Wisconsin’s LGBT community has stepped up to try to save FIVE Nightclub, one of a handful of gay clubs in Madison. Dave Eick, owner of FIVE, announced on April 15 that he would be closing the bar at the end of the month. FIVE, an institution in the gay community for more than two decades, had been dealing with money troubles since 2013.
“The rent is high, and it’s going to increase again,” says Eick. “In 2013 the city ripped up part of Fish Hatchery, which limited access. They closed part of the overpass bridge over the beginning of the summer, and some people had to drive as far as Todd Drive to bypass it.”
With his growing financial problems, Eick spoke with his landlord and agreed that the best plan was to catch up on rent in 2014.
After Eick made improvements to the club and added volleyball courts, revenue improved a bit, but not enough to make up the debt. By the time the deadline for making up past rent rolled around, Eick was still a few thousand dollars short. He went through the painful steps of informing his staff and speaking with close friends. In a last-ditch effort, friends of FIVE convinced Eick to reach out and ask for help.
After Our Lives Magazine shared Eick’s call for help on its Facebook page, Eick received a slew of supportive messages and donations from people across the state.
“Times have changed so drastically, but this is where it all began for them,” Eick says, referring to the advances in LGBT acceptance and equality in recent years.
After an exceptionally successful weekend and a GoFundMe page that has raised $14,245, the club is less than $10,000 away from being able to stay open, says Eick.
“What this place was for me is the first place I ever, in my entire life, felt comfortable,” he says. “[It was] the first place where it was okay to be who I was.”
Eick isn’t alone in this feeling. He’s received hundreds of letters since his initial announcement, and nearly every one has referenced FIVE as a safe space. Couples have written asking to get engaged or married at the bar, and people have traveled from hours away to support the nightclub. “I’ve never felt like this is my bar,” Eick says. “This is the community’s bar, and it’s my job to take care of it.”
One group that worked hard to spread the word about the threat to the club’s existence is the Dairyland Cowboys & Cowgirls, a group of gay, straight and bisexual line dancers. In 2002 the group sought a performance space that would feel welcoming and comfortable for anyone who wanted to join.
They searched the city before stumbling across a homey gay nightclub on the southwest side of town. Eick allowed the dancers to put down a wooden dance floor to save their knees from the pain of concrete and tile.
Thirteen years later, the Dairyland Cowboys & Cowgirls spent an evening celebrating and mourning what they thought would be their final performance at FIVE Nightclub.
“FIVE has always welcomed and supported our group,” says Richard Kilmer, spokesperson for the line dancers, says. “Dairyland was devastated to hear about the club closing.”
Kilmer says FIVE has been a place where the dancers marked special occasions like birthdays and weddings, adding that closing it would be a “huge loss for the LGBT community in Madison.”
Eick is feeling hopeful, thanks to the outpouring of support. “I don’t know how to describe it,” he says. “It’s just amazing and humbling.”
“I know what my story was and what this place means to me, but then you start hearing it from person after person, stories and tears and envelopes,” Eick says. “They say, ‘You can’t close our home. You have to keep this open; we will do whatever we have to do.’ ”