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Union Nightclub in Cleveland seeks to transcend categorization

January 20, 2018

Union Nightclub in Cleveland seeks to transcend categorization

CLEVELAND, Ohio - If you briefly glanced at their schedule, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Union Nightclub, the most recent addition to the line of bars on West 6th Street, is a gay bar.

Google even briefly labeled the club an LGBT bar and it shares a title with an ultra-popular gay nightclub in Columbus.

The nightclub at 1392 W. 6th St. sits on strip south of St. Clair Avenue that’s also home to Bar Louie and Nauti Mermaid. It hosts drag performers and was the site of an LGBT-friendly happy hour, and the new management has made it abundantly clear that everyone is welcome. But Union hopes to transcend the gay bar/straight bar label.

With the iconic gay-friendly Bounce Night Club now closed, owner Jesse Gifford said he saw a need for a Cleveland nightclub that served as a “judge-free zone.”

“Anybody can come in here and enjoy it,” he said.

But he also wanted to bring a late-night dance club to a block of the Warehouse District that lacked since Drop Bar, another late-night hangout, closed its doors for good. The space that now houses Union was previously home to Drop Bar, an upscale dance club that attracted young Clevelanders. Union maintains some of Drop Bar’s posh aesthetic.

Two and a half months after they opened, his strategy seems to be working. Customers interviewed for this article said they appreciate the inclusive atmosphere and the variety in Union’s schedule.

As a result, Union has quickly become a popular hotspot in the Warehouse District, one of Cleveland’s hottest nightlife destinations. A New Year’s Eve party was so popular that the line to get in extended down the block, employees said.

Union’s calendar features a smattering of events traditionally associated with both gay bars and conventional bars, something that regular customer and Clevelander Mike Gunn called “refreshing.”

“Cleveland’s never had that before,” he said. “It’s nice to have a place that’s all-inclusive.”

Gunn was the DJ for a recent G2H2 event, which is a happy hour geared toward LGBT people - although anyone is welcome to attend. Union also regularly hosts Latin nights - which feature both DJs and singers - ladies nights and service-industry nights, which are more closely associated with traditional bars.

“It’s truly a mixed bar,” Gunn said.

Tanner Fischbach of Berea said he’s attended the Latin night, the service-industry night and the G2H2 happy hour.

“It’s really cool that a venue can hold all those different types of crowds,” he said. “A lot of places downtown can’t do that.”

Russell Bartels of Rocky River said he often attends Union’s service-industry night on Tuesdays (he’s a baker for Westin hotels) and said he likes the diversity that he found there.

“They play a wide variety of music, which I love,” he said. “I love the environment.”

Clevelander Drew Peters went to Union only once and was impressed enough to book his birthday party there.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” he said. ”(General manager Matthew Jarrell) is really committed to listening to the public and giving them what they want.”

When Drop Bar club closed, the stretch of West 6th south of St. Clair Avenue was left with only low-key hangouts like the Nauti Mermaid and Bar Louie and Johnny’s Little Bar, which is around the corner on Frankfort Avenue.

“I’m happy to have that historic spot back in business,” said Cleveland man Erick Sanders. “It’s been a long time in terms of a better nightlife.”

Gifford said he hoped to bring a late-night hangout back to that end of the street when he opened Union.

“There was an opportunity to put something on this side of West 6th Street that didn’t have anything like this,” he said.

Union frequently brings in guest DJs, and Sanders said he hopes the bar will eventually fall on the radar of prestigious DJs who tour the country.

Bringing in nationally known DJs is in their plans, Gifford said in a recent interview. The bar also hopes to attract well-known drag performers.

The club is active on Facebook, where customers have left largely glowing reviews. Dozens of customers have weighed in on the social networking site and only two have given it a bad review. So far it’s only two Yelp reviews are five stars.

Employees spent about a month cleaning the place and moving furniture and equipment after local businessman Jesse Gifford bought the bar. They had Union ready to open on Halloween weekend.