Guerilla Gay Bar gathers steam in Montco

Coyote Crossing

Local community activist Richard Russell Buttacavoli is resurrecting a tradition in Montgomery County in the form of Guerilla Gay Bar, which has its next event Jan. 11 at Coyote Crossing in Conshohocken.

According to Buttacavoli, the concept of the guerilla gay bar began in the 1980s in California. At that point, bar owners and managers didn’t want gay men in straight bars. A group of gay men would pick a bar, contact one another on pagers, and “it would almost be like flash mob. They texted everybody the address, the time and the venue, and they would converge. That’s how Guerilla Gay Bar got started,” he said.

A bar manager, going back as far as the 1990s, Buttacavoli drew on data he collected over time and observations he made to envision a plan for a thriving LGBTQ community in Montgomery County, that now will have its own Guerilla Gay Bar.

“I used to manage the West Side Club in Norristown,” he said. “Then, we had the opportunity to have a private after-hours license. When we went private, people would fill out a membership card, and I would take these cards and put them in a database. Eventually, we had 3,000 members. I found a very interesting pattern. I saw clusters of gay communities in Reading, Allentown, Norristown, Phoenixville, Philadelphia, New Hope, Lancaster and Harrisburg. There are gay bars in all these places.”

Buttacavoli said it was clear that bars acted as community centers and allowed gay communities to form. After he founded the Montgomery County LGBTQ Business Council, he knew he wanted to do more.

“I wanted to find leadership that wanted to put on a Pride festival and get a community center off the ground. It’s hard work,” Buttacavoli said.

While exploring ideas about building a community, Buttacavoli stumbled upon the concept of Guerilla Gay Bar after the LGBTQ community in York had success with the idea.

“York had a renaissance of new restaurants and bars. That’s how it took off in York. They also do a coffee house edition,” he said.

Buttacavoli launched his version of Guerilla Gay Bar last month in Montgomery Country as a way to bring this LGBTQ community in that area together. He said his approach is slightly different as he is trying to build a following for the idea.

“I approach a venue and say, I’m looking for a place to have a gay night,” he said. “I’m not making any money on this. I’m just trying to build a community up here. I need a draw. Just having a gay night at a venue might not pull people. So I’m trying to put on our beloved DJs as well as a drag queen and a host.”

The Jan. 11 event will feature DJ Trish Silvestri and host Rodney Altemose — Mr. Woods 2020. 

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