t know it was a gay bar. “This place looks like a gay bar,” I exclaimed to the room, provoking a barrage of turned heads and strange looks. But despite embarrassing myself in public, I actually ended up having a pretty good time that night.

Then, a few weeks ago, a press release from the White House showed up at the RipSaw office reading, “I, William J. Clinton, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2000 as Gay and Lesbian Pride Month. I encourage all Americans to observe this month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities that celebrate our diversity and recognize the gay and lesbian Americans whose many and varied contributions have enriched our national life.” So, I decided to get drunk at JT’s. I simply could not pass up an invitation like that.

I got there around nine o’clock on a Saturday and the place was dead, so I settled in with a pitcher of JT’s Special Ale, confident that things would pick up if I stuck around. As things were, it was pleasant enough. The lights were low. Small groups and solitary drinkers sat quietly consuming beer and greasy pub-grub. Four women played a quiet and serious game of pool while two or three people stood watching. A couple of bald guys were spinning a good selection of dance music on the turntables. The television was tuned to a documentary on the lives of Donnie and Marie Osmond.

It must have been around eleven o’clock that things began to change. People started flowing in in large numbers. Many of them stepped bravely onto the dance floor, despite the fact that the layout of the room makes it impossible to dance at JT’s without everyone in the bar watching you. Before long, it seemed the whole room was getting down. The crowd especially appeared to enjoy it when the music began to get louder and stupider. Britney Spears brought a lot of people out of the woodwork, and by the time the Backstreet Boys came over the sound system, there was barely enough room for the revelers to move.

I suppose it was only natural, considering the circumstances, that most of the patrons seemed to know each other. Composed of the gay crowd there for the amiable surroundings and straight people there for the dancing, the room seemed to be populated mainly by regulars frequently greeting each other and acting like old friends. In this way, the place resembled an elaborate house party more than a weekend night at a bar. Whether this makes the outsider feel welcomed or excluded is a matter of personal taste.

Over near the dartboards, a guy in a flannel shirt and backward baseball cap stood chatting up a couple of attractive young women. It was far too loud for me to eavesdrop on their conversation, but the expressions on their faces made it obvious what was going on. He was thinking, “Boy, oh, boy! Might get me some hot three-way action!” And the women were thinking, “Thank God we don’t have to be attracted to men.”

It was quite by accident that I discovered the back deck. Trying to escape from the sweaty heat of the dance floor, I ducked out what I thought was the back door to find a sort of ceilingless room behind the bar, obviously built there for just that purpose. Standing out under the stars and legally swigging a brew gave me a feeling of luxury, a feeling that actually made me angry. Why can’t more bars have the courtesy to provide this kind of access to fresh air and comfort for their patrons? This modest addition should be a standard feature of any drinking establishment.

Having lost my table, my chair and my pitcher, I fought my way to the bar and ordered a tap beer just as a dude wearing sunglasses received his vodka and orange juice. He teetered slightly as he rattled on in a way that made it impossible to understand him. Every now and then, he would lift his drink up to his lips as if to take a sip, then drop it back down as he launched into a monologue even more animated and less intelligible than the previous one. Finally, he drank from his glass, and when he took it away from his mouth, it was completely empty.

When I finished my last beer and left the building, I thought the entertainment was over for the evening. Boy was I wrong. “Well, what the hell?” I heard one guy hollering out in the parking lot as he angrily made his way up and down the rows craning his neck around. Soon he was joined by another guy who asked him what was the matter. “I’ll tell you what’s the matter: Every goddamn vehicle in this parking lot’s a frickin’ truck, and I can’t find mine anywhere!”

The other guy nodded solemnly, “Yeah. Don’t worry. It’ll turn up.”

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