by Tim Gilmore, 9/22/2023
1. City Living Room
This front barroom feels like the living room of the city and the door to the central storefront at 100 East Adams faces not toward Adams Street, nor Ocean, but right into the crossroads.
Surely a poignant irony accrues to Hardwicks, Jacksonville’s newest gay bar, opening in the same building that once held far-right presidential candidate George Wallace’s local campaign offices and the barbershop / Conservative Church of Christ of the infamous white supremacist Warren Folks. Surely all the lives a building has lived contribute to its current existence. Surely all the voices from each performance in a theater refract yet around the ghost light.
Inside this front door to intersectionality, a kindness adheres. Between these dark green walls over bar tops of blond wood, Hardwicks exudes a kindness strange and ineffable, a comfort. This space welcomes, embraces, includes you, whoever you are. Maybe earlier gay establishments exorcised the building, since Hair Extravagance followed Folks’s place and Eddie’s Powder Puff Beauty Salon followed Hair Extravagance.
A city is a storm of historical forces meshing landscape through timeline, within which open up places of peace. Just as architect Taylor Hardwick’s masterpiece, the old main library across the street, seemed destined just a moment ago for demolition, so the new bar called Hardwicks hinges on triumphant contingencies, incidentally accidental, all the more therefore welcome.
2. Crossroads Doorway
Tim Hoal greets me in the light of these tall windows that look out on libraries, both designed by the city’s best architects, on two separate streets. He tended and managed bar at Park Place, the neighborhood gay bar in Riverside, for 12 years. The trajectory of his life has led him to Hardwicks.
Growing up in an old house in Pennsylvania, he’s always loved historic architecture, so after a gap year in South Africa, Tim went to Savannah College of Art and Design to study architectural history and urban preservation. Now he’s opening the first LGBT bar in Jax in 20 years at one of his favorite intersections, itself a model architecturally for the diversity that makes a city a city.
“Four wildly different styles of architecture meet here on one intersection,” he says, noting Henry John Klutho’s 1903 neoclassical library and bar namesake Taylor Hardwick’s midcentury modern library, now the Jessie Ball duPont Center. Diagonally across from this living room of the city, which wears the Mediterranean Revival style of the 1920s Florida Land Boom, the city’s central fire station for more than 80 years now serves as a private residence.
In Hardwicks, Ocean and Adams is still a booklovers’ crossroads. The spines of books on a wall looking over the front bar are arranged by color to make a rainbow and the capitals of the columns on Klutho’s old library hold busts of famous writers, Shakespeare and Plato and Aristotle and Herodotus, “the Father of History.”
In the crisp depth of a strong bass voice, Tim Hoal speaks of the dark green and gold of the bar’s interior. This “moody, ’70s London vibe,” as Tim calls it in Matt Soergel’s recent Florida Times-Union story, comes from a small 1980 snapshot of Tim’s father sitting in his MG convertible, British Racing Green with black leather seats and wooden steering wheel. The green in Hardwicks is a little darker, a custom color, which fits Taylor Hardwick’s customizing the gold of his Ford Thunderbird, dubbed “Hardwick Gold.”
Having heard of white supremacists and segregationists elsewhere in this building, Tim speaks, not with surprise, but with irony of the loving feel of this space. The city’s living room has ever welcomed him since he first stepped inside. Surely his own positive commitment to a city with an oft-ugly history helps pivot this central crossroads toward a more inclusive and loving future.
3. Mysterious Void
In 1925, the United Cigar Stores Company predicted Jacksonville would be the South’s next great metropolis and bought 26 lots across downtown for construction of corner retail outlets. Its real estate subsidiary Baeder Properties built nine of these buildings, each with nine retail spaces, of which only 100 East Adams, built in 1926, remains intact. A United Cigar Store anchored each building’s corner storefront, façade facing the intersection, a wooden “cigar store Indian” guarding the door.
A world unto itself, what life has this building not known? Before Hardwicks replaced the Burro Bar which replaced the London Bridge Eatery and Pub, the building held a cigar and wine lounge called Poppy Love Smoke, the restaurant Chomp Chomp, a record shop called Moon Colony Razorblade and The 5 & Dime Theatre Company.
