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Local LGBTQIA+ nightclub closes unexpectedly

Community says goodbye to Stonewall Warehouse

By Brittany Anderson
brittany@haysfreepress.com

SAN MARCOS — For the past eight years, thousands have trekked up the rainbow stairs to Stonewall Warehouse, located on the Square in San Marcos, for an LGBTQIA+ safe space and fun nightlife experience. On New Year’s Day, this was unexpectedly cut short.

After a successful New Year’s Eve party, Stonewall staff were abruptly informed of the business’s closure on Jan. 1 when they were arriving to what they thought was a normal shift. 

Photo by Brittany Anderson
Stonewall’s abrupt closure on Jan. 1 left employees and community members blindsided.

Former general manager of five years, Lena Jacobs, was the first to arrive with owner Jamie Frailicks for what she assumed was a beginning of the year business meeting.

“We got into his office and sat down and his whole attitude and energy changed. He basically said, ‘Today’s going to be a hard day; last night was Stonewall’s last night,’” Jacobs said. “During that whole time, I honestly can’t tell you if I said anything. I don’t think I did. I was in shock.”

Frailicks, along with Chris Rue, Brian Scofield and James Wilson, founded Stonewall in 2014. Rue served as general manager from 2014 to 2017 and Frailicks took over full ownership in 2018. 

In summer 2022, Frailicks was approached by various groups inquiring if he was selling the space. While he initially wasn’t, it “started some conversations.”  

“I ultimately had the right conversation with the group that I’m with now,” Frailicks said. “I decided, after months of going back and forth with them, that it was a good idea. It was a great deal for me. It was going to allow me to move on to some other things that my wife and I have been wanting to do for years.”

“Stonewall has been failing for years. It’s cost me money every month for years,” he continued. “So, when the opportunity came around [to sell], I listened … We’ve tried everything. I feel like I’ve been beating my head against the wall for years trying to figure out something to improve it and get more people up there.”

Frailicks said that other than the weekends and Monday night karaoke, the bar was essentially closed Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights for years.  

“With Stonewall being a place where the entertainment costs money, the overhead was a lot more,” Frailicks said. “We have shows and shows require people and people require labor costs. And we just could never figure out a formula where that would work and be cost effective during the week.” 

However, some former Stonewall staff — like bartender Cooper Murphy, who began working at Stonewall in December 2021 — have been vocal about Stonewall feeling like Frailicks’ “neglected bar” and that a myriad of problems it faced likely contributed to its closure, such as plumbing issues and a broken air conditioner. 

“We had a lot of ideas that we wanted to implement at Stonewall, but we realized that our bar needed some work on our work conditions,” Murphy said. “Having events in the summer with no A/C did affect our sales. We’d have some major shows with RuPaul Drag Race queens and it was very abnormally warm in there. People werea ordering water instead of alcohol toward the end of the night. And it’s stuff like that we asked for, just some better working conditions to help our business grow … There was a toilet that was out of order the entire year I was there.”

Frailicks admitted that his lack of presence in the bar likely “had a lot to do with some of our failures,” but having two young children while working in the bar business didn’t mix. 

“That’s why I had a lot of trust in my staff and my managers that were operationally taking care of everything,” Frailicks said. “As a business owner, at some point, you have to be able to trust people that you are paying to take care of your stuff. And that’s what I did. I think it did create some problems, but I didn’t know how else to do it. Trying to be a good husband and a good father, those duties were more important to me than anything.” 

Many have stressed that they understand that this was ultimately a business decision, but the abrupt closure meant an entire community of people were unable to properly say goodbye to a meaningful space. 

“Just to be clear, him selling the business, I have no issue with that,” Jacobs said. “I mean, it makes me sad that he did, but it’s his business, he can do what he wants with it. We’re all upset about the way he did it to us. Not giving us warning or notice … Personally, if I knew New Year’s Eve was our last night being open, it would have been very different. It would have been a completely different drag show. I know there would have been different people there. And I know a lot of people that weren’t there for different reasons would have been there. And he [Frailicks] took that away from a lot of people.” 

Frailicks, however, stands by his decision to close the way in which he did, saying in the past he has experienced a staff with “nothing to lose” in these situations.  

