“Part of the reason I chose to live in East Atlanta was the proximity to Mary’s,” says Andi Fitzroy-Fishman about the queer dive bar where she’s been a regular for more than 14 years. Fitzroy-Fishman met her wife at Mary’s, previously worked part-time at the door, and celebrated her bachelorette party and 40th birthday there.
The 21-year-old institution was named one of the top 50 gay bars in America by OUT Magazine, and Atlanta’s most prominent DJs perform alongside its signature pink-glitter bar. But to regulars like Fitzroy-Fishman, the magic surpasses any “best of” lists. Mary’s is not just a bar where you can dance and drink. It’s also a place many Atlanta queers call home.
“When I first moved to the Atlanta, I wanted to go to every gay bar in the city,” says Corian Ellisor, another Mary’s regular. “I was looking for my tribe. I ended up casually meeting one of the owners [of Mary’s], Ben, out at a funk show. He suggested that I go. So I did. Little did I know, it would become my home away from home.”
Ellisor has been going to Mary’s for 11 years and also hosts drag shows at the bar.
“They welcome everyone from all walks of life,” he says. “So many bars, especially gay bars, are exclusive. You have to look or act a certain way to be accepted or taken into a friend group. From the first time I stepped foot into Mary’s, I knew it was a place where I could relax and just exist without judgment.”
Mary’s aims to create a safe space for everyone. That includes to celebrate all forms of drag, like Glitz, a monthly pageant for queer performers, and Gurlfrandz, a popular weekend drag show.
“There is so much I didn’t know moving to this city,” says Ellisor. “I was not aware of what it meant to be queer before coming to Mary’s. I had never met queer people, trans people and sex-positive people. I never would have if I stayed in my comfort zone. Mary’s truly changed my outlook on what it means to be my queer self.”
“From the first time I stepped foot into Mary’s, I knew it was a place where I could relax and just exist without judgment.” —Corian Ellisor, Mary’s regular
Amanda Joy also found a home at Mary’s when she moved to Atlanta five years ago.
“Mary’s feels like a safe place for me to transform into more of my authentic self,” she says. “I can show up after a ridiculous day, wearing sweats and hair a mess, ready to drink and bitch about my day. Then the weekend hits, and I can show up with my lipstick on, ready to dance my ass off in between drag shows.”
Mary’s also serves as a queer community center in East Atlanta Village. The social hub hosts organizing and fundraising efforts, as well as memorial services for members of Atlanta’s queer community.
Like many queer spaces around the country, Mary’s has had to navigate a rapidly changing landscape. Many gay and lesbian bars and nightclubs have shut down as a result of gentrification. Meanwhile, queer rights are subject to public policy and, recently, a ruling by the Supreme Court.
To Mary’s regulars, and many queers nationwide, having a space where you can take refuge and be yourself is more important than ever.
“I definitely feel extremely protective of the bar,” says Joy. “It was the first time, I, as a queer person, belonged to a space that I saw really belonging to queer people.”
The relevance of gay bars is documented throughout history, but establishments like Mary’s are more than passing moments on a continuum. They are living, evolving spaces. To the queer community in Atlanta, Mary’s is a haven, rich with family, love and self-discovery.