By Jeff Fuller
Summer of 2003. The airwaves were filled with Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love” and Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body,” and 50 Cent’s “In da Club.” I was a University of Tennessee law student, clerking part of the summer at a law firm in Atlanta. It was during this summer, that I truly had my first exposure to this big gay Georgia city and one in which the city began to win me over.
At the time, I had been taking my first few steps out of the closet. Atlanta was a place where I felt this process would accelerate, but that excited me too. Midtown was where all the action was and also happened to be where I worked. Most of the law firms had set up offices in gleaming towers just blocks from Piedmont Park. While having lunch with summer associates at Vickery’s or Joe’s on Juniper we would see groups of gays meeting up at nearby tables.
The gays I had met in Knoxville and Nashville recommended places to go in Atlanta. There was this hot new video bar called Red Chair. At the time, it was common to go to gay bars by oneself. You could easily strike up a conversation with someone, have a drink and maybe more. But I was told that Red Chair was not a place where you went by yourself and that if you did, nobody would talk to you. One Friday night, I wanted to peel off from my straight friends and explore Red Chair. I was alone, but I decided to go anyway. I went to my apartment, took off my Brooks Brothers, put on my Armani Exchange and went out again.
Once at Red Chair, I remember being amazed by the huge video screens playing Danni Minogue, Benny Benassi, and the latest electro hits from that time. I arrived early, around 9 or 10 pm and the bar was nearly empty. However, once 11 pm rolled around, the bar was packed with good-looking men. I said to myself “Oh my God, everyone in here is hot!” For a while, I wandered the crowd, trying not to appear like I had broken the rules and showed up alone. Fortunately, I ended up striking up a conversation with a cute guy there and actually spent much of the weekend with him.
Another fun bar I explored that summer was Hoedowns, tucked away in that shopping center on Monroe next to where Trader Joe’s is now. I tried my hand at country line dancing, but it was enjoyable to watch the experts do it. I remember watching two handsome guys laughing and twirling to a remix of Shania Twain’s “Forever and For Always,” thinking how much I hoped to find someone to fall in love with one day.
That summer, I attended my very first Pride Festival. Pride was especially festive that year because of the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision, which decriminalized gay sex. The guy I met at Red Chair took me to Piedmont Park and we held hands while we walked around in broad daylight, a revolutionary act for me at the time.
The law firm I worked with was very gay friendly, but I was a little coy about being out. One day, one of the gay attorneys took me to a court hearing in his convertible. In his cup holder was a water bottle from the nightclub blü. On the way, he blasted Thunderpuss remixes of Deborah Cox, Whitney Houston and Amber from his stereo. I had no doubt about him and don’t think he had any doubts about me.
Alas, I never made it to Backstreet, certainly one of the recommended bars to see. The following year, Backstreet shut its doors for good. I regret not going, but so many friends have shared stories from that place, I almost feel as if I were there.
Even though I had so much fun during my hot summer months in Atlanta, I took a job in Nashville after law school. I was still a little conflicted about my sexuality and Nashville seemed like a much “safer” place. Nevertheless, I returned to Atlanta many weekends and ultimately moved here in 2008. I will always remember how this city not only showed me fantastic, fun-filled times, but the possibilities of a new life of self-acceptance, pride and love.