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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

The Triangle bar closure is a loss for Denver and the LGBTQ community

With little warning, a staple of the LGBTQ+ bar scene closed its doors last week. The Triangle Bar shuttered after a substantial decline in business in 2023. Its proprietor blamed homeless encampments in the area for declining visits.

Everything about the closure saddens me.

The Triangle is a legend in Denver among the LGBTQ+ community. I have heard more stories from more friends who remember the bar as it existed decades ago. It served as a refuge for members of the community during a time when Colorado battled the “hate state” moniker. Its downtown location and multi-floor design provided a safe, accessible space for people to meet and dance and generally have a blast.

When it closed in the early 2000s, its loss left many feeling displaced and vulnerable.

The re-imagined, re-opened version launched in 2017 and brought back former patrons with fond memories and introduced a new generation to its treats. It once again became a destination spot, not just on weekend nights, but also for its wonderful brunches and drag shows.

During Pride, they shut down lanes on Broadway just to accommodate the masses that reveled throughout the weekend. Outdoor dance stages and loudspeakers turned the surrounding block into a celebration of love, life and acceptance. 

On occasion, it got so loud that I could feel the vibration through the brick wall that separates The Triangle from my soccer bar, The British Bulldog. Honestly, there is no better barometer for determining the intensity of a celebration than effectively drowning out a bunch of noisy bastards cheering on their soccer club.

In fact, it was a regular occurrence for patrons at both bars to interact. People waiting for The Triangle to open could often be found pre-partying with soccer hooligans in our mock English pub. The British Bulldog regulars frequently went next door after early matches for brunch movies or drag shows. Personally, I remember watching a performer dressed as Dolly Parton lip-sync the entirety of “9 to 5” while already a pitcher of mimosas deep — one of the most impressive and hysterical demonstrations I have ever witnessed.

I have also seen the encampments in the area. Over the past few years, they have been a permanent part of the neighborhood. However, it is far more complicated than a simple lack of action by the City of Denver.

The location at Broadway and Stout is near the heart of services for the unhoused in the city. The Triangle and The British Bulldog are across the street from multiple Colorado Coalition for the Homeless properties, including supportive housing, food distribution and the state-of-the-art Stout Street Health Center. Both the Denver Rescue Mission and Samaritan House homeless shelters are less than four blocks away. 

More often than not, I park on 21st Street between The British Bulldog and The Urban Peak, an organization dedicated to helping youth exit homelessness. The Chelsea supporters group I belong to gathered enough food and clothing to fill an office in support of their cause. 

In fact, homelessness and housing instability are particularly prevalent among LGBTQ+ youth. The Trevor Project determined that 28% of LGBTQ+ youth reported experiencing homelessness or housing instability, which in turn increased the odds of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts two to four fold.

Statistics like that make The Triangle closure that much more heart-rending.

That a community so susceptible to the ravages of being unhoused has nonetheless felt so unsafe as to avoid a venue that has been a mecca for celebrating the LGBTQ+ community is nothing less than Shakespearean in its tragedy. It also is not something that can be easily remedied or changed.

Mayor Mike Johnston has declared a state of emergency on homelessness, and his administration has begun offering temporary housing as it conducts sweeps. That is a start. But it will take a while to see noticeable change. And the areas most resistant to such change will be those in close proximity to services like the ones in the same area as The Triangle and British Bulldog.

Personally, I understand progress takes time; substantive change does not happen overnight. Or even by the New Year, the deadline Johnston has set for housing 1,000 people currently experiencing homelessness. It has deep roots set in the intertwined determinants like mental health problems, substance use disorders and economic disparities. Those are structural, societal issues that require complex solutions.

I also am unconcerned about the neighborhood I frequent so often. Despite multiple weekly visits for more than a decade, often in predawn hours or as the clock ticks toward midnight, I have never had a negative interaction with an unhoused individual in the area. The closest I have come was one man who blurted at a group of us as we passed him returning home from Coors Field.

But I also understand my experience is not the same as others. It certainly seems that it was not the same as former patrons of The Triangle.

Whether that changes any time soon may be the crucial question to determine whether one of Denver’s preeminent LGBTQ+ bars rises from the ashes yet again or is closed for good.

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