Saying Goodbye to JJ’s Clubhouse

Saying Goodbye to JJ’s Clubhouse 

I don’t think St. Louis has ever had a club with the same kind of urban, Gotham vibe as JJ’s Clubhouse. Situated beneath towering overpasses in a gritty (until recently) part of town, it’s surrounded by elevated train tracks, including those of the Metro, which  practically runs across the roof, and by abandoned or underutilized (until recently) factories and warehouses. In the early days you kind of felt street smart even knowing where it was, and tough for going inside. 

It’s long been a place that exuded masculine energy; a sprawling industrial space that was a favorite of bears, leather guys, and bearded men who skewed older. But its famed dance floor lured the younger crowd from the nearby Grove around midnight.  

When news broke that on Thursday they’d close their doors for good, I asked friends to share their thoughts and memories. 

Tributes 

Countless tributes came in, so I selected a handful for this blog post. Submissions not used here may be used in a future project. Please feel free to share your own in the thread.

“JJ’s is and will always be my favorite bar/club in the St. Louis area that I personally have always felt welcome. I will miss this place greatly.” – Leland L de Masy

“Met two guys who became the single best threesome of my life. Best blackouts – and so worth it. Countless times I forget my credit cards there. And the bartenders, gracious as ever, would call me the next day. ‘Salam, you forgot your card again.’ My response is generally the same, ‘oh shit, thank you! I’ll be in tonight and I’ll use it again. See then!’ One of the Cliques of St. Louis took residence here for a while, which lead into a love-mostly-hate relationship with certain patrons who made a point to spread gossip, not lies though, all which had kicked off after a single bad date with a notorious bad dater. First gay bar that I can say I actually enjoyed my time, the company, and the strangers. It was amazing to be approached by strangers and be able to approach strangers at JJs, as the rest of the Saint Louis gay scene does not typically follow such an approachable mindset.”  -Salam Alhamdy 

“Several years ago, we went to a Chris Andoe soiree in St. Louis, and the bar, Rehab, knew we were coming and left us little party favors (kazoos, hats, etc.) on the tables beforehand. Well, a typhoon came through about six p.m. and destroyed most of the fun trinkets and they were ruined, threw in the trash. Well, Shae Porter managed to save one little silver glittery top hat, which he had on his head. It was humid after the tsunami and Shae was sweating profusely. The bar back handed me a clean bar towel and said “Here, wipe your friend’s face off”, which I did, and then proceeded to take said top hat and apply glitter all over his face. We then went to JJ’s, about two in the morning, and the door guy, about my size, wearing a harness, checked our IDs with a flashlight and then put the light in our face to make sure they matched, He looked at Shae’s, spotlighted his face ‘Goddamned, Girl, did you just rim Tinkerbell?’” – Floyd Martin 

“I liked JJs cause you could be trash there. Got my dick sucked out on the patio there.” – Rocky McCoy 

“When I was a gayby in my early twenties, I realized my hometown area was lacking in much of a gay scene, and the one that existed I didn’t feel connected with. I started going online looking forward places to explore reasonably close by, that’s when I came across gay.com chat rooms for the region. I was quickly swept into the St. Louis chat room where I made a network of friends over a long period of time. Finally, a day came where I was invited by friends I made to come up and visit during a Bear event, “Mr. Heartland Bear.” I fell in love with the magic of it, and that was my first time at Bad Dogs Bar and Grill, and JJ’S CLUBHOUSE. Years went by and I started to meet more people on my visits into St Louis, and brought more and more friends with me over the years, and I always felt welcome, and found friendly company within JJ’S. When I finally did move to St Louis in 2016, I automatically wanted to name JJs as my home bar amongst my group of friends. It seems silly my eyes swell up with tears as I type this but it really is sad it’s closing down. JJs was the place that this gay man who wasn’t size zero pretty twink or drag queen could go and feel accepted with open arms. I want to thank Jeff and Jerry for their 21 years of doing this not just for me, but for thousands if not millions, as well as many other things for our community. I will never in my life forget my first Bear bar, or the friendly company I found therein. To JJs Clubhouse! Woof!” -Chris Dexter 

JJ’s patio

It’s Going to be Weird 

While Thursday is the last night, the optimum time to say goodbye has already passed. Tomorrow is when the community at large, even people who didn’t like JJ’s, will flock to the scene (including a guy who days ago celebrated the closure as part of his recent crusade against body positivity) . If you’re wanting one last opportunity to say goodbye to the JJ’s community, the presence of so many who were never part of that community will feel intrusive. I just want to prepare you. It will feel like going to see a loved one in their final moments, and finding a hospital room full of strangers hanging around. 

I’m basing this off my observations when Clementine’s closed. Monday was the last day, but Sunday was when the community at large came out. That left Monday to the regulars, who toasted and hugged, laughed and cried. That’s something we’re not going to get, so you’ll have to create it in your own clusters, tuning out everything else. 

