Every nightlife scene in almost any major city has its thematic niches: hip-hop, country, rock, dance. In Atlanta’s gay nightlife, the entertainment emphasis has traditionally been on high-energy dance mixed with a generous portion of drag queen divas in the gay-concentrated, relatively upscale environs of Midtown. So when the bar Mary’s opened in the rock-and-roll and hipster haven of East Atlanta Village in 1998, it was a breath of fresh air to both gay partying options and to the “EAV” itself.
“I don’t want to speak for the previous owners, but I think they were inspired to bring a gay element to the budding East Atlanta neighborhood,” said Ben Cheaves, who, along with his business partners Mike Dover and Bill Overall, purchased Mary’s in 2005.
“They opened up a decidedly gay and gay-friendly bar in an already eclectic and growing neighborhood,” Cheaves said. “As patrons and DJ’s of the bar in those early days, we all enjoyed the vibe of the neighborhood and the other customers that Mary’s seemed to attract.”
While Mary’s patrons tend primarily to be gay men, Cheaves said the nightspot has “always enjoyed and benefited from having an eclectic mix of gays, lesbians, straight guys and girls, transgender people, queers, drag queens, you name it. Hipsters, squares, metrosexuals, blue-collar types, and all kinds of people seem to want to bump elbows at Mary’s, and that’s the way we like it.”
Rooted in its longstanding and unabated popularity among locals is the national acclaim that has regularly landed Mary’s on many national polls and lists as being the best gay bar in the United States.
“We’ve been honored that other people seem to have a good time when they come here and want to give us praise. It’s definitely a rewarding feeling, but we’ve always tried to run the bar with the same intentions as when we first took over, and that is to give people a space to come be themselves and have a good time,” Cheaves said. “We want you to feel like you’ve been invited to a crazy party in someone’s basement when their parents are out of town.”
Speaking of crazy parties, Mary’s hosts a number of annual theme parties that Cheaves said consistently draw big crowds, including “Bastille Day,” “Boys of Summer” swimsuit contest, “Hanky Code” parties, “Hallo-weenie” costume party, and “Madonna-rama,” which comes up again on August 17th. The latter party celebrates Madonna’s birthday with DJ Diablo Rojo, music videos, live performances, and more.
Even when we’re no longer sweating sexily from this summer’s heat and the cooler climes of the fall take over, Mary’s will show no signs of slowing down, according to Cheaves. There’s Atlanta Pride in late October, Halloween, and “everyone looks forward to seeing our over-the-top Christmas decorations during the holidays.” Perhaps most exciting of all, Mary’s will celebrate its 15th anniversary in 2013 with big events scheduled all year long.
Mary’s is located at 1287 Glenwood Avenue Atlanta, GA 30316