The Name Game

The owners of the Elle never intended for it to be a mostly lesbian bar, but somehow it ended up that way. Over the past three and a half years, the club, located at the corner of Speer and Colfax, in the heart of Denver, has grown into something of an institution.

The Elle was known for its dim lights and comfortable couches. Scantily clad dancers gyrated on blocks around the dance floor, moving to music that ranged from swing to techno. Recent Saturday nights in the club's Lava Lounge had become a party out-of-bounds, greased by the acid-jazz-trip-hop-funky-old-school-new-school sounds of DJ Sentiment (see "Sentimentally Yours," August 27). Some clubbers went decked out to see and be seen, while others were there to just have a few drinks and kick back.

But three and a half years translates to something like centuries when you're talking about a bar in Denver's gay scene. "If you know anything about gay bars, you understand that [they] have a short life span," says Donnita Wong, who's worked as a bartender at the Elle since the club opened.

Last Saturday night the Elle (French for "she") embraced a new identity: A new club, called 716, came out of the closet. 716's lineup will include the usual Lava Lounge mix from DJ Sentiment on Saturdays; on Sundays, KAT hosts a drag show called "Baby You're a Star"; and Fridays are "Delicious" night with DJ Jasun.

The venue's owners are hoping to attract a wider audience; they say the Elle isn't exactly switching teams, just looking for a few more players. "We always billed the club as a mixed nightclub, even though our clientele was predominantly gay women," says co-owner Joan Glover. "There's a lot of people that sum us up and think they know what we're about just because of our name," she says.

Even if the name didn't imply it, the Elle was always friendly to people of various orientations, and changing the name just reflects that fact, says bartender Wong. "I was completely thrilled when a group of transsexuals started frequenting the bar," says Wong. "You can just go and respect the people who are sitting next to you, whether they look like you or not."

According to club patrons, the Elle was on its way to being more well-mixed long before its name changed, which has left some lesbians feeling a bit left out. A week or so ago, Elle regular Kerrie Dallman saw a straight man and a straight woman kissing at the bar. "When did this start?" she says with a look of mock puzzlement.

"It's one thing to have a mixed bar--and I think that we were all fine with the evolution of the Elle--but I don't know why the owners have to make a point of marketing it as such," says Dallman. At 26 years old, Dallman says she's been clubbing since she was 16. "I'm torn, too," she says, "because it would also be nice if you didn't have to have separatist clubs."

Glover agrees, and says social currents made change at the Elle almost inevitable. "A nightclub can only stay people's favorite place if it continues to change and grow," she says. "Now, I think the only thing that gay women have in common is that they're gay. And you could say the same about gay men, bisexual, straight. Most people I know have different types of demographics that make up their friends."

716 caters to all of the above, but lesbians are still welcome and always will be, says Glover.

--Perry Swanson

716, 716 West Colfax, 303-893-3553.

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Perry Swanson