Saying good-bye to a sanctuary

The old saying goes, “When one door closes, another door opens.” Well, in April, Madison has gotten news of two very important doors closing.  When do we get two more doors to open?

Bars and clubs come and go. It’s the nature of the business. But what happens to a community when two incredibly important clubs close within just weeks of each other. When two communities lose their comfort spots, their home, their escape? The loss of FIVE and Inferno will be a large impact to a lot of people who relied on those clubs to escape the harsh realities of day-to-day living. The loss of them so close together is even greater.

I haven’t been to FIVE in years, in fact, not since it re-branded from Club Five. The few times I have been there were mostly on show nights and they were great nights. So much love, exuberance for life, and passion for each other, could be seen. It was a safe haven for the LGBTQ community that openly welcomed everyone. You can see it even now in the communities efforts to save the beloved home for so many.

But I want to talk about my safe haven.

The first time I stepped into the Inferno I was barely 21. A group of us were in Madison from Platteville and I don’t remember who, but someone said we should check this little club out because “it was a goth club.” Through high school and early college, I didn’t really have a label, but I had been attracted to the goth culture. Let’s be honest, I didn’t really know what that meant until years later, but I tried. I wore all black (obviously :eyeroll:), only black make-up if any make-up at all, I tried to look all dour and moody. I had to go to this place and be “with my people.”

I was such an idiot.

I don’t remember much from that night. It was well before you could park at the pet store, or the annexed parking lot down the road. We got there and there was a small crowd, though not too bad. The place was kind of a dive. The music was great, the drinks were cheap, and I knew that I had no idea what being “goth” meant. I loved it.

Flash forward four years and I’m just moving back from California. I have a mix of old and new friends and I’m looking for a bar to call “my bar.” I don’t know who made the suggestion, but we all dressed up and headed to Leather & Lace. I was wearing a red plaid pleated skirt, a tied off see-through white cotton shirt and bright red bra underneath. Add to that heavy make-up, school girl pig tails and combat boots, and I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt in years. It was so unlike me to dress and show so much skin. I had some pretty serious image issues and I walked into the packed club and they were all melted away. I was free, and beautiful, and accepted.

Those couple of years following I spent many a Saturday and Wednesday at the Inferno. I felt all the weight of daily life melt away as I walked through those doors. I got to know the DJ’s and bartenders and many of the regulars. We were all there for the same reason, the freedom to express ourselves and be accepted. You always had the “tourists” who would pay the exorbitant cover fee to “see the freaks” as they stood along the walls and just stared, but we didn’t care. Let them come, let them watch, let them realize that they couldn’t possibly open themselves to the world the way that we did.

Now I have to be honest, I was a weekender at the Inferno. I dressed and acted differently when I was there and I was envious of those who it wasn’t a weekend thing. They were just who they were, every day. And sometimes I wondered if it was frustrating to have us come into their haven and pretend. I want to be honest, I didn’t pretend when I was there. I was free. I just wish I had the power and the bravery to be that person every day. I envied you, and that’s why I was there, to be like you, and to learn from you.

I never got the hang of falls, and my god, did I covet Kate and Jade’s incredibly creative and gorgeous falls every week. I found freedom in Josh, Mike, and Matt’s music during L&L and Chrome. The live bands… From Matt’s birthday bash with the Azoic, to NullDevice and Stochastic Theory; the feelings and movements they evoked on the dance floor where the sounds of anger, pain, love, and freedom pouring out of us.

For several years my attendance was spotty. We would go maybe once a year. There was even a 2-3 year break in there, I don’t really know why, it just sort of slipped away. About two years ago, Trevor and I started to make it our thing again. He would dress up in a suit and tie, often three-piece, even knowing the club would live up to its name inside. I started to explore myself more. More skin, more inhibition. Again, freedom. I would cover up, modestly, walking to the club and as soon as I walked in those doors I would allow myself to be exposed. I welcomed the wandering eye and felt a sense of pleasure in my own skin I rarely got to feel in the outside world. The Inferno gave me that freedom.

My greatest regret is the few weekends, last year, that we planned to go and decided to stay in. We had no idea that last March would be the last time we stepped foot in the club, ever. We’ve talked about going for one last hurrah in the coming weeks, and I will try. I would say it’s easy to make excuses, but when your 7 months pregnant… well it really is easy to make excuses.

Where will I go to show off the satin corsets, knee-high platform boots, and inner goddess now? Where will I feel that freedom of expression when the grandparents have the kid for a night? Trevor and I had even talked about convincing someone to take our son every first Saturday so we can go to L&L.

I met Apollo a couple of times and I don’t think I ever thanked him personally for this haven he created. I remember pointing him out to Trevor, as he tended the busy front bar, and Trevor thinking it was awesome seeing the owner care so much about his clients and employees to be in the ranks with them. Apollo gave us all this incredible place to be free. To love ourselves and to love each other. And he was always right there with us. Thank you, Apollo, thank you a thousand times for everything you did for us and everything you did for the community, both inside and outside the club.

There is a massive void opening up in Madison and it will haunt us all. Who will fill that void? How long will it take? Will it ever be as great as the Inferno? With some luck, we can fill the void with a bigger, greater, more inclusive club that will provide a home to all displaced by FIVE and Inferno.

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