TAMPA, Fla. – The Pride Month may end this week, but a special celebration of the Bay Area’s historic LGBTQ nightlife is just getting started.
What you need to know
- The T-Shirt collection includes logos, names of popular gay bars in the 70s, 80s
- Collection celebrates El Goya Bar, The Engine Room, The Wedgewood Inn
- Order t-shirts from the collection at thewowbiz.com
- More entertainment stories
In the center of downtown Ybor City you will find more than just good food, busy streets and roosters.
It is also home to an important landmark in the area’s LGBTQ history.
On the corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street is the former El Goya.
“When this bar opened as El Goya, it also put Tampa on the map to accept gay people,” said Art Smith, founder and designer of The Wow Biz.
“When you came of age in the gay world in the 70s and 80s, you didn’t have the social vibe you have now,” explained Smith. “So to meet other people and feel accepted and not have people, you look strange because you hugged someone of the same sex, these were our houses. This was the center of our social life.”
El Goya and dozens of other bars and clubs like it here in Tampa Bay and around the country may no longer exist physically. But it’s what they left behind that fueled the passion for Smith’s latest design project.
“This kind of thing helps bring those memories back to life – you see the logos, you see the designs,” said Smith.
Logos that we haven’t seen in 30, 40, 50 years are now at the center of these throwback t-shirts Smith creates to commemorate history.
“It’s important to have that history available to people because young people don’t realize what we’ve been through back then,” said Robert Pope, former owner of The Engine Room and The Wedgewood Inn.
Pope looks at photos of his bars with fond memories, but some of them not so precious.
He says his bars were constantly robbed in the 1970s for the simple fact that they were gay institutions.
When asked why Pope continued to run his businesses under such difficult conditions, Pope has a simple, straightforward answer.
“Because the gay community deserved to be treated like everyone else,” said Pope.
It’s a fight that is still being fought, and that fight is part of what drives Smith’s t-shirt project.
“Just like any other history project, people like to remember where they came from. Whether it was Grandma’s spinning wheel that she put her yarn projects on, or it’s a childhood cast-iron skillet, or it’s a piece of furniture your mom had in the living room, “he explained.” People like things to remind them of their history, and there’s not much of it in the gay world. ‘
Except this time, it doesn’t have to be a secret.
“To me that’s a big part of how we got a same-sex marriage, how we got more protection under the law, because there was 50 or 100 years of struggle, step by step, and these bars are playing a part in that struggle,” said Smith. “It’s a lot of history that a lot of people don’t hear about.”
Check out the t-shirt designs at thewowbiz.com.