By Jamie Rhodes
WICHITA - There once was a time if you wanted to go to an LGBT-friendly bar or club, you’d have to go to the outskirts of town. Back then, clubs and bars that catered to the LGBT community had traditionally been out of the way, off the beaten path, and not centralized. This was all for good reason. It was mostly for protection. A lot of persecution went on back then. It was accepted that in order for a club to be successful it was better to be out of the way to prevent the backlash and harassment of the public. “Back then” refers only to up until about 10 years ago.
Rain Café & Lounge, located on Douglas in Old Town, opened nine years ago. Rain’s owner takes pride in the fact that he brought something new to the city. It became a “proud showcase and example” to show the community an LBGT bar can survive on a major street in the downtown area.
As with any new business opening (especially one under these circumstances), doubters came along. Through the years, though, “Rain has had incredible support [from the community],” Allen Mairs, owner, says. “We were able to prove the naysayers wrong. Ever since we’ve been open, we’ve been blessed by the community and neighbors, even from the city local authorities. We were able to put a good foot forward in the community.”
Rain Café & Lounge’s primary focus is not on the alcohol at the bar, but on the food and the ability to hang out, talk with your friends, and not feel like you’re in a shady or out-of-the-way hidden establishment. It is a place one can bring your parents, partners, spouses or children.
Mairs is proud that Rain could give the community something they could be proud of, while in turn, “the city can get comfortable and know it’s okay to support and normalize all of this.
“We’ve accomplished that mission very proudly with the great advances going on. We did what was more important. We changed people’s minds in the end. We changed their minds and opened their minds. No one is terrified to be a part of our community any more. In some cases, you can say it’s something people look up to. That’s a great thing. Even in the last 10 years, major changes have been made. Every LGBT club that was opened for the most part was out of the way by necessity, and now LGBT clubs aren’t afraid to be in our main entertainment district. It’s terrific that we may have had some part of advancing that.”
While Rain is thankful to the community, the community has been thankful to it in return. One of the activities it’s best known for is “Bitchy Bingo.” The event helps charitable organizations raise donations. Each “Bitchy Bingo” is customized for the mindset and needs of the charity.
“We help by facilitating the venue for it, provide cards, and supplies. It’s all for the organization with communal donations [for prizes],” Mairs said. The bar can also provide the emcee entertainment. It’s had favorites like Brown Sugar and Miss Rhonda. Another popular event is the bar’s Sunday brunch at $7.50 per person from 10am-2pm.
Part of being a neighborhood bar is focusing on serving the community and its patrons. Sunday, at Rain, is a great gathering place to be with friends and family. The bar is cross-client-based where everybody comes in. “It’s a place for a fun breakfast, and most likely a great laugh,” Mairs said.
“When XY opened, it was nice because they take care of the dance format,” Mairs said. “We weren’t the facility for that. We’re a fun pub atmosphere with great food [a kitchen that stays open until close], where you can have munchies while meeting with friends and not have your ears blasted. Our new focus is a more chill environment where you can have a conversation with your friends all the way until close. We’re real excited we can focus on that.” l