After nights of receiving compliments from admirers, harassment from “creepers,” and having genuine fun with regulars, two of Louisville’s heterosexual bartenders from popular LGBT-favored bars say they love their job more than anything.
John Jones*, 24, of Louisville, has worked at Big Bar on Bardstown Road since its opening in May of 2012, he said. Jones said before his employment as full-time bartender he worked many LGBT community events before.
Jones added that he’s learned how to stand his ground when uncomfortable situations arise.
“If I wasn’t so comfortable with myself I’d be long gone by now,” he said. “I could see where a straight guy who isn’t comfortable with himself would get freaked out.”
One night, Jones said he was changing the music and someone came right up behind him and “fondled him.”
“I took his hand and threw him out,” he said.
Lee Thomas, 26 of Southern Indiana, said he’s had similar experiences to Jones while working at Nowhere Louisville, also on Bardstown Road.
“One time I was working the door and some guy kept staring at me and eventually just went in to kiss me,” he said.
Thomas added that he receives a lot of “cock grabs” every night.
“You look around and it’s so busy that you don’t know who did it,” he said. “It’s sad, but I’m used to it.”
Even though Thomas and Jones don’t necessarily like the unwelcome advances, they both admit to casually flirting with customers and showing off their bodies when necessary.
“One of the direct advantages is that you get to playfully flirt without any obligation,” Jones said. “Most people know I’m not going home with them.”
He said he will banter back and forth with customers, lightly touch their shoulder as he walks by and flirt like he would with a girl.
Thomas said he can also be playful with customers.
“I just have a very natural flirtatious personality,” he said. “I just flirt with everyone whether you’re a guy or girl.”
In addition to a little playful flirting, Jones and Thomas said showing off their bodies is very much a part of their jobs.
Both men take pride in their bodies and work out regularly, they said.
Jones once received $20 just to flex in front of someone and Thomas also received $20 to give someone the shirt off his back one night while bartending.
“What’s in it for me?” Jones said he will ask people. “If I’m going to give you direct satisfaction by taking off my shirt, what’s my satisfaction?”
Despite these unwanted advances by very forward men, both Jones and Thomas said they receive a lot of respect from most patrons.
Both bartenders agreed that the respect they receive is one of the best parts of the job.
“Nowhere is a place where people come to have fun and dance with their friends,” Thomas said. “For the most part it really isn’t a place to be creepy.”
The two men said being treated in such forward manners sometimes has made them think twice about how they treat women.
“A lot of guys who check out women start at their cleavage and when a guy checks me out he will start at the waist up,” Thomas said. “I’ve never realized how obvious checking out someone was.”
Jones said that from all of the advances he receives, he has learned to distinguish a genuine compliment from an empty one.
“You just have to have general respect for people and their privacy,” he said.
“Are you gay?”
The most popular question asked to these two heterosexual bartenders is obviously, “are you gay?” they said.
“That is such a direct question,” Jones said. “That’s something you do behind closed doors and even though I’m straight, I still think it’s a rude question to ask.”
Both Thomas and Jones said they have always been comfortable with who they are and said, “people who question other’s sexuality are the ones with issues themselves.”
“That’s a lot of icebreaking questions asking about my sexuality,” Jones said.
Thomas said he mainly laughs off the question.
“I’m 26 and I know what I want from life,” he said. “If people can’t accept me for working in a gay bar then they don’t need to be in my life.”
Both of the men's parents were confused when the bartenders began their jobs, but have grown to accept their employment choices, the men said.
“All I had to do was explain it from a monetary aspect,” Jones said. “And my parents have always been accepting people.”
Despite being so comfortable with themselves, both men have experienced some rumors and continuing questioning.
“I think people judge me because of how comfortable I am,” Thomas said “People are quick to judge my sexuality.”
Jones added that he receives all kinds of Facebook messages, texts from unknown numbers and hears made-up rumors.
At the end of the day, the men said they love their jobs, accept people for who they are and will always defend the LGBT population.
“I’ve always been tolerant and accept people for who they are,” Thomas said. “I’m not gay, but I don’t fucking care if you are.”
*John Jones has asked that his real name not be used for the purposes of this article.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com/bogdanhoda