(Above) The 501 Eagle in Indianapolis turns the lights off for the last time and the severely underpaid cleaning crew in effect. (Photos by Butch Prandium)
INDIANAPOLIS – In the early morning hours of this past Sunday, Oct. 16, the last few holdouts, Indiana Falcons members and drunks like yours truly were kindly escorted out of the back door of the 501 Eagle for the last time by a few security persons into the warm and moist air and the obligatory meathead yelling “faggots” out of a dark blue Chevy Malibu as the car drove north on College Ave.
Small groups of the twentysome people congregated on the sidewalks outside, yelling, smoking, reminiscing, and some holding back tears as they said their last goodbye to what was an icon and a landmark for the leather community in Indianapolis. Members of the Indiana Falcons told stories of how the 501 was the first leather bar they went to many years ago and how the owners would sometimes let them sleep on the floor of the bar and give them jobs there as they also helped them get better jobs and apartments.
Around 4 AM, the outside lights were turned off, cigarettes and cigars finished, last goodbyes were said, hook-ups for the night were made and Michigan Street turned to silence once again as those left drove home or home-for-the-night into the dark, black witching hour.
There are far too many people more qualified to tell the story of the 501 than me so I will let them. I will just say that I always had fun going there and always felt welcome even though I am not gay. That is why even though I was attending GLLA that weekend, I made it a point to take mine and myself there each night.
Thursday night was a well-attended benefit for the staff with performances from local and out-of-state drag queens coming back to where they got their start. It was a great time to meet new and old friends including Jim, a previous Mr. Indiana Leather titleholder that was met that night, and have conversations about people getting their PAs on the pool tables and the shenanigans that used to go on upstairs back in the day. Of course there were the usual shenanigans that went on in the outside ‘smoking’ section of which this author cannot comment to the voracity or validity of such statements made about them or himself.
Friday the local het/pan group, Indiana Kink Society, held their costume party filling the bar, especially in those areas with just about every piece of ‘furniture’ being utilized. A good number of patrons from yesteryear were also there telling stories and trying to see if they could dance and drink like they used. Friends old and new such as TJ, also a previous Mr. Indiana Leather titleholder, were brought into the warm embrace. Old slights were brought up and an attempt was made to mend or forgot them. Brotherhood and friendships were renewed. And a certain spanking bench was utilized by this author.
By the time I got to the 501 around midnight on Saturday the place was already bursting at the seams. A variety of genders, orientations and identities were using the “furniture” upstairs for their purposes when space could be found. More friends old and new were chatted with and glory days relived. It was good to see newer friends such as Bob Miller that runs CLAW and to catch up on what had been going on in their lives face to face rather than on social media. Rumors and talk of reviving the Mr. Indiana Leather title floated around. It seemed there might have been a running contest to see what could actually be done in the ‘smoking’ area and for how long. Maybe it was just certain persons trying to recreate certain activities from their days of youth or to be able to call Guinness the next morning. The mood was jubilant and pervasive. But slowly the hands of time kept going forward and the mood shifted to hugs and kisses given and goodbyes said until next time. And with that a door was closed on a chapter of our combined leather history.
Planned for Sunday was a party held by the owners for the staff of the 501.
Eric Masters, the current Mr. 501 Eagle, has announced that he will be trying to keep the local leather community traditions alive by being at Greg’s each Friday, wearing his leathers. Please support him in this endeavor.
“The 501 Eagle was the very first gay bar that I ever stepped foot in,” Eric said in a statement. “It was my home and a place of refuge for me. The close friendships and bonds that I formed there will forever be a source of strength for me. I wish to thank so many people that have made this an amazing year for me as the Mr. 501 Eagle 2016. As the last one standing, I am deeply saddened by the closing but excited for the future leather community here in Indiana. Great things are soon to be announced that will revive a huge piece of our history and offer excitement for the entire Midwest and Indiana.”
First time attendee Butch commented, “So for the 501 Eagle, I’d say that while it was my first and only time there, I was really glad that a number of people came out to experience friendship and share love with one another, no matter what your kinks or identity is. I was able to share space with leather women, leather men and pups and we only cared about having a good time.” I think that is how most people will want to remember the 501 Eagle, as a place where we could all come together.
Many others and myself would like to thank Tom Vester and Margie Camden for keeping the place going as long as they have. You and your kind are sorely missed as persons have to find new homes for them and theirs.