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Longtime lesbian bar closes, scouts new location

My Sister's Room in Decatur

For the first time in more than a decade, metro Atlanta lesbians are left without a dedicated sapphic nightclub following this past weekend's closing of My Sister's Room in Decatur.

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The building occupied by the club since 1998 — a former youth hostel on a quiet side street running alongside busy railroad tracks — will be demolished to make room for condominiums, says MSR co-owner Susan Musselwhite.

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"We tried to hold out as long as we could," says Musselwhite, who did not own the property.

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While regular customers may have yearned for a New Year's Eve finale for their favorite club, Musselwhite explains that she needed to close in December to avoid having to renew her business and alcohol licenses.

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But she hopes the club's fans will not have to suffer withdrawal for long; Musselwhite is already negotiating on potential new homes for MSR, although she declines to say where she's looking.

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"I would hope to be open again by spring," she says. "I feel we'll be a destination wherever we go."

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MSR was originally launched in 1996 by Musselwhite in a Midtown shopping center next door to the old DuPree's pool hall, where she had worked as a waitress. Two years later, she moved the bar to its eccentric Decatur home, a rustic, 100-year-old building with a fenced-in yard that contained a full-sized teepee and a patio garden.

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With the 1997 closing of Atlanta's Otherside Lounge, following an attempted bombing by Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, MSR became the metro area's only full-time lesbian club, although several gay clubs currently sponsor a weekly "women's night."

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Musselwhite says she is looking for a new site large enough to accommodate both a performance area for live music and "drag king" events, and a "parlor-like space" that would offer a quieter, more intimate sanctum for her customers.

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Atlanta recently lost another familiar landmark of gay nightlife with the shuttering of the Phoenix. The bunker-like bar served as the most visible reminder of the days when the surrounding mile of Ponce de Leon Avenue was a disreputable stretch peopled by street hustlers and the down-and-out.

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Its closing in late November followed the death of owner Arlene Riley, 65, from cancer. The bar had been fighting a City Hall order revoking its liquor license after police caught a customer getting a blowjob in the bathroom this spring.

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Opened in the mid-'80s, the Phoenix achieved early notoriety as a cruising ground of the so-called "Handcuff Man," a would-be serial killer who drugged his victims and set them on fire. The property on which the bar sat was owned by local attorney Lloyd Russell, a Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor in 1998 who died earlier this year.



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