For a person who is not a gay man, I've spent — and continue to spend — a lot of time in gay bars. I don't know if I feel like putting too much effort into identifying or dissecting the reasons why I generally enjoy drinking next to men who love other men, but I think it has something to do with three facts: I have lots of gay friends, gay bars are fun, and I know strange men will leave me alone. I could say something like, "I'm totally a gay guy in a woman's body" (a la Victoria Beckham, Rose McGowan, Mila Kunis, etc.), but I'm not sure what the hell that means. If I did know what it meant, I'm pretty sure I'd be offended by it on behalf of gay men.
Upon moving to Atlanta, I didn't necessarily seek out gay bars — I sought out good bars. Mary's just happened to fall into both categories.
The first time I visited Mary's, it was for Mary-oke, its Tuesday karaoke night. A lady can't do much better than karaoke night at a gay bar when her favorite thing to sing is "S.O.S." by ABBA. In the past, while hanging out at gay bars, I'd sometimes been confronted with the fact I'm basically an interloper. Why couldn't I find a straight bar, the logic went. Straight bars outnumber gay bars, what, 100 to 1? More, maybe? Now, I've never had bar patrons make me feel unwelcome, but I have encountered bar employees who were chagrined to see a straight or two stumble in. At a divey gay bar in Jacksonville I often frequented — I don't want to name it; not that anyone cares — it was pretty much common knowledge that women weren't welcome (not sure if this went for lesbians, too). Bartenders made sure we understood we weren't their priority. When we finally got drinks, they were weak and expensive.
What I'm getting at is that Mary's is very much not like this.
From the goofy rainbow-colored sign with its letters all askew to the handsome fellas behind the bar, Mary's is welcoming. The entire place glows red like a smoky brothel, but it's also filled with gaudy, outdated furniture and fixtures, so it's simultaneously like your Italian grandma's house. Your Italian grandma's brothel, is what it is.
Spatially, I'd venture to guess that Mary's is often described as "narrow," because the distance between the bar and the wall opposite it is meager. I prefer to think of the space as intimate. And there's still room to dance by the front door. Like, right by the front door. Too crowded? Well, go outside to the back patio, dummy. If that's too crowded, you're one step closer to the parking lot, where you can enjoy all the space you'd like. I'd also bet people complain about the bathroom. First of all, it's a bar, not your favorite grandma's tidy brothel, and, second, shut up and appreciate the amazing in-house promotional posters plastered from floor to ceiling. Note to whomever does Mary's graphic design: huge fan.
Several publications — including this one — have named Mary's among the best gay bars in Atlanta, and in America, even. Despite the amount of time I've personally spent in gay bars, I couldn't say if that's true or not. I will say that Mary's is one of my favorite dive bars. Sure, it's a gay bar, but more important, it's a fucking great bar.