Leather and dancing and bears…oh my.
Those are just three of the many things patrons of the Atlanta Eagle have seen over the years. The bar, a mainstay in the Atlanta gay community, celebrates its 25th anniversary this month. And they’re celebrating in a major way.
Various events are scheduled all throughout April to celebrate not only the 25th anniversary of the bar itself, but the 15th anniversary of ownership under Robby Kelley and Richard Ramey, the annual Leather Pride Weekend, and the WigOut party from MondoHomo.
Another cause for celebration this month: the end to the lawsuits filed by the Eagle and several of its patrons in relation to the Atlanta Police Department raid back in 2009.
I spoke with co-owner Robby Kelley about the dual anniversaries, the bar’s community involvement, and how it feels to finally have the APD raid in the bar’s past.
The Eagle’s been around for 25 years now. How does it feel to hit this milestone?
It feels good. I mean, 10 of [those years] were done by Jay Evans, the original owner of the bar, and then the last 15 years, Richard and I have done it. It feels good to make it 25 years.
What led to your decision to buy the bar 15 years ago?
15 years ago, they had threatened to move the Southern Bears club from a Saturday night, where we’d been for eight years, to a weekday night. Allegedly, we were taking too much business from their bartenders. And this was after Jay had passed away, and his manager decided to make that rule. So Richard and I decided to buy the bar just so the Bears wouldn’t get screwed over. At the time, we were president and vice president of the Bears club, so we did it to help the Bears at the time we bought it.
What’s changed in the 15 years since you originally took over the bar?
Nothing much has changed, other than the employees here and there, which is typical for a bar. When the Atlanta Eagle was set up, it was set up as a bar for the community, [including] the clubs and the sports teams, and we’ve maintained that since we’ve taken over.
As far as the groups that have their own nights are concerned, what determines which groups are involved?
It’s not complicated. Anybody who asks us if they can do something, if we have the space to fit them in, then we’ll let them do a fundraiser.
Now, the legal case against the Atlanta Police Department recently came to an end. How does it feel to finally have the APD raid behind you?
That part’s great. Knowing that it’s all over with, and now everyone can move forward. Our relationship with the police department is great. I’m sure there are a few police officers out there that still don’t like us, but Richard and I have no hard feelings towards anybody at this point. It’s been long enough to not have to worry about it anymore. The changes that we wanted have been set in place was done for the citizens of Atlanta, not the bar, so everything that was taking place made the city a better place to live, not the bar a better place.
What did you think of the community reaction to the raid? The support that came?
Uh, it sucked. (laughs)
Can you go into any more detail about that?
Well, we had a lot of support at the very beginning by some wonderful people, and our patrons and employees stood by us for everything that we went through. We had major groups that we had supported for 25 years that never even raised a finger to help us. I would donate money to Lambda Legal before I would to some of the other gay organizations, because Lambda Legal did come forward to help us.
Aside from the fallout from the APD raid, what are some of the hardest problems you’ve dealt with since taking over the Eagle?
When we first purchased the bar, it was fixing to undergo Chapter 7, so we had to build it back up to where it could pay it’s own bills. Now, with the economy the way it is, just like any other bar in town, things could be better. We’re getting there slowly. It’s just part of the economic crunch on any business right now.
On a brighter note, the Eagle has a number of festivities planned for both the 25th anniversary of the bar’s opening and the 15th anniversary of your ownership.
Yes. For the 15th anniversary of my and Richard’s ownership of the bar, we’re doing a rollback party. All of our music and our drink prices are all being rolled back to the same thing that was going on in the bar when we bought it in 1997. It brings drink prices down to…well drinks being $2.25, beers being $2.25. versus the $4 and $4.50 they are now. We won’t make much money off of it, but it’s our way of saying thank you for supporting us for the past 15 years.
The 25th anniversary is combined with Leather Pride Weekend, which was started about four or five years ago, and this year’s the first time we’re bringing the Miss Eagle contest back into the fold of things in about 10 years. The women’s leather community is starting to pick back up again, same as the men’s leather community started back 4 years ago when we brought the title back again. Doing both the Mr. and Miss Eagle contest allows us to show the community that we’re a diverse bar and that women are welcome to come into the bar just as much as the guys.
Where do you see the Eagle going in the next few years? Are there any changes you have in store?
Just to make it like everybody else, with the economy. I want to stay open. If something happened and we didn’t, then we made it for over 25 years and that’s an accomplishment in itself. But right now, we just plan on being here day to day and just keep pushing, like we always do.
Finally, is there anything you want to say to the community?
To the community, for the support from the past 25 years, a big thank you. If it weren’t for our customers, then of course the bar wouldn’t be there. I have great employees that I trust wholeheartedly, which is unusual for anybody who owns a bar, and if it weren’t for them, then the bar wouldn’t be there. So I have a great staff and great, great support, particularly from my part of the community.
Atlanta Eagle 25th Anniversary Schedule
Thursday, April 12
Karaoke and Giveaways
Friday, April 13
Meet & Greet for Mr. and Ms. Atlanta Eagle
Saturday, April 14
8pm: Mr. and Ms. Atlanta Eagle Contest
1am: Balloon Drop and Contest Giveaways