York's only remaining gay bar closes

David Weissman
  • Altlands Ranch, in Spring Grove, closed effective March 20, according to its Facebook page.
  • The Ranch was the last remaining gay bar in York after the prior closings of Velvet Rope and LUX.
  • LGBT members say technology and mainstream integration have led to decline of gay bars.

York County's oldest and last remaining gay bar has closed, according to the Altland's Ranch Facebook page.

"Half the friends I have here in York, I met (at Altland's Ranch)," said Steve Wildasin, of Thomasville. "Everybody was welcome."

The Spring Grove bar made the closing announcement Tuesday night and thanked its many supporters over the years. As of Thursday afternoon, the Facebook post had received more than 130 reactions — mostly sad — and 170 comments, ranging from "So sad! This is where I discovered my true self" to "What a horrible way to go out for such a great place!!! SHAME ON YOU!!"

Robert Stump, a court-appointed legal guardian of surviving owner Rodney Nagle, said the decision to close the establishment at 8505 Orchard Road was made because of a lack of support from the community. The business was created in 1967, according to state Department of State records.

Altlands Ranch is shown in Spring Grove, Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The building is now for sale, and those wishing to inquire about purchasing it can reach Stump at (215) 802-9050.

Charles Kress, longtime co-chair of Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG) in York, said he had worked at The Ranch for many years as a cook, barback and doorman, retiring last December.

Charles Kress, left, co-chair of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays York (PFLAG) and former employee at Altland's Ranch with a guest at the bar. Submitted photo

"It was a place everyone could go to be themselves, the only place for some," Kress said. "It will be missed by a lot of people."

Carla Christopher, president of Equality Fest in York City, said she didn't frequent the bar, but she heard it talked about iconically when she moved to York eight years ago.

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"Everybody has a wild story from The Ranch," Christopher said. "It was a piece of York LGBT history."

Todd Turnbaugh, of York City, said he'd been going to Altland's Ranch infrequently for about 25 years.

"It had a certain realness to it," he said. "There weren't a lot of pretentious people there, and sometimes a place like that can be hard to find in a community."

Steve Wildasin, of Thomasville, said he'd been going to Altland's Ranch since he was 19, and he met about half of his current friends there.

Steve Wildasin, right, of Thomasville, said Halloween parties at Altland's Ranch were always the most fun.

"I'm sad the way they ended it," he said. "If they could've given us a date they were closing, everybody could've had one last night."

Kress said that Altland's Ranch featured drag shows and dancing, and he hoped someone else would come along and reopen it.

"I feel most bad for those that can't be out," he said. "Some people won't be able to intermingle. I don't see a bar in York becoming a gay bar."

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No more safe haven: Members and supporters of the LGBT community shared different viewpoints on why York is now left without any gay bars.

Jim Tompkins, of York City, said online dating and technology has limited people's interest in going to bars.

"There's nothing (in York) for (gay people); it's very sad," Tompkins said, adding that he also hoped someone else would reopen The Ranch.

Stump, who was born and raised in York County, said he kept the bar open as long as he could because he wanted the LGBT community to have a place they felt comfortable.

Past gay bars to open and close in York include the Velvet Rope, Club XS and Lux Nightclub, which closed in November 2014. Gay bars in neighboring counties include Tally-Ho Tavern in Lancaster and Stallions Club in Harrisburg.

Christopher said that knowing a gay bar existed in York helped influence her decision to move here.

"I knew we were welcome here, that I could get the small-town feeling I was looking for and still be around progressive, forward-thinking people," she said. "I don't know if I'd have moved here now if I was just looking at this place on paper."

Tompkins, a 60-year-old lifelong York County resident, said the lack of an openly gay bar in the county is proof that "York isn't as open as it claims to be."

Louie Marven, executive director of the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, said the reduction in popularity of gay bars signifies more integration of the LGBT community into mainstream settings.

Altland's Ranch is shown in Spring Grove, Wednesday, March 23, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Marven said the increased integration is part of the process, but the loss of gay bars can still have negative effects.

"Something is lost as far as being specifically a part of the LGBT community," he said.

Historical significance: Barry Loveland, chairman of the LGBT history project for the center, said gay bars played a significant role historically in that they were the first place for LGBT people to gather and find other LGBT people.

Gay bars in central Pennsylvania date back to the 1940s and '50s, Loveland said. The Neptune Bar, which had been operating in Harrisburg since the early 1970s, just closed a couple years ago, he added.

The decline in gay bars started in the 1980s with rise of AIDS, Loveland said, and they have continued to fall with the growth of Internet instant communication tools.

Loveland and Marven said gay bars and organizations still have a role to play in the LGBT community.

"It's important to have organized options," Marven said.

— Reach David Weissman at