Introduction from the Author: Hello! My name is Jonathan Golden and I am an Outreach and Social Media Intern for the Clark County Historical Society. I currently attend Wittenberg University as a double-major in Marketing and Communication & Digital Media graduating in 2024. I am super ecstatic to be writing for Clark County Historical Society.
Why Not III is Springfield, Ohio’s first and oldest gay bar in existence. The first rendition of this bar, named Why Not? was established in 1970 by owner and operator Floyd Hook JR, also known as JR Hook.
Floyd Hook JR
JR Hook’s inspiration for his bar came from a local bar in Columbus, Ohio named Peppermint Lounge which was open to women and gay men. This bar served as a sanctuary for gay men because they could be themselves and not have to worry about the trials and tribulations of the current status of the world and their views on the gay community. Hook would attend every Saturday night until he decided to open Why Not?.
At first, there was no gay clientele and they would host private parties with events such as drag shows, and these parties are what turned the bar into a gay bar. Eventually, it became a mixed bar filled with both gay and straight men. Once the rumors started to spread that there were private parties, straight men stopped attending and the city of Springfield got involved causing them to relocate. This was because they supposedly wanted to “improve the downtown area” by widening the road.
Why Not?’s first location ended up being sold and torn down to be turned into a parking lot after seven years. Why Not II was the second rendition of this bar opened by JR Hook and his partner, Sam, and they operated this business until 1986 when the city decided to close the business again to “widen the roads”. When trying to find a location for Why Not III, the city kept providing excuses against creating a brand new bar. In trying to mitigate this issue, JR found a bar already in existence and Why Not III ended up being established in 1987. At this bar, it was filled with fun times for every individual. They had drag queen events, dancing, karaoke, and a community.
In October 1994, Why Not III sponsored their own newspaper named The Proud and Free, written by JR Hook which ran into the late 1990s. The purpose of this newspaper was to provide support and resources for the queer community, and it was available for every patron of Why Not III. This newspaper highlighted many different topics that were relevant to Clark County as well as specific items for the queer community.
The topics included in the newspaper included an anonymous dating advice questions for the column “Dear Aunt Alma,” there were updates on national movements within the queer community, support resources and updates on issues such as AIDs and HIV, updates regarding the bar, and even ways to post advertisements about dating. Since there was no social media during these times, they used this newspaper as an outlet to communicate, date, and share information.
We wanted to acknowledge the trilogy of Why Not? and it’s newspaper The Proud and Free because it impacted the Springfield community since its conception in 1970. This bar has served as a safe place and support resource for many, and it has been an instrumental outlet for everyone to be themselves. It has been through both community value issues and politics regarding gay rights, and it has been a reason that Springfield continues to grow stronger as a community.
Author notes: When I wrote this article, I was very unsure on what I would get into when reading because I have not wrote on a topic like this before. When planning, I knew I was going to write about The Proud and Free until I found that there was a larger significance of a bar in Springfield, so the whole article ended up shifting to highlight Why Not?. Why Not? riddled me at first because I could not understand how a bar, which is commonly known for just drinking, could also serve as a supporting place for a minority community but my questions were quickly answered through research. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to sort through different types of history, including informal newspapers and oral history and I firmly believe that it has both enhanced my perspective as well as contributed to this article. When researching, I was lucky enough for the Clark County Historical Society to have a smaller box of information, and I was able to contrast past projects on this topic to expand more. I learned that topics, such as this one, which are not largely recorded in history are very important to keep record of. This is because it can be difficult when history has happened and not everything has been recorded. Overall, this was very enriching to be able to learn how to cross reference oral history with public directories and past projects, and to also learn other perspectives of a singular location could impact a community!