A new gay bar is about to open…in a most unlikely Ohio zip code

What started as a drag brunch has now transformed into a fully-fledged — and much needed — gay bar. In a super Republican county.

After hosting their first drag show in February, The Olive Tree has since received its liquor license, making it the first ever gay bar in Bellefontaine.

With an upcoming rebranding celebration on October 15, owner Tyler Berry said he never would have guessed a few months ago that the space would be where it is today. 

“This was just going to be something fun. It wasn’t going to be my entire identity,” he said. “But that first drag show was absolutely amazing. We had such a great turnout and when it was over, it was like, ‘We have to do it again!’”

The Olive Tree started hosting monthly drag shows and soon the events — and crowds — started to grow.

“The brunch became twice a month. Then we tried three times a month,” he said. “And then we applied for a liquor license and now we’re a gay bar.”

At the start, The Olive Tree was slated to be a cafe and event space. But once Berry started hosting drag shows, he lost most of his cafe traffic and the space’s profit started to be derived exclusively from the drag events. But eventually people started complaining to Berry about the lack of alcohol at the events. 

Tyler Berry (center) and drag queen performers at The Olive Tree

When a liquor license became available in Bellefontaine earlier this year, Berry snagged it right away. Rebranding The Olive Tree as a bar is something that Berry said feels totally normal, like it was supposed to happen. 

Then Berry started receiving negative feedback.

“I started getting messages like, ‘Why does it have to be a gay bar? Why can’t it just be an inclusive bar? Why do you have to use the word ‘gay?’” he said. “What do you mean? Why wouldn’t this be a gay bar?”

Clubs and bars specifically labeled as “gay bars” are important safe spaces within the LGBTQ+ community. However, across the country — and most certainly in Ohio — these venues are disappearing.

From where The Olive Tree sits in Bellefontaine, the closest gay bar is about 30 miles away in Lima. Most Ohio gay bars are in general are in bigger cities, making them harder to access for those in small towns or more rural communities. 

Bellefontaine is the seat of west central Ohio’s Logan County, an extraordinarily Republican part of the state. For Berry, the Olive Tree’s geographical location makes the bar’s designation even more important.

Using the word ‘gay’ paves the path to a brighter and inclusive future for generations to come,” Berry said. “Since we did the first drag show, I learned very quickly that now I’m an educator and have to help destigmatize everything because there’s a lot of homophobia around here and in Ohio in general. I think it takes people to meet a friendly, nice gay person to get rid of all the hate and it just happens to be that there aren’t a lot [of out LGBTQ+ people] in my community. I’m the one with the loudest voice at the moment.”

With the new gay bar rebrand, The Olive Tree will be hosting a grand reopening event on Saturday, October 15 to celebrate the venue’s new era. 

It will be such a full day of celebration that Berry secured approval to shut down the street in front of and the alley beside The Olive Tree to have ample space. 

The Olive Tree in Bellefontaine

There will be over 40 merchants and artists from around Ohio selling their products, various performers and an appearance from Maybe Cheese Born With It, Ohio’s, only drag queen food truck.

There will also be a special performance by RuPaul’s Drag Race queen Kennedy Davenport, as well as a drag brunch and several other events throughout the day. 

As the event approaches, Berry said he’s most looking forward to the representation and visibility that The Olive Tree will bring to Bellefontaine.

“As a kid, if I would have had someone that was openly proud and made gay being the coolest thing on the planet that would’ve completely changed my life,” he said. “So if anything, I’m super excited for October 15 to just have a good time and have fun and smile and hug and love on each other.”

On top of the new reopening, Berry is also working to get a nonprofit off the ground. 

Extending the Branch is the first — and only — organization in Logan County created to support the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. The organization has a board of more than 10 community members with 80% identifying as LGBTQ+ and more than 60% of the members who work in the mental health field. 

The plan is for Extending the Branch to receive its 501(c)3 status and then start creating programs and support groups to improve the quality of life of local LGBTQ+ youth, adults and their families. 

“Like most, my story and my path have not been the easiest or the most accepting,” Berry said. “One strong voice hopefully will cause a domino effect of love and acceptance in the community. If taking the heat, having haters, protesters and being called slurs today means the kids of the future will grow up in a safe environment, then that makes it all worth it to me.”

Ignite Action:

  • For more information on the The Olive Tree’s grand reopening on October 15 and other upcoming events, check out their events page and keep up with The Olive Tree on Facebook and Instagram.

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