Lewiston gay club to close

LEWISTON — As a gay teenager and young adult, Michael Martin had few places to turn to in Lewiston.

Curtain Call
Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Amber Waterman/Sun Journal

Bar manager Michael Martin rolls up tee-shirts to be given away on the final night, October 10, of the Sportsman's Athletic Club that first opened its doors in 1959. The Sportsman's is the oldest gay bar in Maine and moved to it's location at 2 Bates Street in 1979.

dslover/Sun Journal

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The Sportsmans Athletic Club in Lewiston will serve its last drink Saturday night.

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dslover/Sun Journal

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
The Sportsmans Athletic Club in Lewiston will serve its last drink Saturday night.

Sure, there were support groups and other organizations for young gay people, but they offered just once-a-week or once-a-month meetings. Not real camaraderie. Not community.   

However, the Sportsmans Athletic Club did.

"When I was 15, I would hang out in front of the bar, which wasn't a good thing to do," said Martin, now 36 and manager of the place. "But it was the only spot. The only spot. And once I did turn 21, I was welcomed with open arms. They made you feel comfortable about yourself."

For more than 30 years, the gay bar on Bates Street has been an important part of life for many in the gay community. It was a place where they could find friends, dance with a same-sex partner without worry, be themselves. Outside the bar they might be harassed, bullied, told they were going to hell. At Sportsmans they were accepted.  

And because of Sportsmans, the wider community started to accept them as well.   

"I think it paved the way," Martin said.

But all of that will end Saturday night. Sportsmans, the longest running gay bar in the state, according to the former owner, is closing.

"We're calling it the curtain call," Martin said. "The end of an era to a legendary bar."   

When Sportsmans opened on Lincoln Street in 1958 it was originally geared toward straight people. Roland Blais turned it into a gay bar when he bought it in the mid-1970s.

"They needed something gay up here," he said. "It was in demand. If
something's in demand, you go for it for business. There's no place for
gays to go. That way they can go to the gay bar and be themselves." 

He moved the bar to Canal Street, then Bates Street. Over the years the bar became known for its mix of people — both gay and straight — and for both its cozy atmosphere and vibrant dance music. 

"It's always been pretty much a homey type bar, very comfortable setting," Martin said. "But it can become very crazy, too. Usually after 9 o'clock at night when the younger crowd comes out and they want to dance and party. That's when things pick up and get loud."

But even early on, Sportsmans was more than just a place to grab a quiet drink or party to re-mixed pop music. The bar represented a community whose members, led by Blais, helped raise money for AIDS, took canoe trips, played volleyball and climbed
Tumbledown mountain. In the early 1990s, Blais helped fight for equal rights for homosexuals in the city.

"This is America. This is supposed to be equal," Blais said. 

In more recent years, bar patrons have traveled en masse to gay pride parades.  

About four years ago Blais sold the bar to Marc Mason, who also owns the Acme Social Club in Lewiston. Blais had run Sportsmans for about 30 years. It was time, he said, to retire.

"I was burned out. I'm 71 years old. I'm not young anymore," he said.

Martin has managed the bar for the last four years. He said business has dropped over the years, that the economy has affected Sportsmans. The business has been sold. He believes the building is slated to be torn down.

Mason could not be reached for comment Friday. 

The bar's closing was at first kept quiet. Martin said he wasn't comfortable with that, so he recently began telling patrons. 

"These people have been dedicated to this place much too long to be shut out to the truth," Martin said. "I said 'No, enough's enough.' I think it's time they know so they can prepare themselves."

Martin expects a large crowd for the Sportsmans' last night Saturday, including a few patrons who started coming when Blais opened the place as a gay bar — and are still regulars.

"I call them our ancients, and we treat them like gold," Martin said.  

The bar will open at 6 p.m., an hour early, to accommodate the crowd. A New York DJ, who worked at the club in the 1980s, will perform that night. The bar will also host various performers, including its popular drag queens. 

The bar will close at 1 a.m. 

"It's going to be emotional," Martin said. 

