Patrons mourn, remember Rainbow Lounge after devastating fire

FORT WORTH, Texas -- In the overnight hours on the first day of June, flames lit up the sky over Fort Worth's iconic Rainbow Lounge. It was a place that meant so much to so many.

"I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook, people talking about it was the place they met their first love, it was the place they met their husband," says long-time patron and community activist Todd Camp.

Camp says the building, located at 651 S. Jennings, has been a gay bar since the late 1960s. He believes it's the longest consecutively-open gay bar in Fort Worth. It has changed named over the years, but one thing remained the same: it was a place where LGBTQ community members felt safe and welcome.

"That bar has existed as a haven for men over many decades," Camp said, "and a lot of people are feeling very sad at the loss of it because it was a place that meant something to them."

It was also a place with a painful past.

In June 2009, just days after the bar had opened under the Rainbow Lounge name, local law enforcement and TABC agents raided the bar. Witnesses said it was chaos. The reason officials gave WFAA back then for the raid was they'd arrested someone for public intoxication there two days earlier.

"They understand they made a mistake," an employee told WFAA in 2009. "It’s very unfortunate, but at least they’re taking responsibility for it."

Patron Chad Gibson ended up receiving massive monetary settlements for a brain injury he sustained during the raid.

"You know, you use excessive force, and that’s why I got hurt," he said then.

It became an international story. Todd Camp was at the bar during the raid, too. He was out celebrating his birthday.

"I was at the bar, ready to get a drink when a TABC officer shoved me out of the way, grabbed the guy in front of me, spun him around, put him in zip ties and dragged him off," he recalls.

He says in the months and years after, relations and communication eventually improved between the city, police and the LGBTQ community.

"It’s hard to believe we’ve come so far, and now it’s really sad we’ve lost this iconic location," Camp says.

The fire department told WFAA the fire appears accidental, likely electrical or mechanical in nature.

The building's owner was at the scene Thursday morning.

"Heartbreak, best I can say. And I’m just kind of stunned," he said.

The bar owner, Tom McAvoy, posted on Facebook Thursday that they are already looking for a new location for the bar.

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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