For those that don't know, Lawrence Goldsby is a pioneer for gay business owners here. He was not the first owner of a gay business here, but he was a pioneer in opening a bar that basically catered to the tourist trade. Everyone has their opinions one way or the other, you either hated Bar Phoenix, or you loved it.
After 15 years, Lawrence sold Bar Phoenix and moved back to England. This is his first trip back to Santo Domingo after being away for many months, and I thought it would be nice for others to get to know him better.
When & where were you born?:
September 2, 1941, in Hackney, London.
What was your childhood like:
My parents were divorced when I was 4 and my father got custody. I went to live with my Ant and Uncle in Nottingham. My family owned a hotel called the Wheatshean, outside of Nottingham. My childhood was very quiet and we were brought up by maids and nannies. Very clustered life. I was educated in the local schools and then sent to boarding school.
What did you do when you finished your studies?:
After finishing high school I went to work at a bank off Regent Street (London), called Burlington Investments. I worked there and was totally bored and pissed off. There I met a man who was in the merchant navy and he fascinated me with stories about life on the high seas. I then went into the Merchant Navy at about 21, 22 years old as a waiter. There I worked like crazy. I then got to know someone and was moved to a better position. I visited Australia, India, South Africa, Suez Canal and points in between. My father was aghast at me going into the Merchant Navy. The Merchant Navy is also where I met Freddy Sprawles, in 1968, who was to become my lifelong friend. When we first met we hated each other on sight.
What did you do after the Merchant Navy?:
After 5 years I returned to London and opened a Transport Cafe, (sort of like a cafeteria where you sold tea, sandwhiches and the like). My father was well-to-do and put up the money to start the business. My father was also a perfectionist, and one day he came to help me oversee the renovation of the cafe. We were sitting down next to each other and he just fell over and had a massive heart attack. I was absolutely devastated. I was still very young and from him inherited quite a bit of money, at least it was quite a bit in those days. I don't think anyone that young should have that much money.
Once my father died I sold the cafe and went on a world tour. At this time Freddy was working in Claridges Hotel as a valet. After I came back from my tour I starting hanging out in the East End, where I met the Kray Brothers, among other sordid characters. We would go to the East End to drink and start on Friday and wouldn’t leave until Sunday evening. There in the East End I met a man who I fell in love with named Danny. He was beautiful, masculine and I fell hard, and he became the love of my life.
I then went on vacation to Morocco because I had some friends there. In Tangiers, I bought some property and I lived there for 10 years. I loved Tangiers a lot, but I left because the area was going through a religious fervor and gays/foreigners were made to not feel welcome. We were spit on when we walked down the street.
From there Freddy and I moved to Spain, to the Costa del Sol. He and I opened a bar called the White Horse. I hated the area at the time because it was so British. We stayed there for 5 years. It was not a gay bar, but of course the local gays frequented the bar. During my time in Tangiers and Spain I met a great many people who became very good friends.
After that I went back to England. There I was an investor in a catering business that worked in the film industry. The name of the business was called Take One. After a couple of years the business went bankrupt and I lost a substantial amount of money. During this period I was quite depressed and didn’t do anything for quite some time. Slowly I was able to get myself back together and got a job as a caretaker at a girls school for almost 3 years.
When did you first come to the Dominican Republic?:
During this time, John Kilpatrick, a good friend that I known for many years asked me to come visit him in the Dominican Republic, where he lived. I came and and enjoyed myself immensely. I can’t remember the exact year, but it was in the 1980s. John’s brother had owned a bar in Spain when I lived there.
One day John Kilpatrick called and said that I should come down and look at a place that he thought would make great little bar, in Santo Domingo. I didn’t go, but I asked Freddy to go down and see what he thought. He agreed that it would be a nice place to open a bar. I then sent the money down to purchase the place. As I still had contract at the girls school, Freddy came down, opened and ran the bar until my contract ran out.
The first name of the bar was Bar Freddy. I then came down and took over the bar. In the beginning, it was very difficult. The reception in the neighborhood was very quiet. I was getting threatening letters, and phone calls saying my son got AIDS by coming into your bar. It was at least a year-and-a-half before we had any sustainable business. I decided to befriend the women of the neighborhood, which was during the turnaround for the bar. I was now a part of the neighborhood and never had any problems with the neighbors.
About ten years ago there was another gay bar, Pariguayaso, owned by Albert Block, who was American and a former NYC Police officer. There were people in his neighborhood who made complaints about his bar. The night they decided to raid it the bar was closed, so they came and raided Bar Freddy. The police came in with the investigative journalist, Nuria. The whole thing was recorded and shown on television for one week. Everyone in the bar was arrested, including tourists. During this time I was in England on holiday. Freddy was here running the bar. He was arrested and kept in jail for 3.5 months. Maureen Trujillo, who was the honorary consul for the British Embassy helped us out tremendously. The Italian, German and British embassies were really advocates for their citizens who had been arrested. Unfortunately, the Americans arrested got no help from their embassy, and had to pay $1 - $2,000 to get out of jail on trumped-up charges. After Freddy was let go he was escorted to the airport and out of the country. He was never charged with anything and got official papers saying no crime was committed. He didn’t come back for many years, but did come back twice. He tried to come back last year and was denied entrance into the country. No reason given.
What happened to the bar after this?:
After this episode no one would come into the bar and business suffered for well over a year. Slowly, people started coming back. It was a very, very difficult time for me here. But the bar did recover and the people came back and we developed a reputation. The bar was never raided again. The police would harrass the boys, but never again bothered the tourists.
What changes have you noticed to the gay scene over the years?:
I have seen many changes to the gay scene since my first trip here. It is totally different. Drag Queens couldn’t walk on the street. If you were caught you would be taken in and shaved and charged. Things have seemed to open up much more since when I first starting coming here.
What made you decide to sell the bar?:
In 2003, I decided it was time to give the bar up. I have been an alcoholic for years and my health started to fail and I thought it was time to give it up. My time had passed.
What do you think of the changes to the bar?:
My bar was a spit and sawdust bar. It was more homey and very inviting. What we had was a neighborhood bar that tourists could come and enjoy. We never advertised. Never. People would come down and then go back and tell others, that's how we became successful.
Did you ever have a gay Dominican clientele?:
Apart from the boys? No. We were located in a neighborhood and most gay Dominicans were put off by the reputation. We did have a few Dominican clients who were older, but not many. I don’t think it will ever attract a Dominican gay clientele.
What are your plans now?:
I am now retired and will just take it easy. If it weren’t for my health I would still be living in Santo Domingo. I live in England now because of the medical care. I miss my friends and the men. But, I will continue to come back and visit.
Lawrence, thank you so much for sharing your time with me
It was a pleasure, my dear.