Earlier listings here found the Downtown Bookshop (at no. 100) and The Old Book Shop (no. 108) in 1980; Aetna Finance Co. loans (at 100) beside a drycleaner (108) and pie shop (110) in 1950; and City Hall Pharmacy and Sundries (at 100) next to a barbershop, a drycleaner, a confectioner and Magic Store toyshop in 1935.
More ironies and mysteries, however, hide behind curtains. The last prime example of the United Cigar Store Buildings never held a United Cigar Store. This building balances on paradox. Though in his legendary book Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage, Wayne Wood keeps the building’s longtime moniker, “United Cigar Store Building,” he suggests privately the Baeder Building would be a more accurate name.
So why was this location the only one of the nine where a United Cigar Store never opened? In its place was Samuel Thomas’s Restaurant, every storefront rented out, in 1927. One year later, only Central Dry Cleaning (at 108) remained in business. In ’29, Griffin Pharmacy occupied the corner space, the stock market crash launched the Great Depression, and in 1930, the whole building stood empty.
4. Barbers and Hairdressers
In 1968, the rivalry between Jacksonville’s George Wallace groups exploded in a shouting match and threats outside official Wallace campaign headquarters at the American Bookstore and Duval County Federation for Constitutional Government at 114 East Adams Street. Wallace – who’d famously uttered at his Alabama gubernatorial inauguration, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” – was riding an anti-Civil Rights Culture-Warrior tide.
Dick Smith, Wallace’s national campaign organizer, had arrived by plane on an emergency mission to “clear up” the fighting between Wallace groups in Jacksonville. When Warren Folks, Florida’s best-known self-avowed white supremacist, met Smith here on the sidewalk, surrounded by Wallace supporters, Smith shook his hand, then said, “You’re no longer associated with us.”
Times-Union photographer Frank Smith snapped a picture from just behind Folks’s stooped shoulder and horn-rimmed glasses, an irate Dick Smith holding his head like a loaded weapon, mouth open, teeth showing, an index finger jabbed in Folks’s direction.
In the mid-’70s, Folks moved his barbershop and Conservative Church of Christ into the building that had headquartered the white supremacist presidential candidate who’d turned against him and lived in the back of his shop. In its last incarnation, Folks ran the space as a store called Junk and Things in 1986 and ’87.
The following year, his space for a decade was taken over by gay hairdressers. He took it personally. He was a barber; they were hairdressers. He began to stand outside Hair Extravagance holding hateful picket signs, shouting and slinging slurs. Thankfully, his wasn’t the last word.
5. Margins at the Center
More ironies. With the 21st century came greater LGBT acceptance and legalization of gay marriage, but the number of gay bars decreased. Decades ago, a gay bar was a refuge from a culture and society belligerent, a rare safe space, but as the culture at large opened up, gay people felt more comfortable in establishments they’d once have considered strictly straight.
Several gay bars have closed since Tim Hoal first moved to Jax. While he’s grateful Park Place, “a dive bar but in a good way,” In Cahoots, a dance bar, and Boot Rack, a beer bar, remain open, and other bars like Rain Dogs still feature drag shows, he mourns the closing of The Metro, “an institution.” No gay bars are left in Daytona. One still operates in Savannah, the town famous for, among so many other things, the drag queen the Lady Chablis.
So I ask Tim a silly question. If gay patrons now feel comfortable in erstwhile “straight” bars and the Times-Union’s headline said Hardwicks aimed for a “mixed crowd,” what makes Hardwicks a gay bar? I’m glad he sees the question as philosophical and not glib.
“Even saying ‘gay bar,’” he says, “feels somewhat out of date,” but what a gay bar in Jacksonville means in 2023 is “a space where everyone’s welcome.” If Hardwicks feels like the living room of the city, as a gay bar, it will be what every bar should be: “a place to have fun, feel respected and included and seen, a safe place to be yourself.”
At first, Tim and his business partners didn’t plan to host drag shows at Hardwicks, but with Florida’s political leaders banning everything they consider “woke,” from Black history books and classes to diversity and inclusion programs to drag shows, Tim feels a responsibility to host shows every Saturday night. Deep voiced and muscled, he gets a little choked up talking about it. “And during football season,” he laughs, “it’ll be so much fun to have a halftime drag show!”
