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Colorado Springs is without both of its longstanding LGBTQ spaces. The community is still gathering.

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Josh Franklin, left, and John Wolfe, right, sit at their house in Colorado Springs. The two own ICONS, a Colorado Springs gay bar known for its singing bartenders and upbeat environment.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The singing, sparkling bartenders shaking up Downtown Colorado Springs are on sabbatical.

The city’s second gay bar — known as ICONS, where the bartenders were as harmonious as their cocktails and the restrooms were adorned with vibrant murals — has shuttered the doors at its original location after the business caught on fire in December 2023. The fire left ICONS with too much smoke damage to operate.

But ICONS owners Josh Franklin and John Wolfe  have their eyes set on a new space just a block away from the original. The two are under contract and about halfway through closing on a new building. They’ve set up external fundraising efforts online to help pay staff in the meantime.

“The whole brand is about celebrating being gay and you won’t find that at any bar that just happens to have a rainbow flag,” said Franklin, who grew up in Colorado Springs.

Wolfe and Franklin entered into their lease at the original ICONS location on Bijou Street in 2020. Since then, prices have soared and they’d prefer to have total control over their bar, which prompted the two to purchase their next location.

“For any queer business, it’s a risk to have somebody else calling the shots on the operation, so we just want to eliminate that risk and never have to deal with this again,” Franklin said.

The owners hope to infuse the same upbeat energy and unapologetic “gay-ness” that defined their first spot into the second haunt . They did not specify if the RuPaul and Dolly Parton-themed bathrooms would make a return but maintained that emblems of iconic queer culture will remain.

John Wolfe and Josh Franklin — who is from Colorado Springs — met while auditioning for Broadway shows in New York City. The two moved back to Colorado Springs in 2020 and decided to open a gay bar replicating a New York-style piano bar.
Photo: Alison Berg, Rocky Mountain PBS

“We want it to feel familiar, but we’re not going to replicate it exactly,” Franklin said. “That space and the people in it just exuded pure joy, so it is like a piece of us has died and I hope we can have that piece again.”

Franklin — who grew up in Colorado Springs — left his hometown for a musical career in New York City. He and Wolfe met while performing in Godspeed Musical’s production of “A Wonderful Life” in 2015.

The two moved to Colorado Springs in 2020 and quickly realized the community needed an LGBTQ+ gathering space. At the time, Club Q was the city’s only option. They got married a year later.

Many restaurants and bars in the Downtown Colorado Springs area boast Pride flags and hold nights inviting LGBTQ+ people. While Franklin and Wolfe said those gestures are crucial, there’s a certain specialty to bars specifically by and for queer people.

“It means something,” Franklin said. “A lot of people tend to not understand that, but queer people do. Majorly.”

Over the four years it remained open, ICONS garnered a reputation as a New York-style piano bar with Broadway-caliber talent. The bar also separated itself from other gay bars with its brightness, cleanliness and outspokenness about who it was serving.

“I remember thinking that we deserve better than sticky floors and plastic cups, or at least an option to have a place nicer than that,” Franklin said. “It’s not a dark, dingy pace to hide. It is a place to be seen and to celebrate that visibility.”

Matthew Haynes, who owns Club Q, has opened a lounge in the Satellite Hotel since the bar closed following a 2022 shooting in which five people were killed. Haynes said he eventually plans to reopen the club in its original location, though he is not sure when that will be. In the meantime, The Q is an 18+ space with board games, billiards and a bar.

Queer organizers in the Pikes Peak region said ICONS’ closure has left them without formal gathering spaces, but they’re working to create informal ones in the interim.

“It’s hard not having a brick-and-mortar space,” said Nico Wilkinson, an artist and LGBTQ+ organizer in Colorado Springs.

Wilkinson, who moved to Colorado Springs in 2014 to attend Colorado College, said the poetry and art scene at the college was their first introduction to queer community in the city. Wilkinson then spent a summer in Minneapolis and felt inspired to bring the more “formal” queer socializing found in other cities back to the Pikes Peak region.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we had a space where we could just be as queer as we wanted and felt safe doing that?” Wilkinson said. “I really wanted to capture some of what I found in Minneapolis.”

Wilkinson collaborated with Poetry 719, a local artist’s group, to begin holding open mic nights at various bookstores.When ICONS opened, Wilkinson saw it as a prime spot for creative queers to share their work.

“I had a lot of nervousness around bringing people together in a space that was explicitly marketed as a queer space,” Wilkinson said. “As organizers, we have such a huge responsibility to keep people safe.”

When the group resumed activities after a COVID-19 pause, Wilkinson strongly suggested mask-wearing at events. After the Club Q shooting, Wilkinson said the danger to the queer community became even more tangible.

“I take this very seriously as an organizer,” Wilkinson said. “How do I keep people safe, both from COVID and from people who want to hurt our community?”

As warmer weather rolls around, Wilkinson hopes they can get creative by hosting events outside. They keep in contact with other artistic LGBTQ+ people and are planning events and an artistic retreat throughout the coming months. Ultimately, though, Wilkinson feels “community,” means much more than just events in buildings.

“Sometimes building queer community is as simple as just talking in a Facebook group,” Wilkinson said. “Sometimes that’s the best we can offer.”

Alison Berg is a reporter at Rocky Mountain PBS.

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