In Northampton, a gay bar that glitters

By GRETA JOCHEM

Staff Writer

Published: 01-27-2020 11:32 PM

NORTHAMPTON — When Diva’s Nightclub closed in 2016 after a 16-year run, the city was left without a gay venue.

But that’s no longer the case. In September, the Majestic Saloon, which opened as a craft beer and wine bar last year, became a “fully popped queer bar, lounge and occasional club,” as the new owners wrote in their “big gay announcement” on the bar’s Instagram account, majesticnoho.

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WE’RE COMING OUT! We are very excited to share that, starting September 1, The Majestic Saloon will be transitioning into a FULLY POPPED QUEER BAR, LOUNGE, AND OCCASIONAL CLUB. We’ll be Q/T owned and operated, seven nights a week. It was your continued support of our weekly Queer Nights that made this possible, so this space is for all of you. Think weeknight poetry readings, free afternoon co-working hours, and astrology-themed dance parties. Think delicious, locally sourced and handmade tacos ‘til 3am (!!) on the weekends. Think everything you want your Northampton queer bar to be and do, then come tell us and we’ll try our best to make it happen. Our big gay re-launch weekend will be FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 13 and SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 14 (Friday TBA and Saturday Queer Punk Drag Night IV), but we’ll be here with our new Victorian couches starting the first of September. This account will become majesticnoho in 24 hours, and stay tuned for the roll-out of our calendar of events. WE CAN’T WAIT TO SEE YOU HERE XXXOXOXOXOXOX SIGNED, AILBHE, BROCK, SAMSON, AND SARAH ((MANAGEMENT))

A post shared by MAJESTIC (@majesticnoho) on

Brock Parent, Sarah White and Samson King now co-own Majestic, at 24 Main St., with its original owner, Phil Peake, a psychology professor at Smith College.

Before they had a formal stake in the business, Parent and White worked at the earlier version of the bar as bartenders. Sitting at a table covered with a sparkly silver tablecloth, Parent explained that they had been thinking about what a queer bar would look like in Northampton and “idly scheming about it at work.”

“Northampton has this lore of being this mecca of queerness, and then there wasn’t a queer bar here for the past five years or so,” said Parent.

“It became very clear to us that there was a demand for queer programming in this town,” said White.

So in late May, they started a weekly queer night — which they also called a pop-up gay bar — and people started to line up. Their weekly events included dance parties (some of which were fundraisers for local organizations), vintage clothing sales, movie nights and concerts, advertised through posters and social media. “Brock and I would be looking at each other behind the bar, like, ‘How the hell is this happening right now? The room is full of dancing queers,’” White recalled. White, 23, came to the Valley from Burlington, Vermont, to attend Smith College. Parent, from New Bedford and also 23, went to the University of Massachusetts Amherst. King, 28, moved from New York City.

Peake is still the principal owner of the bar, while Parent and White, along with King, are business partners. So far, Peake is pleased with how the new business is going, but he wrote in an email, “The verdict is still out on whether there is sufficient community support to maintain a full-time gay bar in the highly competitive Northampton market.”

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There was a lot of excitement when the Majestic transitioned to a gay bar — and for some, there were questions, White recalled. “I think when we initially launched as a fully, fully popped-up queer bar, we had a lot of people who were asking us, ‘Isn’t every bar in Northampton a gay bar?’” White said. “It is, in fact, a different thing to have a space that is explicitly named for a community — both for people who are here and live here and for people who are coming into town who may not know where to go.”

More than a bar

Majestic advertises itself as a queer bar, but in many ways it feels more like a friend’s living room — if your friend likes books and board games and houseplants and tarot cards and happens to be really, really into glitter.

“We’ve thrown away pounds of glitter swept off the floor,” said Parent. “In every crevice of this room, there’s little bits of glitter.”

The bar is decorated with strings of lights and art, like one print that reads:

“Talk with people

STRANGERS!” 

On Monday evening, people filled nearly every seat in the bar for “Crossroads: Stories of Queer Spirit,” a storytelling event. Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett’s “Over Everything” played as friends talked over drinks.  

Theo Richards sat at a table with friend Emerson Finkle waiting to read in the event. “It’s fun to have an intentionally queer bar. My people are always here,” Richards said, with potato wedges and a can of Narragansett beer sitting on the table. “I know everyone at the bar.”

Dev Alden echoed Richards’ thoughts. “It’s more of a community bar. I feel warm and happy here.” She likes that the bar serves a range of non-alcoholic drinks — the beverage menu includes several flavors of kombucha and sparkling soft drinks such as one flavored with cinnamon, grapefruit and honey. “I think people that don’t drink are comfortable,” Alden said.

The owners strive to make it a welcoming space for anyone who identifies as LGBTQ, including those who may not feel safe or welcome at other bars; for instance, someone who has recently changed their name or gender. “Going into other bars as a queer person, you’re thinking about showing your ID, which maybe doesn’t have your name on it,” said King, “or using your debit card which has your ‘dead’ name on it, and being like, ‘This is going to be an uncomfortable situation.’”

The Majestic, which is open seven days a week, aims to be more than just a bar and maintains a calendar chock-full of events. Recently, the venue hosted a queer comedy open mic night. Dance parties are a regular thing, featuring the likes of DJ Honeysuckle and DJ m0mmy1ssues (yes, that’s spelled with a “0” and “1”). Among other offerings: a literary club, a New Year’s Eve drag show and screenings of “The L Word: Generation Q” — a reboot of “The L Word,” a 2000s Showtime series about a group of lesbians living and working in Los Angeles.

As King put it, “We’re trying to be both a community space — a space where you can land and relax with friends — or a place you could go dancing and be around other homos.”

Often, the ideas for the events come from the people pitching them. “We didn’t know any comics or drag performers when we opened this space up,” Parent said. “We want to be able to give people that platform.”

“How beautiful, hilarious and fantastic it is to see all of the freaks of the Valley come out of the woodwork and make those events and spaces happen here,” said Mads Pryor, the bar’s head chef and kitchen manager.

This winter, the Majestic started serving food in addition to beer and wine, with options that include butternut coconut soup, potato wedges, and Brussels sprouts. “A lot of it is comfort food, but sort of elevated or with a twist,” said Pryor.

“We want to cater to queer people,” Parent said. “We are queer people. We thought about making the bar that we want to go to and the space that we wanted to be a part of.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.

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