LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Ryan Gabriel Davis envisions the Starlight Saloon as a colorful, vibrant LGBTQ+ social lounge, nightclub, and performance venue downstairs with affirmative affordable housing upstairs. It’s been a project in the making for years, but now Davis is looking to raise funds for the down payment on a space.
And not just any space, says Davis. “The intention behind all of that is to preserve historic queer spaces in Lancaster,” he says, “My intention is [for] the Starlight Saloon to actually be the Sundown Lounge.” The Sundown Lounge is a long-standing lesbian bar that the owners are looking to sell and Davis is hoping to protect.
Davis was inspired to create the Starlight Saloon about a decade ago as a teenager standing in a performance venue and thinking, “This place lacks color.” Owning and operating the LGBTQ+ events production company Animal House Productions, Davis staged numerous performances at various venues, and he developed a vision for a venue “unlike anything [that] this community has witnessed.”
The Starlight Saloon will play numerous roles in the Lancaster community. “I have been told to try to simplify my project,” says Davis, “but that’s not what it is.”
First, the Starlight Saloon will help address the depletion of queer spaces in Lancaster, says Davis. With the planned sale of the Tally Ho and the closing of the Sundown Lounge, Davis explains that there will be no more LBGTQ+ establishments of this kind in Lancaster.
Not only would the Starlight Saloon provide an important inclusive LGBTQ+ space, but, if Davis is able to purchase the Sundown Lounge, it will also preserve a long-standing queer establishment — something that is especially meaningful for Davis. “I could work this model anywhere, but it’s important to save a space that was [around for] 41 years,” he says.
Once Davis owns the venue, he plans to put it into a trust with the Lancaster City government and the Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition so it will last into the future. Even if other queer spaces come and go in the city, he hopes there will always be at least this one venue.
“Trying to preserve someone’s plan and idea of creating queer culture in a really small town has the power to change lives, to have people be comfortable where they’re at in the community, in social scenes,” says Davis. The human connection this kind of place can offer will be especially meaningful coming out of the isolating COVID-19 pandemic, Davis notes.
Additionally, the Starlight Saloon will be a venue for performances from drag shows to poetry readings to concerts. With a passion for music and performance production, Davis is worried that there is a scarcity of music venues in Lancaster right as pandemic limitations ease up and audiences and musicians are ready to enjoy performances again.
The new venue will also provide employment opportunities for Lancaster residents, focusing on LGBTQ+ representation among its employees.
And on top of all that — literally — the space will also include 3-4 affordable apartments housing 1-2 residents each. “Having a roof over your head is one of the most important things,” says Davis, “and to have a safe space alone in a marginalized community could be like a life-or-death situation.”
The Starlight Saloon is currently looking for donations and investors to help collect the money for the down payment on the Sundown Lounge. (Once he is able to purchase the location, Davis plans to maintain the name “Sundown Lounge,” rather than changing the name to “Starlight Saloon.”) Individuals can make donations through a link on the Starlight Saloon website.