photo by Karen Gavis
If not for the rainbow flag plastered outside the entrance of 1851 Club on Division Street, one might not know the unassuming building is a gay bar.
The smoky interior (smoking is allowed here) includes a small dance floor which hosts karaoke every Thursday night and drag shows on Saturdays. There are the standard pool tables, a dart board, juke box and tables to sit at. There are also mosaics of famous, gay icons such as Marilyn Monroe, Liza Minnelli, Cher and Madonna.
It is not a trendy, upscale scene like many gay bars in Dallas’ Oak Lawn. There are no strobe lights, no disco ball and no semi-naked muscular men dancing around a pole waiting to show affection to the next person willing to slip a dollar bill into their underwear. Yet this bar has a history. Manager/bartender Heather Lynd says it is one of the oldest gay bars in the nation.
“The reason why it's one of the oldest is because it has consistently stayed a gay bar,” she says. “It's always stayed open. It's been a gay bar for either almost or right around 40 years.”
Over the decades, 1851 has been called several names and had one location change. One of its previous names was 651 Club, but 1851 has been its longest, most consistent name, Lynd says. She also says while there have been several gay bars in Arlington in the past, 1851 remains the city’s only gay bar.
“I remember people talking about a place called Mad Hatters in the ‘80s,” she said. “The gay community's lucky that all the clubs up and down Division Street are so gay-friendly.”
Arlington resident Rob Falbey, who has been coming to 1851 since the mid ‘90s, says Bloomers Britches, the 651, and Tarrant County Mining Company were a few gay bars around in the past. During the 22 years that Falbey has been coming to 1851, the club has had five owners, he says, but the bar itself has not changed.
“It's a friendly crowd,” he says. “Of course, a lot of people have come and gone over the years. The crowd kind of turns over every few years.”
Bar regular Germaine Miller says he comes to 1851 at least two or three times a week.
“You come in and everybody knows you,” he says. “It's like a home away from home. [The bartenders] know our drinks and everything.”
Twenty six-year-old Ty Matthews has worked at 1851 for a year as a bartender and DJ.
“I love the people,” he says. And “I love the chill atmosphere.”
The bar’s website, 1851club.com, describes the 1851 Club as a Cheers-type bar, “Where everybody knows your flame.”
Lynd says the club accomplishes what few other gay bars manage to accomplish, bringing people together.
“There are so many gay bars that try to cater to everybody, to make it an everybody bar,” she says. “And it doesn't always work, but with 1851 it always has. It's always worked where everybody just meshes together and becomes this family. We're basically, like, a neighborhood bar that just happens to be gay.”
1851 Club, located at 931 W. Division Street is open daily 3 p.m. - 2 a.m.