The End of an Era: A Celebrated Local LGBTQ Bar Goes Dark

When we talk about Scottsdale culture, the conversation typically goes to our robust art scene, but past that? Typically clubs and nightlife in general, but usually not related to any specific community, and certainly not the LGBTQ community. So when an iconic long-standing venue for that community shuts its doors for the last time, it is bound to get some attention.

That’s why the recent permanent closure of BS West, an LGBTQ bar in Scottsdale, has elicited such a response. It has been a mainstay in the area since 1988, and it is worth taking a moment to reflect on just how long that is for the community.

Many younger readers barely remember a time when being gay was a significant stigma, and might not even remember a time when gay marriage (or civil unions) weren’t allowed anywhere in the United States. In 1988, Ronald Reagan was still President, and AIDS was considered the “gay plague”, a source of significant fear with treatments only in the early phases. It was several years before NBA star Magic Johnson rocked the world by announcing that he had HIV, thus helping reduce that stigma and spreading awareness.

It’s also worth noting that 1988 Arizona was, shall we say, not a socially progressive area. When you combine a general lack of tolerance for sexuality outside of the norm and fear/ignorance of how AIDS could be spread, those in the community absolutely needed a safe haven where they could be themselves. And BS West was far ahead of the curve in offering that.

As society has grown more tolerant, BS West was there the entire way, laying watch over a cultural shift that went from being mostly underground to a world where major brands sponsor Pride parades every year. But even aside from the LGBTQ community, for ANY bar or club to survive for 35 years in any location is a feat. But in Arizona, where 35 years denotes antique status and where the old is frequently bulldozed for the new and shiny, a 35 year run is especially impressive.

There are now myriad options and meeting places for the community, but it all starts locally with BS West. They blazed that trail, and as such it’s important to recognize the importance they had in shaping the local history for such a significant segment of our populace. They crawled so others could walk, run and then sprint, and for that reason their place in Arizona cultural history is now cemented in place.