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Longtime lesbian bar closes, scouts new location

My Sister's Room in Decatur

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For the first time in more than a decade, metro Atlanta lesbians are left without a dedicated sapphic nightclub following this past weekend's closing of My Sister's Room in Decatur.

The building occupied by the club since 1998 -- a former youth hostel on a quiet side street running alongside busy railroad tracks -- will be demolished to make room for condominiums, says MSR co-owner Susan Musselwhite.

"We tried to hold out as long as we could," says Musselwhite, who did not own the property.

While regular customers may have yearned for a New Year's Eve finale for their favorite club, Musselwhite explains that she needed to close in December to avoid having to renew her business and alcohol licenses.

But she hopes the club's fans will not have to suffer withdrawal for long; Musselwhite is already negotiating on potential new homes for MSR, although she declines to say where she's looking.

"I would hope to be open again by spring," she says. "I feel we'll be a destination wherever we go."

MSR was originally launched in 1996 by Musselwhite in a Midtown shopping center next door to the old DuPree's pool hall, where she had worked as a waitress. Two years later, she moved the bar to its eccentric Decatur home, a rustic, 100-year-old building with a fenced-in yard that contained a full-sized teepee and a patio garden.

With the 1997 closing of Atlanta's Otherside Lounge, following an attempted bombing by Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph, MSR became the metro area's only full-time lesbian club, although several gay clubs currently sponsor a weekly "women's night."

Musselwhite says she is looking for a new site large enough to accommodate both a performance area for live music and "drag king" events, and a "parlor-like space" that would offer a quieter, more intimate sanctum for her customers.

Atlanta recently lost another familiar landmark of gay nightlife with the shuttering of the Phoenix. The bunker-like bar served as the most visible reminder of the days when the surrounding mile of Ponce de Leon Avenue was a disreputable stretch peopled by street hustlers and the down-and-out.

Its closing in late November followed the death of owner Arlene Riley, 65, from cancer. The bar had been fighting a City Hall order revoking its liquor license after police caught a customer getting a blowjob in the bathroom this spring.

Opened in the mid-'80s, the Phoenix achieved early notoriety as a cruising ground of the so-called "Handcuff Man," a would-be serial killer who drugged his victims and set them on fire. The property on which the bar sat was owned by local attorney Lloyd Russell, a Libertarian candidate for lieutenant governor in 1998 who died earlier this year.

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