A gay bar has lost its owner — but this safe place for Utah’s LGBT community isn’t going anywhere

Flags outside Salt Lake City gay bar the Sun Trapp, representing many facets of LGBT culture.

There was a big party thrown Thursday for Rob Goulding, but the guest of honor wasn’t there.

Goulding, 62, died April 9 from pancreatic cancer. Many of his friends and family turned out at the Sun Trapp, the Salt Lake City gay bar he owned, to pay tribute with stories and remembrances.

It almost felt as if Goulding were still in the room.

“We were friends for 15 years,” said a watery-eyed Teresa Engle. “He was a bighearted guy and super friendly. I don’t think he ever met a stranger. I’ll miss everything about him.”

Engle was in Kentucky the day Goulding died, but friends made sure she would make it back to Utah for his wake.

“He absolutely would’ve enjoyed this,” Engle said. “He would tell everyone to not be sad, what’s done is done, just be happy. Because he would crack jokes, even when he was sick. He didn’t complain or sit around feeling sorry for himself.”

Kevin Hillman said he started going to Salt Lake City gay bars in the ’80s, not long after he was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He soon met Goulding and became fast friends.

“Whenever you saw him, there was always a hello and a hug,” Hillman said. “You never had to wonder if your friendship was in trouble.”

Utah gay bar culture was quite different decades ago when the Sun Trapp — then known just as the Trapp; the “Sun” was added years later as a nod to the Sun Tavern, which was destroyed in the infamous 1999 tornado — opened in 1990 under the ownership of Joe Redburn.

At one point in the 1970s, Salt Lake City could boast 10 gay or lesbian bars. Now there are two: the Sun Trapp and Club Try-Angles.

The slow demise of the gay bar scene, in Utah and nationally, has largely been attributed to the rise of the internet and dating apps.

Hillman said one of Goulding’s lasting legacies is that he kept the Sun Trapp a gay bar instead of selling it or turning it into a different business.

“Rob always knew it was important to have a place where we could come and meet and be who we are, a safe place to be out,” said Hillman.

That sentiment is echoed by the Sun Trapp’s new ownership team, made up of Dennis Gwyther, Riley Richter and Goulding’s brother Michael, who have vowed to not only keep the bar a meeting place for Utah’s LGBT community, but also make improvements.

Those have already begun. In recent days, bright flags of LGBT offshoot groups have been hung along the building’s roof — flags representing transgender, lesbian, leather, bisexual, bear and more, even a POW/MIA flag for gay military veterans. More upgrades are on the way, including a new patio to replace the wooden outdoor deck.

“It’s all about inclusiveness and keeping Rob’s memory alive this way,” said Gwyther. “He donated to so many charities. If he could help someone out, he would do it.”

“He created such a great establishment,” said Michael Goulding. “And it’s still successful. We have people outside the door every weekend and wall-to-wall people inside and on the patio. We’re going to make it bigger and better.”

Looking around the bar as Goulding’s wake drifted into the evening, as patrons and friends waxed lovingly about his life, it certainly felt that the Sun Trapp still plays a vital role in Utah’s LGBT community.

“People need physical interaction, to look at and talk to other people in person,” Gwyther said. “Apps just don’t cut it all the time.”