A New Fieldens?
Rewind to April. Fieldens, Richmond’s long-time private after-hours club, transfers ownership to the parent company of Paper Moon without advance notice to its members or employees.
Under new management, a PR nightmare with gay patrons kicked out of the club leads to claims of homophobic discrimination. Protests ensue with the LGBT community wanting to claim back its club. Management responds saying they welcome all.
Fast forward. Rebranded as The Mansion Room, conversations and protests surround the new ownership have quieted, and competition is positioning itself to take over the crown for LGBT after-hours nightlife.
A New Jewel
James Millner stepped into the Old Dominion Club – more popularly known as ODC – after receiving a promo pass and hearing that the longtime institution was opening a space within their complex to cater to LGBT-clientele. The new space is coined, “The Pearl.”
Millner, a member of the gay community, realized they needed some help.
“They had an experience the first time they opened that left a bad taste in people’s mouths, so I thought I could help,” Millner says. “They asked if they knew anyone that could bartend and it just so happened that I can.”
Millner stepped into the role of bartender and club promoter and candidly admits that the club experienced some hiccups its first couple weeks open but he and management are dedicated to making this work.
“This is a new venture for [the ODC] really,” he says. “We recognize everything is not perfect and we are looking forward to improving anyway we can.”
According to Millner, it’s a win-win.
“ODC could expand its business by expanding its customer base with the addition of the Pearl and give back something they thought the community had lost with the transition of Fieldens to a more straight-oriented club.”
He says ODC underestimated the need for the community to have a space of its own and weren’t ready open because of construction delays. Former promoters had already begun their outreach to gay-oriented clientele.
“They had a couple of drag shows on the ODC-side and had not adequately communicated that to gay or regular clientele, so people were caught off guard,” Millner says.
There were no incidents, just a few ruffled feathers and an opportunity for education. The new Pearl space opened a week later and Millner says it made all the difference.
“It just took getting people that had an uncomfortable experience to see that the commitment of [Pearl] being a separate space was happening,” he says.
In an alleyway off Foushee and behind Barcode, walk down the cobblestones until you see a conspicuous and innocent industrial warehouse door. Patterned bricks against the building’s wall discreetly spell “O-D-C.”
Walk in and you are greeted and asked if you will be going to Pearl or ODC.
You get a special wristband and proceed to a bouncer outside the Pearl side of the club.
“To the left,” the door greeter says.
“We don’t want people to feel separated and segregated, but we do want people to feel safe and comfortable,” Millner says.
According to him, the club continues to make tweaks to distinguish between the ODC an the Pearl so no one feels uncomfortable. For now, he has requested that the door greeter ask each customer which club they are going to. Regulars proceed as usual.
With admission to Pearl or ODC, you can still patronize both sides of the complex, but Millner says the club wants to make sure people are educated and respectful.
“We just want to make sure that people come and intend to go to the Pearl or vice versa,” Millner says. “If going back and forth, they need to make sure they are comfortable going into either space.”
He says there are plenty of people that have been going to both sides including longtime members. Millner says management has a zero-tolerance policy for disrespect.
“There are also people that have come over [to the Pearl] and made disparaging comments because they didn’t know what they were walking into or they were a**holes. So they were walked out,” he says. “Because this is a new venture, not everyone understands there is a level of behavior, frankly, that goes both ways.”
He sums it up. “Be respectful.”
“The commitment is solid from the management of ODC to make this a comfortable and safe environment for all.”
Making It Work
Millner says that the management of ODC have been nothing but supportive in making this venture work and understand it takes progress. They welcome feedback.
“Every suggestion has been considered,” he said. ”If there is something making [patrons] feel uncomfortable, we try to make it right.
The ODC is also honoring memberships from Fieldens through their expiration. Expired memberships can also be redeemed for half off the $50 annual fee.
Membership enables members to get in for free and guests to get in for $5. As with Fieldens, it enables you to bring a bottle of liquor to serve with a nominal pouring charge and access to wine and beer.
Tonight, November 19, is an open house for non-members to come in for $5.
As for the future, Millner reveals management is planning to expand to another space upstairs with a performance area. Right now, there is no timeline on this project.
“[ODC] wants the community to feel this is a space where they have a feeling of ownership,” he says. “Fieldens had that and the community really felt they had something yanked from under them. ODC hopes to make the community feel like they regained something in this process.”
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at email@example.com.
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