Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, gay bars were established as places for queer individuals to openly socialize. Long before the historical Stonewall Inn, these venues helped people explore their sexual orientation and gender identities. In this last year, many iconic bars and safe-spaces for LGBTQ+ individuals have had to close their doors for good or adapt to a new normal due to COVID-19, putting at risk the survival of queer nightlife.
In a year that has forced many business owners to pivot, Shawn Hazen, marketing and special events manager at Roscoe’s Tavern, has been at the forefront of navigating such an unexpected time. Since 1987, Roscoe’s Tavern has been at the center of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ nightlife, known for its drag entertainment and community. While those ideals haven’t change, this past year forced Roscoe’s team to find innovative ways to keep the brand alive.
Almost immediately into the shutdown, Shawn and the Roscoe’s team brainstormed ways to make some income and keep the business going once strict lockdowns were lifted. “It was never a resting of our laurels, Shawn explains. “Instead of everyone saying ‘Let’s get back to normal,’ for us it was more, ‘How are we going to navigate this new normal? That’s what has kept us going this whole time.”
This attitude is what propelled them to get with the digital times and put a virtual twist on some of its popular programming.
Known for their drag entertainment, whether it is live viewings, meet and greets with the cast of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” or programming with local drag in Chicago, this was one of the first parts of Roscoe’s Tavern to adapt to the new digital way of life. Just like the rest of the world turning to Zoom, Shawn organized digital viewing parties with contestants from “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” as well as virtual shows.
This new approach showcased the success of digital tipping. “It used to be dollar bills, and I know it seems trivial, but you put those Venmo or Cashapp handles on the screens and those performers are making some serious coin just from people going on the app,” Shawn shares.
As Roscoe’s Tavern looks ahead, Shawn noted that the opening has not just meant a lot for customers, it has also given entertainers who had been stuck at home performing in front of a green screen a chance to connect with people for the first time after a long year.
But what is the key to this success, and how can brands adapt to this new normal? As Shawn explains, “creativity and our drive to keep going” is the foundation. In addition, a lesson everyone should have learned during the summer of 2020 is that “everyone has a space—especially in LGBT nightlife spaces and LGBT neighborhoods.”
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