Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Interview with Lawrence Goldsby

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.


Mario Sessions said...

WOW! very nice interview Anthony I see you skills are still there see the children dont know you use to work for a Magazine company back in the States now they do.

Your new title:
Reporting LIVE from Santo Domingo, I'm Anthony Montgomery, Investigative Reporter
"Monaga brings you the True report, Don't hate the player hate the game!

Anonymous said...

I second Mario comments what an outstanding interview. I really miss as my bugarron bf calls Lawrence the Reina, he is truly missed and so is his bar.

jh/fl said...

Very nice.

Eddie said...

Anthony, thanks so much for this very informative interview with Lawrence. Wow! There's a lot of history there. I have always adored Lawrence. When I first came to Santo Domingo six years ago, he befriended and looked out for me many times. Thinking back, I can still recall that 1st night in Bar Phoenix as if it were yesterday. Jeyq was working the door, Johnny was working the bar, and Lawrence was holding court in her corner! Please tell Lawrence I said hello. Although he may recall my name (Eddie), he usually referred to me as the crazy American queen from New York!

Anonymous said...

wow ,
many peple my not know that you worked for many years editing at a News Magazine but,now they do. Great Job baby! This History is something we all should be aware of if doing Business or thinking of doing Business in the DR!

Anonymous said...

Bravo Anthony...This was a great idea. I also enjoy speaking with Lawrence and I missed him desparately on my last visit. He is such an interesting man and after learning more about him and his history he has even become more interesting.

It's funny that he never liked to talk about his life before the DR in the bar. I had no idea he had lived all over the world. He is living a life full of extraordinary adventure that we all must envy him for.

Bravo Anthony and Touche to Lawrence. May England continue to give you good health and a long peaceful retirement.

Best Wishes to you both...


Anonymous said...

I absolutely adore Lawrence of England! I join those whose memories of his Bar Phoenix are only pleasureable. Lawrence has always been a friend. Long may he live! Good interview Anthony. I didn't know you had journalistic experience, but I can see it in this interview.

Monaga said...

As I'm a student of history and I love reading about how others made it before me. I'm so glad that many people enjoyed the interview. I will try and do others.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Anthony and Lawrence for this interview, it is very intresting and left me wanting to know and learn more. I hope there will be a part two.

Anonymous said...

i was lucky to meet lawrence just before he sold his business. i received a free trip to the DR, but was staying outside santo domingo in an all inclusive. daringly, i rented a car and headed to the colonial zone, armed only with a map and bar phoenix's address! the walk up the dark hill to the bar took some nerve, but what a wonderful welcome when i got tot he top. lawrence met me at the door and then to the guys and let me know everyone there was AOK. i had a great evening, one that i will remember for a long time.

Mario Sessions said...

I remember my first time I visit the DR I was staying at the Renaissance Jaragua top floor two other friends and I, we had the top floor to ourselves. that night we got a taxi armed with the address of the Phoenix bar. We were dropped off at the corner of the bar thinking this taxi done set us up! after paying our fare 100 RD (back in the day) we entered the Bar and all we can say was DAMN! Momma we aint coming home no more! The boys was out it was like we was the only Americans in the country. After the shock I saw this small white man sitting in the corner I was like " he's lost or he has to own this joint. After a few min. he came over to welcome us to the country and to the Phoenix Bar. It was on the boys was all over us 3-4 at a time feeling and showing the goods after a hour of soft porn we left with 3. You can guess what happend!

The next day and after that the Phoenix Bar was always brought up. but now hmmmmmm its a pink mess

Anonymous said...

Mario, is Leona trying to come for you! I see nothing wrong with your comment. all I see is that you made comments about the pink mess.

Monaga said...

Mario, thank you for removing the comment. This entry is about Lawrence, PERIOD! Any other issues should be dealt with each other directly.

Thanks for understanding!

Anonymous said...

On one visit to Santo Domingo, I lost my wallet in a taxi. When Lawrence heard about this, he offered me $1000 to be repaid on my next trip to Santo Domingo. I miss being able to go to a neighborhood type bar where you could have a reasonably price drink and talk with the boys.

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Anonymous said...

donde encuentro bugarrones en RD??