Bar Culture Keeps Spirits Alive
Local bars like The Hornet’s Nest in the basement of the Barringer Hotel (8th Street & North Tryon) serve as ad hoc gathering spaces for the gay community.
Occupying spaces like The Hornet’s Nest in the 1940s – and later establishments such as The Brass Rail, Oleen’s, The Neptune Club and The Blue Note in the 1960s and 1970s – provides opportunities for community building during a time when gay culture operates outside the mainstream, laying the foundation for future activism.
Oleen Love, Oleen's Lounge (1968)
Oleen Love tended bar at the original Brass Rail Lounge on Morehead Street. Her boyfriend Don Robinson opened Oleen’s Lounge on South Boulevard in 1968 with business partners Oakie and Marion Tyson. All three had a history of investing in local nightlife, including clubs that catered to the gay community. The Tysons would go on to open The Scorpio Lounge, Charlotte’s longest-running LGBTQ dance club and bar.
In 1969, at a time when cross-dressing was illegal, Oleen’s was the first to host drag entertainment. Although Oleen’s increased in popularity, surpassing earlier venues like The Neptune Club and Brass Rail by the early 1970s, Oleen remained a controversial figure in Charlotte’s LGBTQ community. She was described as strict about behavior that would attract police intervention. While some considered her a friend, others felt that early proprietors like Robinson, Love, and the Tysons saw gay clientele as a means to an economic end.
The Scorpio (1968)
Founded by Oakie and Marion Tyson and still operating today, The Scorpio is Charlotte’s longest-running nightclub catering to the gay community.