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24-hour cafe looks to replace Mable Peabody's for gay community

Profile image for Dalton LaFerney
Dalton LaFerney, For the Denton Record-Chronicle

A new cafe catering to the local LGBTQ community will open this spring in downtown Denton.

Lillian Williams, 36, and Stephanie Davis, 30, the co-founders of Q's and alumnae of the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University, respectively, are developing what they hope will add a unique spin on gay bars and gay culture in North Texas.

Davis said food will be sold 24 hours a day, joining Dix Coney Island as the only restaurants in the area around the Square to be open around the clock. There will be a regular menu, but certain days will have featured options — like breakfast tacos on the weekends and fair-style food late at night, when the drinking crowds are finishing up downtown. 

Davis, who managed an IHOP and an Applebee's in Denton and is a bartender at Sue Ellen's in Dallas, said the cafe ought to be "a good sober-up spot."

Traditional gay bar activities, like drag shows and "queerlesque," will have a home at Q's, and it will have comedy nights and after-hours poetry slams that will give customers things to enjoy other than drinking.

The co-founders want it to provide a forum where people in and outside of the queer community can mingle with drag queens and laugh during comedy shows. They call the place Q's for some wordplay on the many questions people have about LGBTQ living and the many terms queer people use to express their identities.

"It's a lot of heavy lifting to explain yourself when you're 'othered' all the time," Williams said.

Denton has a sizable college-age population, but gay students looking for a night out often head to Dallas for its gay bars and nightclubs.

That was made worse in August when Mable Peabody's Beauty Parlor & Chainsaw Repair closed, leaving Denton without any gay bars. Davis and Williams used to frequent Mable's when they were students. So when they caught wind of the closure, the concept for Q's began to take shape.

Throughout queer history, gay bars have been safe spaces for people to meet and explore like-minded people without threat of intimidation or worse. But even as gay bars are central to queer culture, Williams and Davis say the overlap of drinking and personal liberation creates an expectation that young LGBTQ people must indulge in a party lifestyle to fully appreciate what it means to be a queer person. It's as if, they say, to be comfortable and safe, one must drink and party.

Williams and Davis have had friends in various stages of recovery from alcohol addiction, and it has always been a challenge finding a place where those friends can fully enjoy socializing with gays without the pressure to drink. So Q's will serve beer and wine but no liquor.

Right now, Williams and Davis said, queer people need designated covens during a time when LGBTQ people are fearing higher levels of rhetorical and physical harm.

Texas is among the most violent places for LGBTQ people to live, according to the New York City Anti-Violence Project, which ranked 2017 toward the top of the list of most deadly years for queer people. The group says the election of President Donald Trump has a great deal to do with this uptick in anti-gay violence.

"There is a lot of hatred going on right now," Davis said. "We need a space where people can just calm down and be themselves."

Denton has a reputation for being open to LGBTQ people despite being embedded in heavily conservative Denton County. Three years ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage constitutional, Denton County Clerk Juli Luke, citing her religious values, denied same-sex couples marriage licenses the first day. Some locals — driven by packs of college students — rallied to challenge the denial.

Verus Real Estate broker Glen Farris said the two women have signed all the documents for the property, at 222 W. Hickory St. 

The down payment will come from money raised in an online Kickstarter campaign. The vast majority of contributors, Williams and Davis said, gave about $5 at a time, some people offering physical labor when it comes time to open.

"That shows people have our backs," Davis said. "It's all a bunch of people like us."

Williams said the Square is an ideal fit because it splits the distance between UNT and TWU and because it's in an area where people are already going out for drinks and nightlife.

A big question Williams said they keep hearing is whether non-LGBTQ people will be allowed to patronize the cafe.

"Of course you're allowed to come in," she said. 

And really, that's the point: Davis and Williams say they hope to brand Q's as a gay bar for all people to visit and learn about each other, to not shy away from queer issues.

"We just want a space to still be shiny but go a littler deeper," Williams said.