Arts & Entertainment » Nightlife

Celebrating Tara, and a decade of gay culture in Rochester


What was once one of Rochester’s defining gay clubs presented an upbeat, and familiar setting, for anyone, gay or straight.

“Tara was like ‘Cheers,’” former bartender Gary Stirk said, referencing not only the bar that was the centerpiece of the ’80s television situation comedy, but a lyric from the show’s theme song. “Everybody knew your name, that’s the kind of hangout it was.”

Tara, now Abilene Bar & Lounge, as seen from the street. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Tara, now Abilene Bar & Lounge, as seen from the street.
Today, the modest white house at 153 Liberty Pole Way is Abilene Bar & Lounge. It had once been a private home, and allegedly a brothel. Now, it’s one of Rochester’s most active live music clubs. And it’s still a hangout where a lot of people really do know your name.

Danny Deutsch, who owns and runs the place, is celebrating the Tara legacy starting at noon, Sept. 3. There’ll be a singalong with the piano, just like the old days at Tara. The day will be a benefit for Trillium Health, specializing in care for LGBTQ+ people.

Stirk was a 21-year-old guy just out of the military, hanging out at Tara, when the owner at the time, Buddy Wegman, told him, “I’m looking for a cocktail waiter.” Stirk considered the proposition. “It’s six steps from the bar to the piano,” he recalled. Easy work. He took the job, quickly advancing up the ladder to bartender.

Over the years, the karaoke followed the piano to the second floor. Noise was encouraged. “There were a couple of instruments there,” Stirk said. “It was kind of a hodge-podge of a lot of things.”

Yet even the best of times must end. Stirk says Tara’s time came after someone accidentally drove a car through the fence separating the club from the next-door parking lot. Subsequent legal actions didn’t amount to much but were enough of a bother that Tara’s owners shut down the club.

It didn’t stay locked for long.

“I thought I had been in every bar in Monroe Country,” Deutsch said. But not Tara. When a realtor told him the spot was available, “I fell in love with the place in minutes.”

Danny Deutsch, owner of Abilene Bar & Lounge. - PHOTO PROVIDED
  • Danny Deutsch, owner of Abilene Bar & Lounge.
Once the liquor license was approved, Deutsch opened the doors to Abilene in March 2007. He named it for a song by one of his favorite California alt-rockers, Dave Alvin, who did stop by for a visit one afternoon when he was in town for a gig.

Stirk, who now works as a financial advisor for government employees, rattled off the   names of a handful of Rochester gay bars, most of which are long gone or have morphed into something altogether new. Rosie’s on Monroe Avenue is now the Bug Jar, an indie rock club. Jim’s, right around the corner from Tara, is now a bar offering the intriguing combination of patrons drinking and throwing axes at a target.

“Even though the owners of all these places would argue with each other, every club had its night and its time, and nobody stepped on each other’s toes,” Stirk said. “Tuesday it was Friar’s. Wednesday, Jim’s. Thursday, Monroe Avenue Pub. And on the weekend, someone would have a two-hour block here, someone else a two-hour block there. They did work together, even though they argued all the time.”

The scene has evolved.

“Definitely a quieter scene today than it was back in the ’80s,” Stirk said.

He’s picked up on a few negative responses to the Sept. 3 remembrance of a time when being gay was not always celebrated.

“What’s wrong with getting together and saying hi?” he said. “Laugh about the strange old times we used to have.”

But it’s not simply old times. The Tara legacy lives on, evident through a sign posted behind the bar at Abilene: EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE.

Jeff Spevak is the senior arts writer for CITY Magazine. He can be reached at (585) 258-0343 or [email protected].