The Nickel Bar: This House has Feeling!
House is a Feeling! So goes the name of one of The Nickel Bar’s regular nights. It offers a metaphor for the Charlotte institution that has been providing a home for LGBTs who seek a place to celebrate their lives outside the more well-travelled gay locales of Plaza-Midwood and South End. It also serves as a good barometer of the owner, Milton Howard’s, vision of a club that catered to the taste of the African American gay community; something that had never been done before in the Greater Charlotte area.
“I first got into to gay nightclub promotions in 1990,” said Milton. “I was a waiter at a restaurant in uptown called, The Artist Cafe; live music, chic, and well-before its time.” One night a regular customer of Milton’s invited him to his club and Milton was both impressed with the beauty of the place and the lack of patrons on such a warm spring night.
He also immediately saw an opportunity.
“I met the owner and asked if I could promote the club for the gay African American community and he welcomed the idea. I gave my first party in April 1990 and it was an instant success.”
Unfortunately the club closed down a few months later, but Milton had a taste of what he wanted to do and continued promoting the black LGBT nights elsewhere; however, he also realized that there was a greater need in the community beyond occasional parties.
“When I retired from club promotions, I vowed to myself that the next time I promoted a club/bar it would be my own business.”
In 2002, Milton moved to Northwest Charlotte and one day on his commute home saw a building he felt would be perfect for his dream. Coincidentally, the site already housed a club that was no longer in operation. Milton had a friend in real estate locate the building’s owner, made an agreement over the phone, and opened The Nickel Bar in February, 2009.
Milton explained the establishment’s moniker, “I named it The Nickel Bar for a couple different reasons: I wanted a name that was easy to remember and tied in with the current recession; it is also how we price all of our services ($5 range on cover & drinks); Finally, it harkened back to the legendary Nickel Bar in New York City of the late 80′s & early 90′s.”
The nod to New York is very appropriate as entering Nickel Bar reminds one of an East Village groove from the olden days. The inside of the bar features a very large step up platform/stage, the floors are utilitarian white and black checkerboard, the walls are red with lots of mirrors, and there is a sense of open space – something that seems to predicate the bar itself being secondary to the needs of patrons – a community house, if you will.
That feeling is backed up by Milton’s own description, “I would say Nickel Bar is a neighborhood bar, social lounge, and special events space. We try to provide affordable space for those looking to have special events without the high cost of renting a large venue.”
While the inside seems to be flexible to whatever the day will bring, stepping outside you experience a space that seems to dictate function. Boasting one of the better outdoor patios in Charlotte, the very large fenced in outside area offers a number of intimate congregation spaces for one-on-one or small group conversations. Patio tables, grouped seats and an outdoor fireplace complete the impression of an outdoor living room. It also offers a fantastic view of the Charlotte skyline.
On top of all this, one of the things that is most impressive about The Nickel Bar is what makes it a rarity. While many cities have larger LGBT nightlife resources including those targeting minorities, most are not minority owned. As explained by Milton, “With the Democratic National Convention coming in September, I was visited by members of their site scouting team and was told that there was only about 3-4 Black Gay Owned Clubs/Bar in the country and I was one of them.”
That distinction is both a responsibility and a privilege. While Milton is quick to state that Nickel Bar is not a black bar, but an open and welcoming community home that welcomes all people, he does work hard to carve out a feeling of home to the minority LGBT community which sometimes feels separated from the larger gay community.
The Nickel Bar is open Thursdays through Saturdays an offers a bevy of nights including Open Mic Night featuring local poets, comedians and artists; Friday and Saturday nights are social dance nights with local promoters; and Sundays with cookouts during spring/summer months, offering card games, book signing for up & coming authors and even a monthly Mary Kay representative come in to do free facials!
On the horizon for the Nickel Bar is a remodeling of both the bar & patio to give it a more cosmopolitan look that matches the growing recognition of the Rozzelles Ferry Road corridor which is in the process of renewal.
The local neighborhood association & the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police department have been quite welcoming to their “Gay Neighbors” and The Nickel Bar feels it has the local community appreciation and support to be an integral part of the areas rejuvenation.
Returning to the theme of House (Home) as a Feeling, Nickel Bar is working to expand its market to all of Charlotte & surrounding communities, both straight & gay.
Milton, speaking of that mission and the future, “We feel it is important to support each other as this is a way to help break down the stereotypes of the gay community. We support local organizations such as The Second Harvest Food Bank, The Mecklenburg County Health Department, Quality Home Care and the PowerHouse Project; an organization that attempts to education the gay youth in regards to HIV Prevention & Support Services.”
Truly this Charlotte House is a Home and offers a whole lot of feeling.