Our city’s relationship with the LGBTQ community has been tumultuous at best. We went from having the largest queer space in the Western states, Hide and Seek, to being labeled the nexus of the “hate state” with the passage of Amendment 2; from being the first city in Colorado to implement protections for queer government employees, to having a high-profile pastor fired for having an affair with a man.
We’re all over the place.
I say all that because, as a queer person, I am so excited a lovely gay couple left their acting jobs on Broadway to open ICONS here, in the heart of downtown.
For years, the Springs has had less-than-ideal queer spaces, often relying too heavily on the fact that they’re queer to keep them in business, rather than having a genuinely amazing bar or restaurant.
In a world where being LGBTQ is not something you need to hide anymore and where apps help people find dates, simply being a queer space isn’t enough, and that is evident by the disappearance of such spaces in the Springs.
Prior to ICONS opening, the only LGBTQ space left for adults was Club Q (see “Keeping the lights on,” July 8, 2020). And as much as I appreciate Club Q for enduring, I would never take my straight friends there.
But ICONS is something I want to show off, and it gives me mom-from-New-Jersey-saying-look-at-what-Jimmy-did vibes — I just want everyone to know about it.
ICONS is not just a great gay bar, it’s a great bar, and instead of hiding or being ashamed of who they are, they’re loud and proud.
“We wanted it to be a little educational,” says John Wolfe, one of the two owners. “We realized pretty quickly that there’s kind of a backwards view on what a gay bar meant for people here. So we wanted to build everything in the bar — the artwork, the menu items — everything is based around queer icons of history.” Thus, the name.
They really hit the nail with the stiletto.
Wolfe and his partner in business and life, Josh Franklin, deeply love queer culture. ICONS boasts drag queens singing show tunes, delicious bevies named Dolly Patrón and Ella Fizzgerald, a grand mural of the Golden Girls.
“We’re like a mix of class and camp,” says Franklin, which perfectly describes their aesthetic — not too classy where you feel you need to put on a tie, and not too campy where you’re wondering what’s actually a joke and what’s being passed as a joke because it’s just bad.
But ICONS is more than a bar trying to educate you like some fabulously gay magic school bus where you can get drunk (although I would absolutely go to that bar); it’s also about celebrating.
“[Gay bars in the Springs have] had a sense of shame behind them like Hide and Seek and The Underground. There’s something very, like, please-don’t-tell-anybody-that-we’re-gay about it that didn’t sit well with me,” says Wolfe. “We were adamant about [ICONS] being a celebratory space, not apologizing for being gay.”
Far too often, queer people, including myself, have felt like we need to prove we belong, apologizing for our existence (especially in a city that has organizations like Focus on the Family that have rallied to make marriage between queer people illegal). ICONS says, with everything they do, “We are fantastic. Let us prove that to you.”
“We want people that maybe don’t have exposure to the queer community to come here,” says Wolfe, “see how nice people are, how fun we are, and I dare people to come and not have a good time with us.”
The couple says the city has been incredibly supportive. They haven’t received any negative backlash and at least 50 percent of their customer base is straight. Colorado Springs is showing it is changing for the better, and as a queer person, that makes me so excited. Finally a city that believes in me.