Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Location, Location,Location - Some Early Thoughts on Our Survey Results

You can still tell us what you think of St. Louis' nightlife. You can tell us what direction you think Faces should take in the future. Our online survey is still open and we are still listening. Some of you wrote to us with concerns about the survey, we listened, and we tried to re-organize it to make it easier to complete. The survey is anonymous. we cannot track who completed it or link specific answerers to specific people. We aren't collecting information to use against you or hurt you. We know the survey is long. We felt that we only had one opportunity to ask your questions so we asked as much as we felt we needed to know. We hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to give us your thoughts and concerns and not use the survey to engage in personal attacks. The survey questions must be completed in order..you can't cherry pick the questions you want to answer because the survey will display an error message if you skip questions. There are questions that do not require an answer but you will find that out as you answer the questions. We thank you for taking the time to complete our survey.
There is a danger in talking about a survey while people are still completing it. Sometimes the results of the survey can unintentionally change because of what someone says.
With that in mind, we will try to confine our early comments to some of the more anecdotal comments rather then the actual numbers.
One topic that has come up in the open ended (essay) answers to some of our questions can be classified as "location, location, location". Some of our survey respondents have suggested that the answer to Faces problems is to move...to move from East St. Louis...to move to someplace "closer to the other bars", to move to St. Louis. All options are on the table at this point. No idea is being thrown out. We have considered the idea of moving. With that preface, we'd like to give you something to think about. Faces has served St. Louis in the same location for nearly 30 years. Many of those 30 years were booming times, with large crowds partying until dawn. Tens of thousands of people have patronized Faces in East St. Louis. To move from East St. Louis would mean to end our ability to be an after-hours nightclub. There are a handful of communities in Illinois that allow bars to be open and serve drinks all night. None of those communities are particularly desirable or entirely safe.
Gay bars in general are not in the best parts of town, even the ones in St. Louis. Drive (we would not advise walking) a block in any direction from the Manchester strip and you will probably not feel safe. Park under the unlit overpass by the local leather bar and tell us how fast you run to the bar's front door. Drive a few blocks north, south, or east of the CWE and see how many stop signs you run to get to safety. The fact is that people don't like to live next to nightclubs. Bars and nightclubs are noisy, they generate traffic late at night, trash (beer bottles), the customers take up parking, they frequently make noise and get into trouble as the bars close. To get a liquor license in St. Louis, a potential bar owner has to go through a costly and often difficult ritual of obtaining signatures of approval from all their neighbors. In areas that already have bars, like the Manchester Strip, existing bars can and frequently do block new bars from opening by withholding their approval. One unfriendly neighbor can prevent any bars from opening nearby. Gay bars are even more controversial. Even if a gay bar owner were able to meet all the requirements to get a license, communities can block them or get them closed down quickly by enforcing obscure laws like ones that were used for years to run gays out of the CWE by requiring bars with dancing to get a special license and making it a law that dancing could not be visible from the street. Missouri's liquor laws are very different. St. Louis' rules are very different on your behavior as well as what is acceptable entertainment. There is a reason that none of St. Louis' gay bars have strippers. Two stories may help illustrate the point. After a very popular lesbian/girl's bar opened in St. Louis, they were busted by St. Louis Liquor Control and forced to shut down because a customer who had just had her nipple pierced, exposed her breast to another customer to show the piercing. While this was in no way the bar's fault, the bar was closed for a period of time as punishment.
The former manager of a popular St. Louis gay dance bar told me the story of how his bar had hosted an event where the bar staff was dressed in swim wear. Liquor control was prepared to bust the bar and the bar staff for wearing underwear in the bar until the manager proved that they were wearing swim wear. He told me that they have gotten in trouble for customers on their dance floor even showing pubic hair or a brief bare butt. They must monitor their customers behavior with security cameras to insure that no one gets carried away and drops their pants on the dance floor and to insure that any PDA does not become too hot and heavy. He also explained that they had to monitor their ambient video..the videos sent by record companies and gay marketing companies because they were not allowed to show video with nudity or simulated sex in St. Louis bars. A popular leather/bear bar always includes a disclaimer in their event ads stating that costumes worn must be "street legal".
While some might argue that this is a good thing, making gay bars PG-13, the majority of our survey respondents do not agree. We have been able to provide the entertainment that we did because of our location.
We would not be able to stay open and serve all night in Missouri. Our location allows us to continue the party all night long.
Is our location really so far off the beaten path? Mapquest states that we are 6.1 miles from Freddie's, 5.3 miles from JJ's, 5.1 miles from The Complex, 2.84 miles from Busch Stadium, and 2.3 miles from Rue 13. We are probably closer to major highway on and off ramps then any other gay bar. We are a block from the police station, a block from an SIU branch, a few blocks from the Federal Courts building, and a few blocks from a thriving and expanding casino.
We agree that when you go to any other bar, you need to be careful. Don't talk to strangers outside. Don't loiter outside. Don't leave valuables in your car. and park near the crowd, not on some desolate street. That is all just basic common sense. Anyplace that attracts large groups of people with money is also an attraction for bad people. We want every customer to have a safe experience at Faces. We are always reviewing our customers security needs and have made adjustments to keep you safe. Some things are beyond our control. We don't own the parking lot across the street. We think it is the safest place to park because it is lit and visible from the Metrolink station as well as our front door. When everyone parks in the same area, it is easier to watch. Unfortunately, customers still park blocks away, on dark side streets or behind the abandoned Spivey Building and we frankly don't know how to discourage that. We have noticed this same problem on the Manchester Strip. When customers park further from the center of things, on those dark side streets, they are frequently preyed upon. The Manchester Strip continues to wrestle with the problem every day just like we do.
When we bought Faces 14 years ago, we accepted the fact that there were some people who would never patronize our bar. East St. Louis' reputation for lawlessness over the past century has been passed down from generation to generation. East St. Louis had a reputation of being controlled by mob bosses as far back as prohibition. We realize that for many, their minds are made up and they will never drive over, no matter what we do. So, our goal has been to cater to, to market to those who were adventureous, to those will to take a walk on the wild side, to those willing to leave their comfort zone for something different, for something more. it has been a trade-off. If customers want cutting edeg, raw, adult entertainment..if they want strippers, slightly raunchy theme parties, all night dancing, and events like lube wrestling, then they usually find their way to Faces.
Here is the lnk to the survey:
Click here to take survey