The Fox, Johnson County's only gay bar, closing April 21



The Fox bar in Overland Park turns off the neon later this month.
  • The Fox bar in Overland Park turns off the neon later this month.

The Fox, one of the oldest gay bars in the Kansas City metro (and the only one in Johnson County), at 7520 Shawnee Mission Parkway, will unplug the pinball machine, cover up the pool tables, and lock the doors for the last time on Sunday, April 21.

The 30-year-old saloon - located in an unassuming Overland Park shopping strip - has been owned for the last six years by Tim Abbott and his partner, Bernardo: "Just refer to me in your story as Bernardo," he says. "That's how everyone knows me." (It's his last name, by the way.)

""Why are we closing? It's a personal matter. Our lease was up on May 1, and even though we've put a lot of money and committment into this place, we're done. We're trying to sell it, but we can't keep going on the way we have. We're going to walk away while we can."

The Fox opened in 1978 as the Bullpen. Butch Gregory, the son of that operation's owner, turned it into the gay-friendly the Fox five years later. The bar's "mascot," a stuffed fox, was given to Gregory by the owner of an older gay bar called the Dover Fox, at 44th Street and Main, in Kansas City; the Dover Fox closed in the 1980s.

The Fox originally was a low-key neighborhood bar - by far less glitzy than its midtown counterparts. Bernardo and Abbott continued to invest in the business, installing a $20,000 walk-in cooler, a new furnace, and a bamboo dance floor. Open seven nights a week, the Fox developed a very loyal customer base.

"Our regulars are very upset," Bernardo says. "People walk in in tears every night saying, "I don't know what I'll do. I don't want to drive to midtown.' They don't want to drive home and deal with the police after a few cocktails."

"The police on Shawnee Mission Parkway are especially aggressive at night," says a Fox patron. "You're taking your life in your own hands if you drive it after a single beer."

As a pub close to the Overland Park suburbs, the Fox built a clientele primarily of patrons who lived nearby. Suburban gays? Really?

"If it's true that gays and lesbians make up at least 1 percent of the population, says John Long, publisher of Camp magazine, "there are many gays and lesbians living in the suburbs. It was important for the residents of Overland Park to have their own bar. There are only eight gay bars in the greater KC metro, which has a population of at least 20,000 gay men and women. Straight people have hundreds of bars to choose from in the city, from Belton to Stanley to Westport. Gays have very few options - and now even one less choice."

Long adds that today's younger generation of gay men and women no longer feel that a gay bar is the only friendly gathering place: "Gay bars are much less important to younger members of our community. Look at the comments on Facebook. They're just as comfortable in straight bars in Waldo or on the Plaza. My generation could only meet people in gay bars."

"Tim and I will miss our customers the most," Bernardo says. "We'll miss the camaraderie. We've met so many friends and aquaintences."

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