Professional Portrait: Jim Madden

The Bike Stop has been the “heart of the leather community for over 18 years.” At one time I found the place a little intimidating, but now if I want to stop by and have a quick beer or get a bear hug from Rick upstairs, I no longer feel like I’m invading the boys’ club. It’s still a male-centric, non-frilly spot (The Pit Stop in the basement has a sign that reads “No Sneakers — No Cologne”), as it should be, but now it feels like a place where I could hang with my big brothers and feel safe. (Not that my actual big brother is into leather … at least not that I know of.)

The man overseeing all of the fun is Jim Madden. And they do have fun at The Bike Stop, with something happening on one of the four floors every night. You can hang out on the first floor for pinball videogames and general socializing or head down to The Pit Stop for … well, I don’t know; I’ve never been down there … or head up to The Short Stop to watch the game or participate in one of the tighty-whitey parties. Or you can climb to the Top of the Stop to dance your chaps off to the live DJ. I had a chance to find out more about the guy running this Philadelphia institution.

PGN: So tell me about Jim. JM: I was born in Troy, N.Y., in 1954 and am one of two sons.

PGN: Are you the older or younger brother? JM: Younger; my older brother is also gay. My parents are still living in the area in a little town near Troy called Wynantskill. By the way, “Wynant” was a guy who was a big property owner in the area and “kill” is a Dutch word meaning creek. It was semi-rural; you didn’t have to go far to get lost. But we weren’t far from Albany, so when I was in my early 20s, I moved there for a while and that’s where I came out. I went to the University of Binghamton and while I was there, I met a girl who was from Cherry Hill. She was gay and she invited me down for the Fourth of July celebration in Philly the summer of 1985. I met a lot of great people and started to hang out here. The second time I came I went to The Bike Stop. I walked in and they were signing up softball players. I was a pretty decent player in those days, so I joined The Bike Stop team. Ron Lord, the owner of The Bike Stop at the time, took a shine to me and when I lost my job in New York, he put me to work over at the Monster Inn.

PGN: What was that? JM: It was a restaurant right across the street from The Bike Stop at 211. So, he offered me the job and I’ve been here ever since. In 1997, he sold the place to me.

PGN: What is a cold winter memory? JM: I was kind of diminutive when I was a kid, so 3 feet of snow was a lot for me. The school was right across from our house but there was a big field that we had to cut across. I remember walking through the field and the snow was up to my chest. I think we tried to shovel it once, but I can’t imagine why. We wouldn’t shovel our own driveway, but we tried to shovel our way to school. I guess we were bored.

PGN: What kind of things did you like to do? JM: I was a daydreamer. Yup, I daydreamed a lot. We had a pretty big yard with a couple of sheds, which we pretended were forts, so most of the kids came to our house to play. My brother was pretty mischievous, so we always figured out a way to have some fun.

PGN: Did he come out first? JM: No. I came out when I was about 24 and he didn’t come out until much later. He worked a lot and lived at home for quite some time, so his social life didn’t blossom until later.

PGN: How did you come out? JM: I came out to my friends first and that went well — there wasn’t any pushback from any of them. They truly were my friends. My parents were a different story. There are other people in my family who were gay, some open, some not, and there were a lot of dynamics at play even before I came out. When I told my mother, I had to chase her down the street in the pouring rain to bring her back to finish the story. She wasn’t very accepting and that’s when I started to pull away and head away from home. After my brother came out, we made our amends.

PGN: Hobbies? JM: Trying to sleep! Actually, my husband and I raise Komondors. They’re Hungarian flock-guarding dogs. Extra large, they average over 100 pounds and they have long dreadlocks. They’re pretty well known; I used to bring them into the club. We have a father and a son and daughter from separate litters. I do some gardening and reading and Richie and I are heavily invested in the marriage-equality movement in New Jersey, where we live.

PGN: Do you show the dogs? JM: Well, the father is a finished champion. The daughter didn’t have the temperament for the ring — she was a little too reactive. The son is just not great show quality. We could probably finish him if we wanted to champion him, but he’s a perpetual puppy.

PGN: So did you do that “Best in Show” thing and parade him around the room? JM: Yes, I have done that, but it’s not my favorite thing to do. “Best in Show” was more accurate than most people would want to admit.

PGN: Here’s an important question: Why do the trainers put the dog treats in their own mouths before giving them to the dogs? JM: When you’re in the show ring, there are so many distractions. You don’t see it on TV, but there are hundreds of other dogs around, there are people and noises and all the other impulses that can distract your dog, and you want that dog paying attention to you. You don’t want the bait in your hand, which I made the mistake of doing once: The dog went for the bait and the judge was caught in the middle. So you put the bait in your mouth for two reasons: one, to have free use of your hands if you want to place the dogs’ paws or fluff up their coats, and two, so that the dog will look at your face and eyes and pay attention to you instead of staring at your pocket looking for a treat.

PGN: How did you and your husband meet? JM: We met in 1996 here at The Bike Stop on the second floor. It was a Sunday night and I was working. We’ve been together ever since. In 1997, he took my name. We had a commitment ceremony right here at The Bike Stop attended by 125 of our closest friends.

