Friday, September 28, 2012


Colette's marquee off
Speedway Avenue

Location: First at First Avenue till 1985, then at 3143 East Speedway Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, USA

Opened: 1983

Closed: 1991

Back in June of this year, Mari Herreras did a very nice article for the Tucson Weekly on the history of gay and lesbian bars in that city. Here's what she said about Colette's, a former lesbian bar:

When Colette Barajas opened her bar in 1983, straight men would come in and make a beeline for the phones.
Colette Barajas

"'Hey, I scored,' a guy would say on the phone. 'There are only women,'" Barajas recalls, laughing about the men who did not realize that the women surrounding them probably weren't interested.

She says the straight men probably did not see the tag line under the name of her bar, Colette's. She holds up a copy of the logo, and with her index finger, points out this sentence: "A women's bar where all are welcome." She also put up a sign near the entrance—as did most Tucson gay bars at the time—letting people know they were in a gay bar, and that if that fact made them uncomfortable, they should leave.

Barajas now runs a real estate business just down the street from IBT's. It's been more than 20 years since she ran a bar; she closed Colette's in 1991. Still, when she is out on the town—perhaps having brunch with her wife at Colors—people come up to her and tell her she should reopen Colette's.

"The times are different. The gay bar isn't as important as it used to be," she says. "But I have so many wonderful stories. ... People will tell me we were the location of their first kiss. I happened to be in the right place at the right time."

People who come up to Barajas to share memories also say they miss seeing her father, Sam, who worked at the door of the bar and helped her with maintenance. Everyone called him Pops.

Gay bars have long been a part of Barajas' life. When she was a youngster, her mother owned a gay bar in Chicago with another straight woman who was considered a strong advocate for gay rights. And when her dad moved to Tucson, he became part of the gay community in his own way.

"He even Jell-O-wrestled," Barajas says, smiling broadly and referring to the annual Reno Gannon Memorial Jell-O Wrestling fundraiser for the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation.

Red Garter Saloon (formerly Colette's)
In 1985, Barajas went into treatment and closed the first Colette's, which was on First Avenue. A year later, she reopened the bar at 3143 E. Speedway Blvd., where the Red Garter now stands.

Barajas says she had a large marquee placed in front of the bar that she used to announce patrons' anniversaries.

"We also had real dressing rooms with real lights. The drag queens loved it," she says.

Barajas remembers the bar hosting fundraisers for the first Tucson Pride festivals, when they were held at Himmel Park. She also started doing more fundraisers for AIDS projects.

"Many in the lesbian community came together to help and care for gay men," she notes.

When Barajas stopped drinking alcohol, she realized she had a large number of male patrons who were learning that they were HIV-positive.

"These guys didn't want to just sit and stay home. We needed to provide an alternative to alcoholic beverages," she says. "I was sober, and these guys couldn't drink alcohol with their meds. We started making sure we had nonalcoholic drinks and healthier alternatives (like juices).

"I look back at those years and feel like we were still invisible at times. I think that was part of the motivation of moving to Speedway and getting the marquee: We were not going to be invisible anymore."

1 comment:

  1. You know what? Colette must be a genius. I am not a gay or something but I never had anything against these people because I find them adorable. And to put up a place where these people can feel sober life is a good thing that happened.


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