WATERLOO – The Kings and Queens Club, a path-paver for LGBTQ+ people and allies in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area since 2001, will reopen for certain within a few months, says owner John Hayes.
A dozen people are seriously exploring taking over the bar at 304 W. 4th St., Hayes said this week. Two are interested enough to meet in person with Hayes this coming weekend, although he asked that their names not be shared publicly.
And if none of those relationships comes to fruition, Hayes said he’ll reopen the bar himself, as he’s done several times since he bought it in 2011. Hayes hopes to know the bar’s future by late March.
“It’s going to stay Kings & Queens one way or the other,” Hayes said. “I’m also willing to lease the building. I’m willing to set up and even mentor somebody if they were new. We can at least get them going, so they can make it their own.”
Commitment to reopen comes after emotional New Year’s announcement
Hayes announced the bar’s temporary closing Jan. 2, in a video that drew tens of thousands of views, and scores of comments from community members. He had just finished running the bar himself for two months, after taking over in early November for the person he’d contracted to run Kings and Queens. Hayes said he had no choice but to take the bar over to resolve issues that included lax security, and leaving some employees unpaid.
Twice before, Hayes has temporarily run the bar after contracted managers encountered severe issues. Through it all, Kings & Queens has remained Waterloo’s only openly LGBTQ+ nightclub since its opening in 2001, and a constant sponsor of charity events. Hayes also owns the Broken Record across the street from Kings & Queens, a small bar that has also built a reputation for welcoming LGBTQ+ people.
Hayes said “at least a couple dozen” people have asked him about one possible future owner, in particular: Jason Zeman, whose various business entities own five Iowa bars including two LGBTQ+ bars. Zeman received widespread publicity in January 2022, when he bought Club Basix in Cedar Rapids after the bar’s former owner put out a call on social media for possible new owners to contact him.
Both Zeman and Hayes declined to comment on whether Zeman is interested in purchasing Kings & Queens. In addition to Club Basix, Zeman and his business partners also own Studio 13, Players, Joystick Arcade and Eden Lounge in Iowa City.
Kings & Queens has long, charitable history
Jona Von Blaricom started Kings and Queens in 2001 and recalls collaborating with darts and pool tournaments and numerous charity groups, including humane societies and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. Von Blaricom mentored Hayes as a young bartender, she said. Once he purchased the bar in 2011, Hayes said he vowed to “put Waterloo on the map.”
Hayes led Kings and Queens to become the first-ever LGBTQ+ bar to march in the annual My Waterloo Days parade in 2013. Hayes and his crew at Kings and Queens also helped found Cedar Valley Pridefest, the nonprofit group that coordinates Waterloo/Cedar Falls’ annual LGBTQ+ Pride event in August. The bar regularly raises money for the Community AIDS Assistance Project for people living with HIV/AIDS, animal welfare groups, Pride events and more.
The bar is also known for its drag shows, by performers young and old. They include long-time performer Ruby James Knight. “Kings and Queens Club is/was my second home,” Knight says. *Our club was special, as we didn’t discriminate. It didn’t matter your ethnicity, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. Our drag shows were always popular by everyone attending.”
In fact, on many drag nights, Hayes says most of the audience at Kings and Queens is sometimes straight. “I like the fact that this bar is supported by every demographic in town,” says Hayes. “Everybody in Waterloo has always supported the gay community.”
Von Blaricom says she believes Hayes will keep the bar alive — and briefly pondered repurchasing it herself. “The community needs Kings and Queens,” she says. “There’s been a lot of memories and good things that have come of it.”
(photos courtesy of John Hayes)