Belle’s Basix, Cedar Rapids’ only LGBTQ bar, is closing – unless a new owner steps in
After a quarter of a century, Belle’s Basix, an iconic Cedar Rapids bar and one of the few LGBTQ nightlife venues in eastern Iowa, may soon close for good.
“Unless someone buys the business, the bar will be closed for good on February 1,” owner Andrew Harrison wrote in a Facebook post late Sunday night. “If someone decides to buy the business, it will continue as they see fit [sic]. I am in talks with some people and I would like to talk to others about buying this 25 year old company. It will be cheap, I can tell you that.
Harrison, also known as Pretty Belle, has been the sole owner of Belle’s Basix for a decade. Harrison is a retired drag queen and founder of the Belle Drag family, which includes the Queen of Iowa City and RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Frisbee Jenkins, aka Sasha Belle.
Drag is in Basix’s DNA, and the company is perhaps best known for their weekly drag performances on Fridays and Saturdays. Harrison said their scheduled shows will continue as scheduled until February 1.
But Basix has always been more than a place of entertainment. Staff and regulars have worked to make the northeast Cedar Rapids business a sanctuary for LGBTQ people in Iowa and anyone looking for a sense of community.
“We call ourselves a gay bar, but we’re a bar for everyone,” Harrison told KCRG in April 2020. “… We’ve always accepted everyone as long as they recognize this is our safe space. “
Keeping clients safe became a more intimidating prospect after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, in which an anti-LGBTQ terrorist killed 49 people at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Basix organized a vigil following the tragedy.
“I have to protect my clients, but I can’t stop an AK-47,” Harrison said.
Belle’s Basix has been the target of pantyhose, BB gun pellets and insults shouted by homophobes in cars. Staff are trained to watch for suspicious customers and have a panic button behind the bar in case of an emergency.
Recognize the importance of government While protecting LGBTQ people, Basix frequently held viewing parties for major political events. During the 2016 election season, Harrison said as many as 70 people filled the bar to watch the debates. Basix hosted the Cedar Rapids Watch Party and First LGBTQ Presidential Forum after-party in September 2019, featuring 10 Democratic candidates.
– Nicholas D. Lowry (@NichoLowry) September 21, 2019
Basix has also carried on a quiet Thanksgiving tradition throughout its history: select friends and family members were invited to the bar to cook and eat a feast, chat, and maybe play a few euchre games.
“This is really the day that I love to sit down and see how we ‘misfits’ can come together and eat, drink and be OURSELVES… gay, str8, whatever !!!” Harrison job to the Belle’s Basix Facebook page in 2019.
Despite financial difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harrison donated 60 packs of beer from the bar to healthcare workers in the area. And following the derecho on August 10, 2020, Basix was among the local organizations and businesses that helped deliver supplies and meals to Cedar Rapidians in need. The bar has also worked with Linn County Public Health to offer nighttime HIV testing, allowing patrons to know their status and be back on the dance floor in a minute.
As Cedar Rapids’ only LGBTQ bar in a state with less than a dozen LGBTQ bars in total, Belle’s Basix is an Iowa institution. But the years have taken their toll on Harrison, especially in recent years. While welcoming potential buyers, he urged the public not to attempt fundraising to save Basix in its current form.
“I’m done,” Harrison wrote in Sunday’s Facebook post.
I have been in a toxic relationship with the bar for 24 and a half years. I love him, but I need to let go. The gay community seems to have let go so I must do the same. I should have let go years ago, but I wanted to keep a safe space for LGBTQA people at Cedar Rapids. It is apparently no longer needed. I HOPE and PRAY that with the current political climate, we as a community can be safe without a safe space. we will see.
Within 20 hours of the announcement, 100 Basix fans had offered words of grief, love and encouragement to Harrison in the comments section.
“This place has changed my life and I will always be grateful,” wrote one. “I learned who I was here and met the love of my life here. You have done an incredible job and I cannot thank you enough.