PGN: What was your first impression when you came here for the first time? JM: Some people have the impression that it is the haunted house at the end of the street. I think the whole leather community has a kind of mystique about it. But I didn’t know anything about it; I just walked by and thought it was a pretty cool-looking place. When I walked in and saw the softball team gathered at the bar, I just fell in with the crowd.

PGN: What are some of the things that scare people? JM: Some people can’t get past the image of the guy in chains and leather. There used to be urban myths circulating that people would get tied up in the basement and that all sorts of things went on down there. We do have a basement bar, but we are a business with a liquor license and we can’t allow any sexual activity to happen here. We do have things like jock-strap night or underwear night, we have a regular bootblack and we do demonstrations and things to give the place a little edge. But we keep it legal.

PGN: What are some of the changes? It seems to me that the men’s bars in general are more welcoming to women, for one thing. JM: That’s been a big and difficult row to hoe. Our primary client is male, but my motto is “Show respect, get respect,” and that starts on our end. So whether it’s women or straight people, we try to be welcoming. In this day and age, you can’t afford to turn anyone’s money away. And there are certainly as many women into leather and fetish as there are men, and they need a place to feel comfortable too. At the same time, it is a men’s bar and I don’t want to lose our identity. People come from all over the world because we have a reputation in the leather community. Our own Scott Tucker became Mr. International Leather and people from all over still remember that.

PGN: When I think of The Bike Stop and the leather community, I think of philanthropy. You seem to support a lot of causes. JM: We try. We certainly support a number of sports teams. Rick Van Tassel works here and is a member of Team Philadelphia, so we are very involved with the sports community. I’m one of the original sponsors of the gay softball league. Before I came here, The Bike Stop was one of the first places doing fundraising for people with AIDS. Before there were AIDS service organizations, they just tried to raise money to get people food and medicine and pay for medical help. A lot of the leather community got hit first with the epidemic.

PGN: So what’s great about being a bar owner? JM: It’s a lifelong dream of mine. I come from a long line of bar people. My grandfather and his brother owned a speakeasy in the ’20s and ’30s during prohibition. After prohibition, they became legitimate bar/restaurant owners and my mother and her siblings worked in the restaurant.

PGN: Celebrity sightings? JM: There used to be a show on Channel 12 called “Cookin’ Cheap” with Larry and Laban, a couple of hillbillies from down Virginia way. They’d cook a meal with a can of beans and some bacon or something. They were in town doing promotions and they came in. A couple people from the cast of “Are You Being Served?” have come in. When Estelle Getty was shooting “Mannequin,” she came in and sat right at the corner of the bar and hung out. Andy Bell from Erasure. Recently, when “The Wizard of Oz” was playing at The Forrest, one of the little people playing one of the munchkins was gay, so he hung out here too.

PGN: Something you’re scared of? JM: I’m frightened of … gee, this is a therapy question. I’m frightened of abandonment. I’m also claustrophobic. I found that out taking an MRI. It also reared its ugly head [when I was] taking a trip to Florida. We were driving and had a bed-over-cab RV and I couldn’t sleep on the inside. Stuck in the small enclosure, I would have a panic attack.

PGN: Who would you like to sit next to at a dinner party? JM: I think it would be Ron Howard. I’ve always had a fascination with the movies. They shot a film here called “Consequences” a few years ago and I just love the whole process of filmmaking. I have a number of stories that I’d like to make into screenplays.

PGN: So what’s the first film about? JM: It would probably be about that Florida trip. It was calamitous. In addition to my claustrophobia, the RV caught on fire, I hit my head and knocked myself down a few times and we had a few encounters with local police. To top it off, the wedding we were going to see never took place, at least not that trip.

PGN: Do you still play ball? JM: No, I just had my knee replaced in September. I played left field and third base and finished up as a first baseman. It’s been years since I played. I can’t even bowl anymore because of the arthritis in my knee.

PGN: Best play? JM: We were at a game in New York City and a ball popped up right by the fence. I managed to somehow get over and catch it before it hit the ground and it was the final out of the game.

PGN: Most unusual possession? JM: I still have a stuffed animal from when I was a kid. It’s the orange mouse from Fruit Stripe gum candy.

PGN: Do you talk in your sleep? JM: Richie works for a computer programmer so he leaves at 5:30 in the morning. I’ve been told I’ve had complete conversations with him that I have no recollection of.

PGN: What’s a song that you’re embarrassed to admit you like? JM: I think it would be “You Light Up My Life” by Debbie Boone.

PGN: How did you know you were gay? JM: I was always attracted to handsome boys. I’ve been sexually active with boys since I was about 8 years old. It didn’t take long for me to figure out what I wanted.

PGN: Stupid human trick? JM: I like to think I can still sing! There are varying opinions outside of my own, but I’ve performed with a live band and I’ve done my share of karaoke. I like to sing blues rock, Eric Clapton and Johnny Lang. At my 50th birthday party, I performed with the live band that was playing for us. I did a duet, “It’s Still Raining,” at the last live performance of Marie Lally. It was a memorable birthday.

The Bike Stop 206 S. Quince St. (215) 627-1662 www.thebikestop.com

To suggest a community member for “Professional Portraits,” write to: Professional Portraits, 505 S. Fourth St., Philadelphia, PA 19147 or [email protected]