“We just do a little bit of everything,” says Rod Caldwell, leaning back in his chair. He’s sitting in a small office tucked away in a corner of Spike’s Leather Club, the bar he co-founded with Jeffrey Hall and Ivan Reyes Cantres. “We wanted to offer something different for Birmingham than drag shows, and so we have.”
Spike’s, which celebrates its first anniversary on Friday, is difficult to summarize succinctly. It’s billed as a leather bar, but wearing leather isn’t required to attend. It isn’t a biker bar or an S&M bar, though it does cater to the fetish community. It’s a gay bar that welcomes people of all sexual orientations. It’s a nightclub that’s just as willing to host a wedding or corporate event as it is art classes or a philanthropic event centered around “lube wrestling.”
“The other LGBT bars in town do drag shows, and we thought we’d take it into a little bit of a different direction,” says Cantres, speaking over the phone. “They do that very well. Jeff is an artist, and Rod is a welding [artist], and we thought, ‘Why don’t we try to do something different?’”
For Birmingham, Spike’s remains a singular venue. In addition to the bar and dancefloor, it features a shop that sells leather apparel — something that the club’s founders had seen in leather bars in surrounding states, but not in Alabama. (“Well, maybe not in Mississippi, either,” Cantres adds.)
The idea for Spike’s originated with Caldwell and Hall, who connected with Cantres through Cantres’ partner, Chris. Cantres, who had spent 20 years managing clubs in New York and Puerto Rico, says the concept of the bar “fit with what I wanted to do when it came to opening a bar, and it took off from there.”
The trio did most of the work on the bar’s design themselves; Hall, an interior designer, spearheaded the club’s layout, while Caldwell welded the exterior gates and the various metal fixtures that appears throughout the club. “We have done the work here, all of us, the construction, the flooring,” he says. “It’s just been a labor of love.”
Cantres describes the bar’s layout as being intentionally minimalist. “If you notice, the space is not adorned with a lot of Budweiser and Heineken neon signs,” he says. “And that’s actually by design. We wanted the space to be multifaceted … because whether it’s a Christmas event or a birthday party, with us and Jeff as our interior designer, we can turn that space into just about anything.”
Spike’s first opened on February 10, 2016. It’s since developed its own routine — Wednesdays are karaoke nights, for example, and there’s a monthly leather party called “Trade” — but its owners seem more excited by the less conventional events the venue hosts.
Hall, for instance, has hosted a class called Art and Cocktails, which has provided attendees lessons on painting and charcoal drawing. (Spike’s also features a gallery featuring predominantly “queer art.”) In September, Spike’s hosted a body painting event, which featured six artists painting the skin of six live models. Proceeds from that show were donated to Birmingham AIDS Outreach, a local nonprofit dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention education and services.
“One of our ideas from the very beginning was that we were going to support the LGBT community in Birmingham in various ways,” Caldwell says. Events hosted at Spike’s have also benefitted the Hub, a “safe haven” for young gay, bisexual, and trans individuals located in downtown Birmingham; the National Compassion Fund, which in July contributed to victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting; Manna House, a Huntsville-based organization that provides food to individuals and families in need; and many others.
“Basically, we just try to let everybody know that, even though it is a leather bar, we’re really open to anyone in the community who wants to do something,” Cantres says. “As long as they are accepting of what we’re doing, we’re going to be accepting of what they’re doing.”
The trio say that the community response to Spike’s has been very positive, despite some common misconceptions that many people have about the bar.
“We do get people who, it’s their first time, and they had this misconceived notion about what our leather bar was,” Cantres says. “Many people had an idea [that came from] videos from the ‘70s and ‘80s of an environment that was somewhat unwelcoming. … But most of our nights are just regular nights like any other bar, assuming thesre isn’t something special going on. We get a lot of people who come in and are surprised that it’s not as shocking [as they thought].”
Caldwell laughs. “And we’ve never had anyone walk out in disgust,” he says.
“Everybody’s welcome and everybody has a good time,” Hall adds. “We want everybody to feel comfortable, and it’s worked. A lot of people have come in and said, ‘We were kind of scared to come in here, but this is awesome!’”
The Spike’s Leather Club anniversary party will take place on Friday, February 10. DJ Tennessee and the club’s resident DJ LeJack will perform, as well as Mistress Ann and Columbia Taylor. Doors open at 8 p.m. Spike’s is located at 620 27th St. S.