Salt Lake City’s first gay sports bar is for people who don’t like ‘nightclub life’

The bar’s owners want to support other local businesses, especially other LGBTQ establishments.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drag performer Kay Bye dances during the weekly Tailgate Drag Brunch at The Locker Room, a gay sports bar, in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

The drag show was running a few minutes late, but no one seemed to mind. As The Locker Room’s patrons waited, they happily sipped mimosas, ate brunch from the buffet, greeted and hugged their friends, or watched basketball on the TVs.

When the show began, people cheered and waved dollar bills to tip the performers, who danced and sashayed around the bar tables to Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne and others. The small crowd was rowdy but respectful, following the three rules of the show: First, have fun. Second, don’t touch the drag queens without permission — and never touch their hair. Third, be generous with the tips and “make it rain on us,” host Lilia Maughn said.

It was just another Saturday at The Locker Room, Salt Lake City’s first gay sports bar, which has been holding its Tailgate Drag Brunch every week since the first weekend in October.

Located in the space previously occupied by Fiddler’s Elbow, at 1063 E. 2100 South, The Locker Room was designed to be not only a safe haven for the LGBTQ community, but also a bar for the Sugar House neighborhood.

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drag performer Sequoia accepts a tip from a patron during the weekly Tailgate Drag Brunch at The Locker Room, a gay sports bar, in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

“It’s for everyone,” said co-founder and co-owner Lynn Katoa, who emphasized that The Locker Room is a gay bar, not a club. And it was made to fit into a specific niche in the spectrum of Salt Lake City’s LGBTQ establishments.

“You have a lot of people in our community that are all about the nightclub life, like loud music late at night, [and] dark rooms,” said Sean Rawlings, another co-founder and co-owner.

“And not everybody in the community likes the nightlife,” Katoa said in response. “They want to be able to go sit down, be able to hear one another, have a conversation, eat delicious food and watch whatever game that’s on. It’s still all about having a great time. But we just provide a different environment under that umbrella.”

‘Something that we need’

When asked why the two of them wanted to open a gay sports bar, Rawlings replied, “We both love sports, both grew up playing sports, and there isn’t one here.”

And when talking to people who have traveled and gone to gay sports bars in other cities, he continued, they say things like, “Utah, they’ll never have anything like that.”

In opening The Locker Room, Katoa said, “It was really important for us to open another gay establishment, because there aren’t that many here in Salt Lake City or in the valley.”

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Patrons cheer during the weekly Tailgate Drag Brunch at The Locker Room, a gay sports bar, in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

They also wanted to keep all the regulars and allies who had been coming for years to Fiddler’s Elbow — which is now located in the front of the building, where Salt Lake Pizza & Pasta used to be. That hasn’t always worked out, and Katoa and Rawlings acknowledge that not everyone has been on board with The Locker Room moving in.

They’ve gotten some flak over the bar’s name, which Katoa said is meant to evoke images of sexy male and female athletes, and they’ve also been questioned for opening a gay bar at that location in the first place.

“But it’s something that we need,” Katoa said, “... It was going to be something that this area needs. Something to spice it up, and kind of bring back that old soul and life that Sugar House had back in the day.”

It has taken some work, including redoing the food menu at customers’ request but then bringing back Fiddler’s Elbow classics, also at customers’ request, but Rawlings said the neighborhood is slowly warming up to The Locker Room.

“You look at our crowd, a lot of our crowd are just allies,” he said. “... We don’t get a lot of what you would call members of the community. It’s just the neighborhood.”

‘It’s not bar against bar’

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drag performer Kay Bye performs during the weekly Tailgate Drag Brunch at The Locker Room, a gay sports bar, in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

There is a perception among the LGBTQ community that different gay bars have to compete with one another, Rawlings and Katoa said, but that shouldn’t be the case — and isn’t the case.

“It’s not bar against bar. It’s a hard enough time being a bar in Utah, you shouldn’t have to work against each other,” Rawlings said.

Before Katoa and Rawlings opened The Locker Room with a third partner in August, they both worked at Club Verse, at 600 South and State Street. Katoa was the general manager, but he left at the beginning of July due to “personal differences,” he said. Rawlings also left about a week later.

“Verse is a great space,” Katoa said. “It brought in a lot of people, people felt safe there, so we did our job together while I was there with the owners.”

Katoa added, “We’re all on the same page when it comes to the bigger picture” of helping Utah’s LGBTQ community thrive.

So the two of them are passionate about supporting other businesses in the city, especially such LGBTQ businesses as Club Try-Angles, MILK+, Club Verse and Why Kiki. They nod to Club Try-Angles and the old Trapp, and say they wouldn’t be where they are now without those bars.

“It’s just all about bringing each other together, working with nonprofit organizations, local businesses, and trying to unite,” Katoa said. “And I feel like we can do that. I mean, it’s a work in progress. We’re doing it already. And we’re going to continue to do that.”

In Sugar House, Katoa and Rawlings have been reaching out to businesses even closer to home while the neighborhood deals with construction, which is currently paused until after the new year. They said they’ve met with representatives from Quarters, Hopkins Brewing Company, Unhinged and Club Karamba for starters, “trying to build each other up,” Katoa said.

“What can we do together to make money together, because if they win, we win, [and if] we win, they win,” he continued. “It’s just a struggle trying to get everybody to come back to Sugar House because of the construction.”

Building a Sugar House nightlife

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Drag performer Sequoia performs during the weekly Tailgate Drag Brunch at The Locker Room, a gay sports bar, in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

Part of The Locker Room’s mission is to build more of a nightlife in Sugar House, and Katoa and Rawlings say they aim to accomplish that by having a variety of live events and goings-on at the bar. “We try to have some kind of event every day of the week,” Rawlings said.

The weekly events vary a bit, but Monday is usually Monday Night Football, Tuesday is usually Drag Karaoke, Wednesday is usually College Night with beer pong and $3 pizza, Thursday is often Vinyl Night with a DJ who selects from his collection of records, and Friday is often live music, according to The Locker Room’s Instagram. The schedule is anchored by the Drag Tailgate Brunch on Saturdays.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the group Seniors Out and Proud hosted a gingerbread house-making event at The Locker Room. Attendee Ann Clark, who lives in Millcreek, told The Salt Lake Tribune that she preferred traveling to Sugar House over going downtown, because in the downtown area, “the parking is difficult and the navigating around is difficult.”

Clark thinks “there’s always more room” for LGBTQ spaces, she said. “There’s a lot of gay bars; there’s not really a gay sports bar. So it’s unique in what it’s offering.”

Rachel Bissell, who also attended the event, said it was the first time she’d been to the space since it transitioned from Fiddler’s Elbow to The Locker Room, and she liked the new bar’s “atmosphere.” She also said the LGBTQ community needs The Locker Room, “a place for everybody to be accepted.”