This last summer, before the building had air-conditioning, as temperatures soared past 100 degrees, a sheriff’s office detective and a couple of FBI agents stopped by to express the support of local law enforcement.
“I didn’t reach out to them initially. I didn’t ask for this to happen,” Tim says. “They wanted to know anytime we received hateful emails or Facebook messages, or graffiti sprayed on our walls, or even something threatening in our customers’ lives.”
Back in grad school, reading Paulo Freire and Frantz Fanon, I heard privileged people say the margin was a powerful place to argue from, but when the margins move into the heart, a place like Hardwicks opens up, a city learns to live with and love itself, and embraces its strangers in its own front room.
6. Century Table
Decades before my University of North Florida travel group met at the London Bridge Pub right here to drink Guinness and eat Scotch eggs before we left for London in 2003, before artists Noli Novak and George Cornwell performed with their punk band at the Burro Bar here in 2014, this corner space, no. 100, was home to the Downtown Bookshop and at no. 108, The Old Book Shop.
The year was 1980. Four years earlier, Ron Chamblin had bought out Cy Crawford’s stock when Crawford Bookmine, located in Cy’s house in the Lake Shore neighborhood, caught fire, and Chamblin Bookmine was on its way to becoming the largest bookstore in the Southeast.
In the ’70s, the book trade was centered downtown. John Blauer ran the Downtown Bookshop after buying the full stock of Golden Fleece Book Exchange further west on Adams. Bob Gavilan, meanwhile, bought Blauer’s other bookshop across from The Florida Theatre, then moved it to the storefront beside the Downtown Bookshop and changed its name from The Old Book Store to The Old Book Shop.
And all this took place between Klutho’s old main library and Hardwick’s new one. If opening the cover of a book is walking through a doorway, all these buildings stuffed with books at Ocean and Adams were worlds upon worlds uncountable. And if a city is the confluence of human possibilities, this doorway from this crossroads led into a city of its own.
It’s here hairdresser Eddie Buquo ran his own business, Powder Puff Beauty Salon, when the makers of the 1987 film Death Diploma interviewed him in a guayabera talking about Ottis Toole. Eddie said he never thought Toole was a killer. “I always just thought he was a local nut.” Eddie was right. Ottis didn’t kill 300 or 600 people, not even little Adam Walsh, son of the host of the TV show America’s Most Wanted.
Eddie sometimes picked Ottis up on Main Street and drove him down to the City Rescue Mission. For the longest time, Eddie didn’t know Ottis’s name was Ottis. He always called Ottis Alice, and Ottis never corrected him. The first time he ever saw Ottis was in Confederate Park in the mid ’70s, just before Ottis was arrested, completely naked, carrying his clothes over his shoulder. He introduced himself to Eddie, who thought Ottis said his name was Alice, then got into the back of a police car wearing nothing at all.
Here in the city that is the United Cigar Store Building that never housed a United Cigar Store, I’m certain I’ll find all the “amazements” poet Mary Oliver said “the dark seed of the earth” brings forth, for “life is infinitely inventive.”
I look forward soon to sitting at the table in the bay window by the back bar across from Nicole DeFeo’s murals and beneath the faces of Shakespeare and Herodotus looking in through the window from across the street and trying the cocktails on tap and flipbooking in my head through every business this building has hosted.
Tim Hoal says he loves tequila, “any which way,” and is “really glad espresso martinis have made a comeback.” He plans to have them on tap as well as other classics.
So right here: I’ll have myself a Singapore Sling in 1927, at the height of Prohibition, chase it with malt liquor from The Ole Downtown Tavern in 1983, polish myself up at France Beauty School and enjoy a ham sandwich at the Library Luncheonette in 1933, sample a peach cobbler at Home Made Pie & Do-Nut Shop in 1944, take out a loan at Aetna Finance (at no. 100) in 1955 to buy a dictating machine at Thos. A. Edison, Inc. in 1962 (just call EL 3-1832), bring my gear to Kennedy’s Fishing Reel Repair and buy a 2023 book of anti-racism called The Culture Wars of Warren Folks at the Downtown Bookshop in 1980, at which point, just before Pride Week in October 2023, Hardwicks will be open for business.