Time to get back on my high horse blogging-wise and share some news about a prominent LGBT-oriented venue here in Madison. Well, at least it was originally established to be a positive part of our community.
The building you see above is at 924 Williamson Street. Until over a decade ago, it was the longtime home to Star Photo Service; look closely at the upper front façade and you can make out a faded star that once was Star Photo’s marquis sign.
Then in August 2009, during Madison’s pride weekend, the ownership team of Rico Sabatini and Corey Gresen opened the nightclub Plan B on this site. The club’s opening came after 2½ years of not just finding a location for the club but also remodeling it for suitability. (The name “Plan B” is a nod to the false starts and changes in plans that preceded its opening.)
Virtually from the get-go, Plan B became a very popular spot, one where Madison’s LGBT community could meet, converse, drink, dance, perform, and be themselves. Speaking of performing, Plan B has been home to regular drag performances over the years, not only from national performers but those from here in Madison and Wisconsin. Trixie Mattel (yes, that Trixie Mattel) was a part of Plan B’s drag cast before hitting it big not once but twice on RuPaul’s Drag Race. And Plan B has not limited itself to the inside of the club either, as it’s used its parking lot and the street in front of it to stage its Fruit Fest block party every June.
Now, you’re asking if I’ve ever been to Plan B. Well, yes, on a couple of occasions. Even though I’ll never be a party-down-until-the-morning-light kind of person, I’ve been to Plan B in the daylight, including the Fruit Fest staging you see above (I was in male mode that day, sorry) and during the Willy Street Fair, when Plan B opened its doors to anyone seeking a bit of a respite (or liquid refreshment) from the hustle and bustle of the fair.
And, yes, I’ve been inside Plan B as Allison, taking in that aforementioned breather from the 2015 Willy Street Fair when I was all dolled up. I was glad to do so, for not only was it a cool respite from the end-of-summer sunshine, not one person blinked an eye and thought I was strange… not unlike how it was for me outside that afternoon.
But things have never been peachy keen for Plan B. For one, the neighbors have complained quite a bit about the noise emanating both inside and outside the club. (The Willy Street neighborhood is a mixed use area of businesses, bars, and residents, with said residents have never cared for any loud noises from anywhere.) In 2014, Rico Sabatini sold his share in the bar, and new owners were brought in to back the venture (more on them in a moment). The building was damaged in a fire later in 2014, opening almost right afterwards thanks to quick action. And late last June, Plan B was the target of what was considered a hate crime when someone took a baseball bat to a front window in the overnight hours.
But a significant controversy happened just last month that has laid bare lingering concerns about Plan B and has sullied the club’s welcoming reputation more than noise or fire or bats could ever do. Basically, this is what happened, according to a report by Our Lives Magazine for its current issue (I’ll paraphrase what they report here, but I highly recommend you click on that link for a more comprehensive story):
On December 15, Bryanna Banx$ and the “Honey B” cast were about to get dolled up and perform when the bar manager on duty told them they could not use the regular dressing room. Either come already en femme, the manager told them, or do your changing in the car. While the back-and-forth between staff and performers led to the latter group winning “the right to use the dressing room one final time” that night… well, let’s say it’s not nice to piss off a drag queen: Bryana Banx$ spread the news about the incident on Facebook. Fellow performers Regina Lynn Taylor and Bianca Lynn Breeze would follow suit.
News of the incident spread like wildfire, leading to Plan B management issuing an apology. In said mea culpa, they noted that the club would have faced fines from the city if the aforementioned dressing room was still in use. Fire code violations, you see.
But that did not mollify those who noted that this was about more than just a dressing room — it’s about how the club is being run: That Our Lives Magazine article (again, here’s its link) includes recounts of incidents involving co-owner Albert Borokhim (he and Josh Scherer took control of Plan B in 2014) harassing or making derogatory comments toward female staff and drag performers, not to mention inappropriately touching female patrons. The article also recalls a certain episode from January 2018, “an alleged incident of racially motivated violence by a white security staff member toward a black patron.” (Said patron has not yet received legal recourse.)
Needless to say, all of this has left Plan B with a black I, if you know what I mean. Bianca Lynn Breeze has resigned their position as the club’s show director. A few other performers have indicated they’ll no longer perform at or support the club. And there’s now an impression that not only has Plan B lost its original vision (catering to the LGBT+ community), it’s no longer a welcoming space. It led to co-founder and minority owner Corey Gresen desiring to step away from the club entirely, going so far as to recommend to his fellow owners that they decline renewing the club’s lease.
Well, I should call them former owners of Plan B: Word came on Friday that founding owner Rico Sabatini has returned to the club, fully taking over ownership from Gresen, Borokhim, and Scherer.
If you expand that Facebook post or click on the article link in the paragraph above it, you’ll notice that Sabatini’s statement addresses the elephant in the room. “What was once a safe haven for the queer community had turned into the opposite of its sole purpose,” he says.
And with that, an incident that began with “bad communication” and led to revelations of bad conduct has resulted in a familiar name becoming white knight. Just as Sabatini’s heart was breaking over what Plan B has become, I’m sad that it would come to this… and again, I’m not a frequent part of the bar crowd, though I’m happy when an LGBT+ business succeeds and its clientele enters and exits happy.
Plan B has a lot of work ahead in restoring its reputation, but here’s hoping that they’ll become a crown jewel of Madison’s LGBT+ community once again. The end of cover charges for those 21 and over on Thursdays and Fridays might help. Making improvements to the building will hopefully help. Having an LGBT focus will certainly help. Fostering an environment that’s safe and welcoming to everyone of all stripes (staff, patrons, and performers) will most definitely help. Listening to everyone’s concerns, including from those who’ve turned their backs on the club, will also most definitely help. Of course, all of this can’t guarantee future success. (Side note: Kudos to those performers who spoke up about Plan B during the controversy. You held your ground and stood on principle, and for that you should be applauded.)
Oh, it should be noted that those who Our Lives Magazine spoke with had nothing but praise for Corey Gresen. He co-founded Plan B with Sabatini 10 years ago and did his very best in the subsequent decade to support Madison’s LGBT+ community and make the club as welcoming a place as possible. He now leaves the club behind and takes that proverbial next step in life. Here’s hoping they’ll continue having that warm spot in their hearts for Gresen, and eventually have the same for Sabatini, gratefully telling them, “Thank you for helping our community ‘B’ better.”