Jun 7, 2024 - News

"The Last American Gay Bar" docuseries to debut in Des Moines

The cover image for the docuseries "The Last American Gay Bar."

Photo: Courtesy of OUTtv and Daylite/Kristian Day Media

A new television docuseries filmed in Des Moines about the decline of gay bars debuts next week at Varsity Cinema.

Why it matters: "The Last American Gay Bar" weaves decades of Iowa's queer history together to show how the state's LGBTQ+ community organized against discrimination locally and influenced nationwide change.

Zoom in: The six-part series focuses on the employees and patrons of The Blazing Saddle. The downtown bar opened in 1983, and some patrons call it "the gay 'Cheers.'"

  • Owner Bob "Mongo'' Eikleberry — one of several gay military veterans in the film — discusses how events like the AIDS crisis and "don't ask, don't tell" policies stigmatized but ultimately rallied the LGBTQ+ community.
  • That resulted in support networks and advocacy groups like The All Iowa AIDS Benefit.

The intrigue: The production explores why there are fewer gay bars today, which were once the predominant meeting place for the queer community.

  • Greater social acceptance and technologies like dating apps eroded their purpose in recent years, some of the series characters conclude.

Catch up fast: Director Kristian Day, a DSM resident, envisioned the project after writing about local gay bars that closed decades ago.

  • The community's passion for civil rights and the local movement's beginnings as an underground subculture made the series a "passion project," he tells Axios.

What's next: The first three episodes will premiere at The Varsity and include a discussion with Day and the project's local crew and characters.

  • June 13 at 7pm; tickets are $12.
  • After that, the 20-minute episodes will air on OUTtv starting July 3.
A photo of Bob "Mongo" Eikleberry.
Bob "Mongo" Eikleberry recounts how locations of metro hospices for people with AIDS were kept secret in the 1980s for fear of retaliation. Photo: Courtesy of OUTtv and Daylite/Kristian Day Media

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Des Moines.

More Des Moines stories