The board of the Albuquerque Social Club has a little over a month to save what’s widely known as the longest-running LGBTQ bar in New Mexico’s largest city. The board announced in late August that the private club, referred to as "the SOCH" by its members, would be closing after nearly 40 years on historic Route 66, unable to weather the shutdown and resulting economic hardship of the coronavirus pandemic. However, after an offer of financial relief, the SOCH has been given a fighting chance.
If the SOCH were to close permanently, Albuquerque’s queer and trans community would be losing more than just a bar. When asked how they would describe the SOCH, longtime member Frida Steel Roxxx said “home.” “Home is supposed to be like your sanctuary, your safe space, right?” asked Roxxx. “I’m not a religious person, but the closest thing that I can compare it to would be like church.”
Every SOCH member who KUNM spoke to described the SOCH as a church. Hannah Bernal-Cooper, a member and performer there, said that's because “that’s where you went to celebrate, that’s where you went to mourn, that’s where you went to be with family. If you have big news, bad news or anything – you went there.”
“That’s where I have always imagined any kind of funeral services for myself or anyone else in the community," said Bunnie Cruse, a trans advocate and chair of the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. "It was more than just a bar that sold liquor.”
Cruse credits much of her professional growth to having been a longtime emcee at the SOCH. “It made me comfortable,” she said. “Like when I talk to the governor, or I talk to Congresswoman [Deb] Haaland, I can sit down with them and not be nervous, and it’s because I have that experience at the Social Club. SOCH took me to the next level.”
The LGBTQ club on the corner of Central Ave. and Montclaire Dr. in Nob Hill has been the members-only Albuquerque Social Club since the early 80s. But for about a decade before that, it was a gay bar known as The Heights, says Midnyte Tellez, who was there at the beginning. “It was like Saturday Night Fever because we had the same dancefloors with the lights under the plexiglass,” said Tellez. “We had after-hours clubs in the back bar, Last Chance Disco. They could have sodas and juice and dance for another two hours. And the back parking lot was like the cruise. I mean, everybody went there.”
The gay cruise is how Frida Steel Roxxx first found out about the SOCH years later, in the mid-90s, when they were still underage. “The gay cruise was just cruising in your car from Carlisle Blvd. to Washington St. [and] from Copper Ave. to Silver Ave. – and the main focus was the parking lot of SOCH,” said Roxxx. “We’d just sit outside and see the people driving around. So, eventually our goal was to be old enough to go to SOCH.”
Roxxx is now in their early 40s and has had some of life’s most treasured experiences there. “The first time I said 'I love you' to my partner Sera was in the back room while we were smoking. And the first time we kissed was here in the parking lot of the Social Club,” they said. “And I could tell you a thousand stories of how this place changed someone’s life in one night.”
While Roxxx described news of the SOCH closing as “terrifying,” they weren’t shocked. “Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed a lot of my homes-away-from-home closing,” they said. “I remember the Ranch closing, I remember Foxes closing, and my original home bar – which was AMC, The Albuquerque Mining Company – closing, and the Pulse closing.”
But Roxxx and the rest of the SOCH family now have a bit of hope that it won’t join those other bars in the Albuquerque LGBTQ history books. The board of directors last week reversed the decision to close permanently after secretary Gail Starr says the building’s landlord reached out with a generous offer. “It changed the dynamics of how much we would have to raise to stay afloat, what our rent looked like,” said Starr. “So, looking at our bills, if we can make this certain amount of money, we can stay solvent and keep pushing forward.”
The board says they need to raise at least $60,000. That’s what the business owes from several years of back taxes that treasurer Missy Leigh says the current board members inherited and began paying off last year. Their progress was halted when the pandemic shut the SOCH down in March. The taxes are due by Oct. 30, which Leigh says is the make-or-break fundraising deadline for the historic queer space. “This is our last hurrah,” said Leigh. “This is all we’ve got.”
The SOCH and its members have started fundraising on multiple platforms online, including GoFundMe, Facebook and PayPal. The board says anything raised beyond the $60,000 will go towards continued expenses during the shutdown. You can find up-to-date information on the #SaveTheSoch campaign website.
Disclosure: Reporter Nash Jones was a member of the Albuquerque Social Club for a couple years.