Michigan’s oldest operating LGBTQ bar is in danger of closing for good because of COVID-19.
As a business, the Apartment Lounge received only $23,100 from the Small Business Association for its PPP Loan. Johnson is asking for $55,500, most of which will be used to pay for the bar’s rent, but he added he will give $21,000 directly to staff to help them get through the pandemic.
As of Monday morning, the bar raised $3,540.
“Coming out is one of the hardest experiences someone will have usually, and it’s important to have a safe place where there are people you can talk to and who will understand you,” Johnson said. “We’re more than bartenders and managers here, we’re family.”
State executive orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 forced the Apartment Lounge to close for most of 2020 with outside service for less than half of the bar’s regular customers and mandated closing at 11:30 p.m. Johnson said this translates to the business losing almost an entire year of peak business hours (11 p.m.-2 a.m.), which at capacity is 130 customers.
Johnson observed his ninth anniversary as owner on Jan. 3 since purchasing the Apartment Lounge from Ed Ladner and Milt Lennox. Johnson said he would have thrown a party under better circumstances.
Johnson said he’d known the previous owners since he first came out at 21 years old. He recalled the first time he’d visited the bar and Lennox carded him.
“Milt saw my ID and announced to the whole bar, ‘We have a newbie!’” Johnson said. “Five years later, we became friends … I told him, ‘You embarrassed me, so when you sell this bar, you’d better sell it to me.’”
The Apartment Lounge has been in business for 50 years in eight locations. The bar has been in its current location at 33 Sheldon Ave. NE since 1988.
The business plans to reopen fully in April, but in the meantime, the Apartment Lounge will be hosting pop-up happy hours with outdoor seating and food trucks and is asking the community to show its support by heading out and having a drink.