People keep asking, “where will we go?” From my experience “we” will scatter. 20% will go here, 30% there, and some will stop going out. But there is a market for this kind of bar, and there’s a lot of cheap real estate to be had to make it happen. Just not in the Grove or Midtown. I predict bears will find a new home on South Broadway. 

In the meantime I look forward to being part of St. Louis history tomorrow night, as we come together to celebrate this legendary place people will be talking about for decades to come.

5 Replies to “Saying Goodbye to JJ’s Clubhouse”

  1. JJ’s made you feel come- as- you- are welcomed . That is rare
    commodity in any town any place Gay or straight. Thanks guys. If the next bright spot keeps that same vibe the night pilgrims will find their way there and it will become a home.

  2. I’ve been in St. Louis for 13 years. Although I’ve never been a regular at JJ’s I’ve always loved going there and I will stop by tonight for a farewell visit.

  3. And to add insult to injury on this last night, some tired blues band (followed up by an even louder twangy G Dead type band, of course) is playing next door to JJs at a lot in front of the sure to be horrifically sanitized Foundary AND they have blocked off the best parking/car sex area. Not that this stopped the patron I saw rip off the bottom of their car trying that (high curb now that it has been fixed..surprise!) elevated parking line across from the bar. Odd figure lurking by the outdoor area=STL version of a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence. In San Fran they would have been doing beer enemas out of the tap and spraying the crowd down, much to everyone’s delight, here they are helping to hold up the wall. Historical highlight at JJs was seeing Christeene there with Justin V Bond. Christeene came out with a cute little butt plug in, attached to a ribbon and balloon-she pulled it out and sucked on it a while before letting it roam around the dance floor free range, playfully bouncing as the AC blasted the balloon, dancing on its own with a conspicuous perimeter of avoidance by folks-it was a spectacular show with a nice mention of when JJs banned drag queens and that we all need to stand more together etc. . Then Justin started off by making a joke about being in a dump, which if she was in SF would have gotten some laughs, because even if it was a dump, it is San Fran. If it was a SERIOUS dump out in a swamp or some-such it would have gotten an even bigger laugh because everyone there would have known it was true and loved that fact. However at JJs where people took themselves more seriously in a typical “we are still spectacular even though we are in the Midwest” attitude it went over like Christeene’s butt plug bouncing balloon with a Jeff Stryker dildo attached instead of her timid little lipstick of a thing…thud.

  4. I first went to JJ’s it’s first year with Pride President Ron Trucks suggested all of us on the committee go to this new bar. From 2004 on, as a member of Blue Max and other organizations, I came to fall in love with the place and the people. It will always hold a special place in my memories.

  5. I meet Jerry Jurak at a house party in the summer of 94, I later meet Jeff Plunk when he worked at the “outpost”. When he said he was going to open a gay bar, I thought sarsactility to my self that’s all we need is another gay bar. Well was i wrong. We needed JJ’S and as a member of Blue Max C.C. the “outpost” was our home bar along with the Show Me Bears. When JJ’S opened the Show Me Bears moved to JJ’S followed by Gateway MC. After a few months the Blue Max board talked with Jeff and Jerry and ask if they would consider allowing BMCC to move there as well. Without hesitation they said yes and it was the best thing the BMCC could have done. They and the staff welcomed BMCC with open arms. We hosted many club nights there as well Leather Runs as did the Show Me Bears have Hibernation and Gateway MC. hosted runs at JJ’S.
    One night on my birthday I decided I was going out to celebrate not sure what birthday it was. I drank way to many shots with beer chasers and at one point I decided it was time to go home. As I walked to the door Jerry said” Daddy Ray” a nick name I picked up I said going to car to get a pack of smokes and he said okay don’t drive as you’re in no condition and I said I won’t well I did. The next time at JJ’S Jerry scolded me like a little kid which I deserved it. I had drank in several bars in STL and when leaving intoxicated not one bar owner or bartender said I shouldn’t drive not one. I appreciated the care you showed Jerry.
    I did meet my Husband Sam at JJ’S in 2005 through a sort of mutual friend.
    Sam and I moved to Tennessee in 2018 and JJS was one of the things we missed most as well as our friends.
    I was in STL on memorial day weekend and I was to meet Stephen Louis Brawley and Jay Thurman to give them some items I had collected over the years for the LGBTQ and Blue Max so we decided to meet at JJS. I walked in and was greeted with open arms from Jerry Jurak and the others there it was like I had never been gone for 3 years.
    When I read the JJS was closing and the last night was June 17, I wanted to go but its a long drive for a party. Well Sam made the decision for me Ray pack a bag and go and have fun as your retired and have all the time so go and have a good time. I am truly glad I made the trip to STL for the last night at JJS. It was very hot but well worth the trip to be there one last time.

    JJS will be missed as others have posted it was the place to be on a Friday and Saturday night as it seems there was always something going on. Yes JJS will be missed along with Jeff and Jerry and all the employes. but they will never be forgotten.

    Farewell until another time.

    Ray”bear'” Lemons

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