Our Fallen Embassy: Revisiting the Former Clems

Friday afternoon Troy Skaife took his Friday Social Club happy hour group to the bar formerly known as Clementines, which was the oldest gay bar in the city when it closed in 2014. Clem’s was considered sacred ground by many, and since the change in ownership I’ve thought of the building as a fallen embassy, trying to not even look at it much less revisit it.

But I decided if there was ever a time to go this was it, since many friends of mine attend these happy hours. I dug through my archives and pulled out the December 2014 issue of Vital VOICE, where I had a piece about Midnight Annie, the drag queen whose ashes were long entombed in the wall. While uncertain how it would be received, I felt compelled to impart a sense of history on the new owner and staff, and hoped they’d find it interesting. 
The bar is beautiful and familiar, and the happy hour took place upstairs, which was just an unused apartment during the Clem’s days. The bartender serving us was young and attractive, with a shaved head and muscular physique, and while not talkative he was efficient, relaxed and professional. The drinks, however, were nothing like the famously strong Clem’s cocktails. 
The balcony, once the most coveted and exclusive spot for LGBT people during Mardi Gras–which was also the only time it was used–was open to anyone. As the regular bar patrons arrived it felt they were either consciously or unconsciously engaging in dominance displays, trying to “hetero” the place up in response to our group, yelling at the game, repeatedly blowing air horns, etc. There’s a chance they would have been just as loud and rowdy had we not been there, but soon it seemed our entire gathering had taken refuge (video) on the balcony. 
I went downstairs to look for whoever was in charge, and found a group of three employees at the main bar, which wasn’t busy at the time. 
“Did you know there was a drag queen entombed in that wall over there for many years?” I asked. 
“Say what?!” one exclaimed, but after that burst of surprise I lost their attention instantly. 
“This is an article about it you can ready sometime” I said as the man behind the bar took the magazine and set it down without comment. 
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the story of Midnight Annie, below is an excerpt from Delusions of Grandeur

Midnight Annie’s Final Performance

I almost didn’t go to closing night at Clementines, and Ray didn’t plan on going either. It was a Monday night, I’d spent all of my time there since Wednesday, and I thought it would be too sad. Around eight, however, I decided I would always regret not going, and since I was going Ray came out as well. I walked in, and on the glowing dry erase marquee near the pool table I wrote “Going down with the ship.”

The bar was crowded but not overly so, and the characters there were the ones who really loved the place. The spirits were higher than expected and the camaraderie was simply incredible as old friends hugged, laughed, and made toasts. Miss Davey, a daily regular who had his own hot pink goblet and had been too upset to be interviewed over the past several days, came up and gave me a hug.

“I’m really sad, but I’m going to be ok” he said, smiling.

When owner Gary and his late partner Jim bought the bar in 1985, they held their first drag show with their friend Midnight Annie as the headliner. Unbeknownst to her they billed it as “Midnight Annie’s Final Performance” to make it more of a draw.

“Would you quit telling people this is my final performance?” an exasperated Midnight Annie kept admonishing.

She carried on there for many more years, and even after she passed she was still a draw, remaining among us in the wall.

I was less than a foot from Gary when, in the final hours, he took the mic, and the quiet, introverted man who’d hardly said anything over years gave a rousing farewell speech, and the whole place stopped to listen and applaud. He spoke about how much times had changed since the bar opened in 1978, and changed for the better. He spoke of the historic old brick building which was erected in the 1860s. He said all drinks were on the house until the last bottle was dry, and then he then brought up Midnight Annie.

“I always say my only child was a seventy-five year old drag queen” he began, and then announced “And she’s leaving with me. Ladies and Gentleman, next to Jan is Midnight Annie!” and I’ll be God damned if he didn’t have Midnight Annie’s dusty urn, complete with the yellowed and water stained label, sitting on the bar with a cocktail!

The crowd went mad with uproarious cheers and applause.

On that final evening there were people in attendance who’d come to see Midnight Annie’s final performance back in 1985. After a thirty year wait, she and Gary Reed finally delivered with a closing number the city will never forget. 

Shortly after, I made my way to Nadine’s, where many others had also migrated. We talked about how going back there was like going back to your house a few years after you died. It’s no longer yours, and seeing the new inhabitants is disconcerting.  It felt we were trespassers.
Not only are Midnight Annie’s ashes gone, I can feel that her soul has moved on from that space as well.  I will continue to look away from our fallen embassy, preferring to remember it as it was.