Jacksonville gay bar closes subway, but could reopen as small club
Metro nightclub had closed several weeks earlier, but co-owner Jerry Rosenberg kept returning to the old location, taking care of all the things needed to leave a 17,000-square-foot club, including trying to find houses for furniture. and works of art and strange objects left behind.
He didn’t want to go away and leave it all there. Sure, he said, someone could find them a home.
So one recent Friday – which he said would be absolutely the last day he would be there – he saw a few Habitat for Humanity workers loading chairs into their truck, scavenging some of what was left of the truck. Metro Entertainment Complex. .
“Well, you are my last day here,” he told them. “This is my last good deed, to give these things to all of you. So I’m leaving. That’s it. “
He had already cut the power, so he used his cell phone flashlight to navigate the sprawling building that sits right up against the train tracks that separate Riverside and Murray Hill. Long a gathering place for the gay community in Jacksonville and beyond, it has evolved into a piano bar, disco dance floor, pool halls, and drag shows.
Rosenberg was a little disappointed that no one wanted the club bar which came from the old Robert Meyer hotel in the city center. It was one of seven different bars on the metro.
It’s hard to let go. “I can’t keep coming back here, but I do it every day,” he said. “I mean, last night I dreamed about things in the attic that I have to give away and sure enough it’s already empty. I have so many things on my mind.”
Rosenberg admitted to having some melancholy at the thought of leaving the premises. It was too big, really, especially since times have changed.
He’s not yet ready to quit right away. He would love to be part of a group that would open another smaller metro elsewhere – once the pandemic is over.
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But he said he and his brother AJ Michaels, who owned and run it with him, no longer want to be involved in the day-to-day running of a club. It’s a lot of work, day after day after day. And it took a little while for them to get used to the freedom of not having to work while others were playing.
“The first Saturday night my brother and I looked at each other like, what are we doing now?” We went out to dinner, which is so weird. We never went out to dinner on a Saturday night because he had to be at work.
Rosenberg was there the first day the metro opened.
“Opening night. It was October 30, 1993. I came with my friend James Brown, who ended up being the second owner. It was packed. There were thousands of people. Back then, if you were part of the LGBT community, which is now LGBTQIA +, if you were part of that community, you had to go to a gay nightclub to feel safe, or to a gay bar. “
But times and mentalities have changed. While welcome, it has made it more difficult for gay clubs to stay in business.
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“Now with the acceptance you can go anywhere,” Rosenberg said. “You go to Beaches bars, you see guys dancing together, girls dancing together. It’s okay. People are people.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also been tough on the metro. It was difficult to keep the employees during the closures and the large crowds stopped coming even when the place reopened.
“People have stopped coming out so much. The gay population is very smart and very strong, and when COVID hit they stopped coming out,” Rosenberg said. “It sure hurt us.”
A haven of peace
In a story of the metro provided by Rosenberg, he tells how the club was opened by John Owens in 1993 and then bought in 2000 by James Brown. Improvements and expansions have been made along the way. The day before his death in 2006, Brown, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma, asked Rosenberg to buy the club and take care of his mother. A few months later, Rosenberg and his brother owned the metro.
He soon discovered how important the place was when they tried to shut it down for Thanksgiving Day: “People said, ‘No, you have to stay open at least part of the day. Could you do this to us? This is our house – where do you want us to go? “
Many metro customers had family nearby or were far from their families. So he decided to open that night, and every Thanksgiving night thereafter, for a potluck holiday dinner.
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Standing in the dark interior of the metro 15 years later, he said he was proud and proud of how the club has organized so many non-profit events over the years for various causes. And sometimes they staged more serious events: after the Pulse nightclub massacre in 2016, in which 49 gay bar patrons were killed, the Metro held self-defense classes for patrons and employees, including included exercises on what people should do if a killer came in.
The club was also a venue for weddings, celebrations and vacations, and on many nights it attracted many heterosexuals as well as gays, he said.
“I meet couples who are together who tell about their meeting at the piano bar, their meeting at the disco, their first meeting at the pool table, and they have been together for all these years. It’s wonderful, wonderful, “he said.” Heartwarming stories. “
It was like a community center, Rosenberg says: “A haven of peace,” he called it, a place to be accepted, to be yourself.
“And we had the cheapest drink prices in town,” he said. “It helped.”