Daddy’s goes dry for new monthly event ‘Like a Virgin?’

Forced by the pandemic to rethink his business plan, Scotty Niemet has developed a more open-ended vision for the South Side gay bar, which will host its first sober evening on Wednesday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Scotty Niemet

When Scotty Niemet opened Daddy’s, he intended the South Side gay bar to serve as a destination, drawing diverse crowds from around the city with an eclectic mix of dance-centric events. Unfortunately, the coronavirus put a pause on this idea, forcing Niemet to approach the business from new angles. In the last year, Daddy’s temporarily pivoted to beverage delivery, developed a cocktail menu designed to attract local happy hour regulars and fostered a branch of the Columbus drag scene, which has allowed the business to host socially distanced, seated shows while waiting for the easing of regulations that would allow dance parties to resume.

“We’ve just completely changed our game plan,” Niemet said recently by phone. “But I think that’s actually helped us figure out what else we can do with the bar.”

With new monthly event “Like a Virgin?,” the first edition of which takes place on Wednesday, May 26, this includes transforming Daddy’s into a dry space, offering a menu of nonalcoholic beverage options, including around a dozen booze-free cocktails, for patrons who want to spend a night out absent alcohol. Niemet first got the idea for the event when he read a Facebook post written by Riley Poppyseed in which the drag performer lamented the generally limited beverage options made available to nondrinking bar patrons.

“As a person who doesn’t drink alcohol and lives a sober lifestyle, I found it frustrating that not a lot of bars offered fun nonalcoholic beverages besides a Shirley Temple and 7 Up,” said Poppyseed, who will co-host the evening's variety show alongside Maja Jera, with doors opening at 7 p.m. “I personally know people who are recovering alcoholics that want to be entertained in queer spaces, but feel uneasy that they have to be near alcohol to do so.”

More:Meet Scotty Niemet, the father figure behind new South Side gay bar Daddy’s

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Niemet, who has gone through varying periods of sobriety, including a stint spent living a straight-edge lifestyle, eagerly embraced the challenge set forth, aware that rates of alcohol dependency are higher within the gay community. “It’s not a hidden fact that there’s an alcohol issue in our community,” Niemet said. “Bars have been the ‘safe spaces,’ the cornerstones of the community. And then you start talking about the personal struggles people have with being queer, and it can snowball with a lot of people.”

In the last year, the pandemic has further magnified this issue for some. “Me and my husband are guilty of that, where it’s like, ‘Oh, we just finished a bottle of whiskey because we’ve just been sitting here at home watching TV,'” Niemet said. “That’s been the reality of the past year, just substance abuse holding hands with your mental [issues]. And we wanted to make sure we let people know that we’re listening. For some people, going to a bar can be tough if they’re struggling with their relationship to alcohol. Maybe letting people know we’re there to help them, and to give them more attention, maybe that can be a good thing.”

Niemet isn’t viewing the event as a moneymaker (“When you’re sober, you’re not coming in and buying six shots,” he said), but he hopes that by offering a range of inventive nonalcoholic cocktails that the business will pull in at least enough money to break even, while also opening up the scene to folks who want a night out on the town not centered on booze. 

More:Alcohol Guide: Booze-free imbibing

“As a drag performer, my mental health has really plummeted with the overall pressure of ‘having’ to drink and pushing others to drink, too,” said Maja Jera, who has taken occasional breaks from alcohol for mental and physical health reasons. “You get caught up in it to the point that you don’t feel safe or happy doing it. ... I’m tired of seeing people stumble out of queer spaces and thinking you won’t see them again. I’m tired of having to do a show thinking I need to take a shot to feel like I belong.”

Niemet said he and his bartending crew have enjoyed brainstorming drink options for the evening, which will be crafted utilizing a variety of simple syrups, fruit juices, sodas and alcohol alternatives — a period of experimentation that will have a lasting impact on the bar’s permanent offerings moving forward.

“We want to create a nice menu that’s not just for that night, but so people can come in anytime with friends, order something without alcohol and feel like they’re not just sitting there sipping a Sprite,” said Niemet, who is committed to running "Like a Virgin?" each month for at least the foreseeable future. “The plan is to try this out and see how it goes, but I feel like this is an important conversation, and an important thing to do.”