'I'm so into breaking people's idea of what a gay bar is supposed to be in Columbus, Ohio.'
Coming up queer in Columbus, Scotty Niemet used to ride his bike from his home at the DIY house Legion of Doom to Downtown gay bar The Garage, a now-defunct club he described as “a life changer.”
“You’d walk into Trends, which was the front bar, and it was a little weird, and a little scary, like, ‘I thought this was supposed to be a club?’ … And then you’d walk through these doors into a courtyard, which is when you’d hear the music,” Niemet said in a mid-February interview at his new South Side gay bar Daddy’s, which officially opens today (Thursday, Feb. 20) at 1071 Parsons Ave. “And that was The Garage, and that club changed my view of being gay and out.”
The Garage, along with other now-shuttered local LGBT bars like The Eagle and Wall Street, helped foster a sense of community for Niemet that he fears is lacking nowadays, due to the declining number of gay bars nationwide and an increased dependence on social media.
“I hate to blame everything on the internet all the time, but it lets you live vicariously through so many different things, but also not really,” said Niemet, a longtime fixture in the DIY scene who came up throwing underground warehouse dance parties and intends to foster a similar vibe within Daddy’s. “You don’t have the real blood-and-bones of really being in a space and interacting with humans. I think so much of that has gotten lost. … I would hope that some scared young gay kid who just turned 21 goes, ‘Oh, I keep hearing about this Daddy’s place,’ and they check it out and they maybe get a different spark in them. … I’m so into breaking people’s idea of what a gay bar is supposed to be in Columbus, Ohio.”Find out why one former Dispatch writer said that spending time with Alive is better than four days in a Honda Fit with a drugged cat. Sign up for our daily newsletter
For Niemet, this means a heavier focus on events, where the feel of the space can shift drastically from one night to the next, which was part of the thought process behind its minimalist design. “You have a blank slate, and the environment depends on the people,” Niemet said. Additionally, it means opening the space to a wide, diverse community, and specifically folks who might not feel welcome in other LGBT clubs.
“Everyone wants the queer community to be so diverse and open, but then we have misogyny, sexism, classism, racism,” Niemet said. “Maybe we make this the place where if people are like, ‘Eh, this place has too many trans people,’ or, ‘Oh, they’re playing hip-hop,’ or whatever dog-whistle shit, then this isn’t the bar for you. I’m fine with sifting people out.”
Niemet was reminded of the importance of this kind of supportive community throughout the arduous yearlong process of opening Daddy’s, where the low points most often occurred in those moments Niemet found himself working alone in the space. “I would be in here by myself painting, like, ‘This is the state I’m going to be in owning this business,’ and I’d just be crying,” Niemet said. “But when we got everything together and finally started hiring people, it was like, ‘Oh, now I have help.’ And that was a great feeling. There’s a team now to make this happen, and I’ve got people who believe in me, and have believed in me for years, on board.”
The vibe within Daddy’s is decidedly retro, with a couple Tom of Finland-esque murals flanking the long bar and a payphone booth built into the west wall of the club (Niemet said it came with the building, and it’s perfectly suited to the space). The walls are painted gray, and glass block windows offer minimal light intrusion even midday — a marked departure from the wide-open, street-facing LGBT bars on High Street and a throwback to when gay spaces maintained a sense of mystery.
“We’ve had people, and it’s been mainly wealthier gay men, who are like, ‘You should take those block windows out and brighten it up!’ No, no,” Niemet repeated, and laughed. “I made the space look like an old, retro gay cruise bar. Me and my husband, especially, really respect that ’70s and ’80s era of gay culture. The aesthetic of that era was so awesome, and the more and more things got mainstreamed in gay culture, the less aesthetically cool it was, like everything had to be toned down.”
Even the name Daddy’s is something of a throwback, both to the gay slang word and to Niemet’s reputation within the underground scene. “In high school I got involved with the hardcore and DIY scene, and then there was a period where most of my friends moved out of it, but I was still so invested in that scene. I wanted it to grow and do whatever I could for it,” he said. “So I'm working with all of these younger kids and … over the years the joke became, ‘Oh, you’re a hardcore daddy,’ because I was the older guy invested in fostering that community. [The name of the bar] brings that full circle: ‘Let’s call it Daddy’s.’ … And I’m Dad. I’m Daddy.”