Salt Lake City’s booming Marmalade neighborhood has a new watering hole that offers residents a twist on the traditional “biker” bar.
The HandleBar, 751 N. 300 West, opened earlier this week and is geared toward thirsty cyclists and anyone who appreciates a thick, twisting mustache, said David Morris, co-owner with Jesse Wilkerson.
Those names might sound familiar. HandleBar is the fifth Utah bar for Morris — who sports an impressive mustache and sideburns. He currently owns Piper Down in Salt Lake City and Ice Haus in Murray. He also is the co-owner — with Bridget Gordon, owner of Green Pig Pub — of Ogden’s Funk ’n Dive Bar and Harp and Hound gastropub.
Wilkerson is no stranger to the food and dining scene, either. He owns Trolley Wing Co. restaurants in Sugar House and Midvale.
HandleBar replaces Club Jam, a popular gay bar and dance club that opened in 2008 but in recent years had struggled.
“When the area wasn’t as residential,” Morris said, “a dance club made more sense.”
That’s true. At one point in the 1970s, Salt Lake City could boast 10 gay or lesbian bars. Now, with the closure of Jam, two remain: 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.
“It’s exciting and sad at the same time,” said Rob Moolman, executive director of the Utah Pride Center, who added that having “queer spaces” where the LGBTQ community can “come out and be themselves” is important.
Times have changed, Moolman said. For the most part, “young people today are growing up in a different climate of understanding and inclusivity. They can walk into any [bar or restaurant] space and be themselves.”
He pointed to Salt Lake City’s recent Pride Festival and Parade, which enjoyed some of their largest turnouts, according to preliminary numbers.
The success was marred, however, when a group of men, yelling slurs, chased gay people into a downtown dessert cafe.
The Marmalade district is still a place many LGBTQ individuals call home. They affectionately dub it the “gayborhood” and proudly fly rainbow flags from nearby balconies and windows.
Once a neglected area of Salt Lake City, it is now experiencing a renaissance with a new library, scores of new apartments and condominiums under construction and many older homes being renovated.
Bars and restaurants are sure to follow the growth. In addition to HandleBar, Blue Copper Coffee, a Salt Lake City-based small batch roaster, has posted a “coming soon” sign on a nearby building.
Customers won’t recognize the old Club Jam building. Morris and Wilkerson gutted the inside, cut big windows to make it airy and light, built a new wood bar and hung bicycles from the ceiling for decoration. There are even one-of-a-kind bar stools made with bicycle parts.
There is a large bike rack out front to park your two-wheelers; you’ll see a mustache “Hall of Fame” as you walk toward the restroom. It features photos of famous mustaches from former President Theodore Roosevelt to actors Tom Selleck and Wilford Brimley.
The are dozens of beers on tap and cocktails with names to match the bar’s theme. Look for Brigham’s Mustache Ride (we’re blushing) and Porter’s Unicycle — legend has it that Orrin Porter Rockwell, Brigham Young’s famous bodyguard, liked to ride a unicycle around the Mormon temple, Morris said.
The HandleBar kitchen is a work in progress, but the property is large enough to accommodate a regular rotation of food trucks, Morris said. The trucks will be parked close to the patio with its lights and colorful umbrellas.
Eventually, the partners hope to build a restaurant in the empty lot behind the bar, although they’re not sure what the menu or theme will be.
“Sometimes,” Morris said, “you just have to listen to the space and the neighborhood and what people want.”