Though one of a dying breed, Slammers is still thriving
Years ago, when Marcia Riley attended “First Fridays” at Wall Street, the beloved, lesbian-centered nightclub, she would jokingly say she was going to Bible study.
“I had a very hard time coming out,” Riley said in a recent interview. “Wall Street was the first place that I was ever around a lot of gay women. I looked in there, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God. I'm home.'”
She never imagined she'd be the owner of her own bar, let alone a gay bar. And now, more than 25 years later, Slammers is the last lesbian bar standing in the city.
“I'm proud of that,” Riley said. “I don't know why all the women bars closed.”
It's a question that people are asking nationally. In 2015, Vice produced a video on the topic: “Searching for the Last Lesbian Bars in America.” And in March, acclaimed writer Roxane Gay tweeted, “Are there any lesbian bars in LA?” Most of the respondents were not able to help.
“It was a very different time,” Slammers general manager Nikki West said of the days when Columbus women could hop between Wall Street Downtown, Summit Station in North Campus and Blazer's Pub (now Two Truths) in the Short North. “It's much more socially acceptable for a lesbian or a gay man to go to a straight bar. It's not as hard these days to be who you are.”
Despite the cultural shift, Slammers remains busier than ever. Riley said the Downtown bar has doubled its business, drawing customers from all walks of life.
“We're part of the Columbus Electronic Dart League, which is predominantly gay men,” West said. “Some of my best regulars are gay men. Some of my best regulars are straight couples. … And the one thing that has kept people coming in the doors for the past 26 years is our pizza.”
Slammers is still a place where women congregate; they make up the majority of the crowd during Pride, which is the busiest time of year.
“I remember looking up last year and I was like, ‘Stop letting people in,'” West joked. “It was, by far, our busiest Pride. I don't know how it could be any busier this year, but I'm sure we're going to do it. … We'll have tents on the patio and our beer truck, of course. And Jell-O shots by the thousands, literally.”
As “draining” as the day can be, it's always a rewarding experience, West added.
“I like to complain … but I love Slammers,” Riley said. “A lot of people don't hear me say that, but I absolutely love it.”