Martin believes homosexuals are more accepted now than they used to be — and he credits Sportsmans for some of that — but he also believes there's still a need for a place where young gay people can gather. 

"One thing I've noticed, when one club closes another club usually opens. I can't say for fact that one will, but I'm hoping and praying for their sake," he said.  

ltice@sunjournal.com

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Comments

 's picture

It's a tough, ignore your

It's a tough, ignore your own values and imbrace change and equality or try to shelter your kids and teach to hate. I beleve in equal rights... Not special rights. It's about time for eveyone with a chip on there shoulder that thinks there lives are so much harder than everyone elses that think they should get a free ride for the choices they make to Suck it up! Work hard! Love your family! (And take car of your own backyard!)

 's picture

If you want a bit of gay

If you want a bit of gay history in Lewiston, Maine a bar manager isn't the first place one would start. Regarding his comment about he doesn't know if they'll be one, its odd because they're planning on to go on Lisbon street last I knew. Its amazing how in depth these news articles are.

The current owner and bar manager are the main reason for the demise of the business. They sold it to start something new; has nothing to do with the slow economy. And many people have been turned off with attitude from the current management. I wouldn't put much stock into what Michael says as total truth in the matter. He seems to have gotten the press's ears yet is not one I would put faith in to lead any type of gay business.

 's picture

On June 12, 1967, the

On June 12, 1967, the nation's highest court voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving, a young interracial couple from rural Caroline County, Va.

That decision struck down the anti-miscegenation laws — written to prevent the mixing of the races — that were on the books at the time in more than a dozen states, including Virginia.

Richard Loving was white; his wife, Mildred, was black. In 1958, they went to Washington, D.C. — where interracial marriage was legal — to get married. But when they returned home, they were arrested, jailed and banished from the state for 25 years for violating the state's Racial Integrity Act.

To avoid jail, the Lovings agreed to leave Virginia and relocate to Washington.

Lawyer Bernard Cohen challenged the Lovings' conviction, but the original judge in the case upheld his decision. Judge Leon Bazile wrote: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. ... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

As Cohen predicted, the case moved all the way up to the Supreme Court, where the young ACLU attorney made a vivid and personal argument:

"The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will not be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia... [is] found unconstitutional."

After the ruling — now known as the "Loving Decision" — the family, which had already quietly moved back to Virginia, finally returned home to Caroline County.

.....and history will repeat itself.....

 's picture

It wasn't really that long

It wasn't really that long ago that inter racial marriage was illegal.....if the peoples veto was around back then I bet it would still be illegal....which tells me that the majority shouldn't be able to decide how the minority lives....

RONALD RIML's picture

You never answered about

You never answered about your military service Hulk.

Must be because you have none....

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When I was a young Sailor - I drank like a Sailor, fought like a Sailor, and screwed like a Sailor. Now that I am old and wise - I have a few scars, but many fond memories.

 's picture

As someone that considered

As someone that considered The Sportsman as a safe place to be myself and enjoy being me, it is too bad that this place is closing. Roland did a wonderful job with the Sportsman and we all thank him so much for all he did for the gay community. I hope he's enjoying his retirement.

RONALD RIML's picture

NWO ...oh, another

NWO ...oh, another conspiracy theory!!!

Well, we've had the Catholic Church wanting to take over the world for how many centuries?? And now they're simply reduced to trying to keep gays from marrying, while closing churches left and right.

.
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When I was a young Sailor - I drank like a Sailor, fought like a Sailor, and screwed like a Sailor. Now that I am old and wise - I have a few scars, but many fond memories.

RONALD RIML's picture

And it was amazing that Bush

And it was amazing that Bush won(?) the Presidency for two terms - he certainly lessened the stature of it, and revealed how frigged up voters such as you are.

So commencing to restore our stature in the world after Bush trounced it to the gutter is judged a task of Nobellian proportions... How apropos!!!

------------------------------------------
When I was a young Sailor - I drank like a Sailor, fought like a Sailor, and screwed like a Sailor. Now that I am old and wise - I have a few scars, but many fond memories.

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