Belle’s Basix, Cedar Rapids’ only LGBTQ bar, is closing — unless a new owner steps up

Belle’s Basix, 3916 1st Ave NE, Cedar Rapids, Jan. 10, 2021. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

After a quarter century, Belle’s Basix, an iconic Cedar Rapids bar and one of only a handful of LGBTQ night spots in eastern Iowa, may soon close for good.

“Unless someone buys the business, the bar will be permanently closed on Feb. 1st,” owner Andrew Harrison wrote in a late Sunday night Facebook post. “If someone decides to buy the business then it will carry on as they seem fit [sic]. I am in talks with some people and would like to be in talks with more about buying this 25 year old business. It’ll be going for cheap i can tell ya that.”

Harrison, also known as Pretty Belle, has been the sole owner of Belle’s Basix for the past decade. Harrison is a retired drag queen and founder of the Belle drag family, which includes Iowa City-based queen and RuPaul’s Drag Race competitor Frisbee Jenkins, a.k.a. Sasha Belle.

Drag is in Basix’s DNA, and the business is perhaps best known for its weekly Friday and Saturday drag performances. Harrison said their scheduled shows will continue as planned through Feb. 1.

But Basix has always been more than an entertainment venue. Staff and regulars worked to make the northeast Cedar Rapids business a sanctuary for LGBTQ Iowans, and anyone looking for a sense of community.

“We call ourselves a gay bar, but we are an everybody bar,” Harrison told KCRG in April 2020. “… We’ve always accepted everybody as long as they recognize this is our safe space.”

Ensuring the safety of his patrons became a more daunting prospect after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016, during which an anti-LGBTQ terrorist killed 49 people in an Orlando, Florida gay club. Basix held a vigil in the wake of the tragedy.

“I’ve got to protect my customers, but I can’t stop an AK-47,” Harrison said.

Belle’s Basix has been the target of eggings, BB gun pellets and slurs shouted by drive-by homophobes. Staff are trained to keep an eye out for suspicious patrons, and have a panic button behind the bar in case of emergency.

Recognizing the importance of government in protecting LGBTQ folks, Basix frequently held viewing parties for major political events. During the 2016 election season, Harrison said up to 70 people packed the bar to catch the debates. Basix hosted the Cedar Rapids watch party and after-party for the inaugural LGBTQ Presidential Forum in September 2019, featuring 10 Democratic candidates.

Basix also carried on a quiet Thanksgiving tradition throughout its history: friends and chosen-family members were invited into the bar to prepare and eat a feast, talk and maybe play a few games of euchre.

“It truly is the one day I love to sit back and see how much we ‘misfits’ can come together and eat, drink, and be OURSELVES…gay, str8, whatever!!!” Harrison posted to the Belle’s Basix Facebook page in 2019.

Despite struggling financially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Harrison donated 60 six-packs of beer from the bar to area healthcare workers. And in the wake of the Aug. 10, 2020 derecho, Basix was among the local orgs and businesses that helped deliver supplies and meals to Cedar Rapidians in need. The bar also worked with Linn County Public Health to offer nighttime HIV testing, allowing patrons to learn their status and return to the dance floor within a minute.

As Cedar Rapids’ only LGBTQ bar in a state with fewer than a dozen total LGBTQ bars, Belle’s Basix is an Iowa institution. But the years have taken a toll on Harrison, particularly recent years. Though he welcomes prospective buyers, he has asked the public not to attempt any fundraisers to save Basix in its current form.

“I am done,” Harrison wrote in Sunday’s Facebook post.

I have been in a toxic relationship with the bar for 24 1/2 years. I love her, but i need to let go. The gay community seems to have let go so i need to do the same. I should of let go years ago, but i wanted to keep a safe space for the LGBTQA of Cedar Rapids. It is apparently no longer needed. I HOPE and PRAY that with the current political climate, that we as a community can be safe without a safe space. we shall see.

Within 20 hours of the announcement, 100 Basix fans had offered words of grief, love and encouragement for Harrison in the comments section.

“This place changed my life and I’ll forever be grateful,” wrote one. “I learned who I was here and met the love of my life here. You did an amazing job and I can’t thank you enough.”

Belle’s Basix, 3916 1st Ave NE, Cedar Rapids, Jan. 10, 2021. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

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