“Anybody who’s in this industry knows that unless it’s the perfect circumstance for shutting down a business or a bar, it’s hard to announce that you’re going to say goodbye to it and then be able to run it properly and have everybody’s safety being taken care of,” Frailicks said. “When you lose the promise [of the business]… it becomes dangerous for the public, for the patrons, for the staff, because people aren’t acting responsibly. And I take that very seriously. I always have in operating a business that sells alcohol … Even after all of this, I would still make the same decision, because it’s not safe to take chances like that. And while I 100% understand that people needed some closure, they needed to say goodbye to it, it just ultimately was not an option. I wish that it could have been different, but it just wasn’t, and I stick by that.” 

Former staff view the situation differently, though. Murphy believes that if Frailicks had gotten to “know the integrity of his workers up there,” Stonewall’s final days could have looked much different. 

“Throughout the year I was there, we were always praised on how we did a good job and got work done from our manager. I understand that at the end of the day, he made a decision to sell the bar, and it is what it is. But other gay clubs I feel like have gotten closure,” Murphy said. “They were able to enjoy their last night with their ‘home.’ And it’s sad that it had to be the way it was, because if we had just gotten some closure, none of this public craziness would have happened.”

For many, the loss of Stonewall felt like a death. Following the meeting with Frailicks, Jacobs and several of her employees gathered to process through the situation together. 

“We sat around and hugged and cried,” Jacobs said. “We talked a lot about things that we loved and things that have made us laugh. You know after a funeral when you go with your friends to a restaurant and you all sit there and talk about how you’re sad, but then someone says, ‘You remember when they did this?’ It was one of those moments. It went on for hours and hours.” 

While Frailicks gave his employees severance pay, plus an extra envelope of cash for Jacobs — “He considered it generous, I considered it insulting,” she said — the sudden closure left a handful of employees and regular performers without a consistent source of income and the rush to find new employment. 

In light of this, Jacobs created a GoFundMe to split solely among her nine employees. While the fundraiser has since closed, it amassed $9,430. 

“I decided I was going to start a GoFundMe for these kids to help them … Just to give them some room to breathe and process what happened to them and so they’re not struggling for the next few weeks,” Jacobs said. “When I did it, the first option was $5,000. I clicked it not thinking we’d get close to that. So it’s been really overwhelming; everything that’s happened and all the support we’ve gotten as a group. We’re all very grateful and overwhelmed right now, it’s really appreciated … I’m just trying to make sure my kids are taken care of.”

Stonewall has undoubtedly had an impact on San Marcos, as many other places in town now hold drag shows and other drag events. Frailicks believes this was ultimately detrimental to his business’s fate. 

“I knew that this [closure]would be devastating. That was a very sensitive thing for me from the beginning. But on the other side of that, I think that we’re in a much different place than we were in 2014,” Frailicks said. “It’s a much different world for a lot of different reasons. In 2014, what we did was kind of groundbreaking … I feel like Stonewall was a part of creating that acceptance. So now, there’s several options, and back in 2014, there wasn’t. And I’m proud that Stonewall had a big part in doing that. But at the same time, if these things are happening at a lot of other bars around town, if they were all happening back at Stonewall, then maybe we would have done a little bit more business … I think it’s devastating that the openly LGBT bar is closed. But you know, it’s not the only option … I told the staff during the meeting that someone is going to pick up the slack, someone is going to see that there’s a need, and someone is going to do what it takes to make that happen. And when it does, I’ll be the first one to be excited about that and wish them well … I think the town needs it, [but]it’s not going to be me doing it. I have closed that chapter and I’ve moved on.”  

For many, though, Stonewall offered something that no other bar in town can. 

“I’m actually really scared for a lot of these kids. Not all families are accepting of gay people. They leave home and come here and this is the first time they actually get to express themselves how they want to for the first time. They’re finally away from home and they’re like, ‘I can be who I want to be.’ And I think that’s really going to hurt a lot of people that now feel they have nowhere to do that,” Jacobs said. “I know there’s queer friendly places. I don’t think everywhere is bad, by any means. But it’s not the same. It’s not a place where you can go and know 100% that no one is going to judge you, no one is going to hurt you, no one is going to mess with you. You are in a safe place to be who you want to be. And I don’t think there’s anywhere else like that in San Marcos and I don’t think there will be again, unless someone opens another bar.” 

When news of Stonewall’s closure started to hit social media, hundreds of comments rolled in on the business’s Instagram page, as its Facebook page was deactivated during Frailicks’ and Jacobs’ meeting. 

Employees, students, residents, former performers and even one-time visitors have all expressed their sadness, frustration and disbelief at the news, sharing stories of their time at the venue and offering support. 

One performer who composed a letter on Instagram about Stonewall was local drag queen Tequila Rose, a nearly seven-year veteran of Stonewall who had recently been crowned Miss Stonewall Warehouse 2022. 

PHOTO BY SEAN PETERS/COURTESY OF TEQUILA ROSE
For the past eight years, drag queens like Tequila Rose have graced the Stonewall catwalk and their presence helped cultivate a community of love and acceptance within the nightclub’s walls.

Rose began performing at Stonewall in 2016 after moving to San Marcos for school. Like many other drag queens, “growing up” at the venue is where she found her love of performing, perfecting her craft and finding herself in the process.

“It’s [Stonewall has] gone through so many waves and it’s been filled with so much happiness and love from so many different people. There were so many personalities that really illuminated the building,” Rose said. “It gave me so many resources to push myself in my creative freedom and my self expression. It’s taught me about what a community really is. It’s taught me about igniting that fire within and serving as a leader for our community … I always felt like Stonewall had that magic touch to it … You never felt like eyes were on you or you were targeted. It was like everyone was there to literally love and to party and celebrate ourselves.”

For Rose, the loss of Stonewall comes with a loss of San Marcos itself. 

“I felt like the only reason I was here in San Marcos is because of Stonewall, and that’s what really made San Marcos feel so magical. It was like a whole dream sequence for me. And now that it’s gone, my love for San Marcos has died,” Rose said. “There’s no reason for me to be here. Like, there’s no attachment anymore.”

Above everything comes the biggest loss: the reality that San Marcos no longer has an openly LGBTQIA+ bar for those 18 and up. 

“I think the one thing that really affects me throughout all of this is the minors and I think that’s what really breaks my heart. It was the only place on the Square for 18+ people to go to. When you move from a small town or a big city or anywhere for school and you start exploring with your community and what’s in your backyard, [Stonewall] was a wonderland,” Rose said through tears. “It was an eye opener for so many people … Because now I feel like there’s not a safe space for those incoming freshmen and I think that’s the biggest loss of it all.”

Murphy shared similar sentiments, saying that having a space like Stonewall is a “safety thing” for cities to have.  

“For a lot of these kids, it’s their first time living on their own. They’re getting out of the house for the first time going to college, experiencing life themselves,” Murphy said. “They should be able to have the opportunity to do something safe in our city, instead of going and driving to Austin or San Antonio and driving back on I-35 late at night. It’s safety concerns like that, that also just make me sad for the community.” 

While Stonewall will no longer exist as it was on the Square, there may be a glimmer of hope for the future of the business. In a Jan. 6 Facebook video, Rue stated that he was “able to get the branding back” for the business. 

“That was not the end of Stonewall … Stonewall will live again,” Rue said. “We don’t know when, where or how, but I promise you, it will.”

While the exact future of the business is yet to be determined, many in the community are sure to be there rallying in support. 

“I have faith that something will turn back around and I feel like there will be another spot here in San Marcos,” Rose said. “That one is really gonna have to start from the soil of, like, the experience, but I also feel that within that it will be 10 times better. So I’m trying to be optimistic.”

“I hope that there is another place that’s curated in a great light so that people can have another safe space in San Marcos,” she continued. “I take pride in all the love for each other; it’s not going to go away … It’s going to happen not necessarily promptly, but eventually, it will.” 

The memories made and community found at Stonewall have unquestionably made a lasting impact — and its legacy, no matter how the business ended or how it will be reborn, will not be forgotten. 

“It really changed my life,” Jacobs said through tears. “Meeting all these people, it’s changed who I am as a person and how I see the world and how I view things. I know how much it’s helped other people, but that’s how it’s helped me personally. It changed my life. I met people that will be in my life forever.” 

A benefit for Stonewall’s drag queens and other performers will be held on Jan. 26 at The Porch in San Marcos starting at 8 p.m., featuring a lineup of performances, a silent auction and more.

About Author

Brittany Anderson graduated from Texas State University in August 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She previously worked at KTSW 89.9, Texas State University's radio station, for nearly two years in the web content department as a writer and assistant manager. She has reported for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch since July 2021.

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