It was a case of adding insult to injury for West Palm Beach’s iconic LGBT bar on Belvedere Road — H.G. Rooster’s. First came the pandemic, which struck the bar industry fast and hard in March.
Then, for Rooster’s owner A.J. Wasson, it was a 2 a.m. call from his manager David Zen in late May. Rooster’s was on fire.
An accidental blaze destroyed the kitchen and parts of the roof. A closer look revealed extensive smoke and water damage throughout the 2,700 square foot building — more than $500,000 worth. On top of that, the bar’s insurance policy had just lapsed in April.
More recently, illegal dumping started happening on the Rooster’s property. Wasson said he’s been fined more than $1,000 and will likely have to fence in his parking lot, costing thousands more.
Surely no one would have blamed Wasson for throwing in the towel. But he said he’s never considered it.
Wasson applied for the federal government’s PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan to help keep his staff of eight afloat. His entertainment director, Melissa St. John, quickly set up a GoFundMe page – “We Are Roosters.” More than 330 people have donated almost $59,000 of a $100,000 goal though donations have considerably slowed down to the page in recent months.
The community at large has done even more for Rooster’s — a place where people have congregated since 1984. Customers describe it as the heart and soul of the LGBT community in the Palm Beaches — a lifesaver for many over the years.
People have mailed donations with supportive notes — even those who said they’d never been to the bar.
In June, a gathering was organized by Wasson’s friend and Rooster’s customer, Chris Rhoades, at West Palm’s Petanque Kitchen & Bar.
After Wasson and his staff took food to the firefighters who had helped extinguish the blaze, he got a check for $9,000 from the West Palm Beach Firefighters Association. In July the firefighters had an oversized rainbow-colored check made for a ceremony at the station.
Meanwhile Earl and Nancy Stewart, who are well-known for their Toyota dealerships, donated $10,000.
In all, Wasson said $70,000 (and counting) has been donated by the community to help rebuild.
“All the employees are doing well, we’re a tight-knit group of people,” Wasson said. "The other local bars have really stepped up and helped, too.”
Penny’s at the Duke in Lantana has been hosting a “Rooster’s Night” on Saturday by allowing drag queens and bartenders to come and work. Similarly, the Mad Hatter in Lake Worth Beach has a Rooster’s Night on Thursdays.
On Jan. 28 in Wilton Manors, Johnsons will hold a fundraiser for Rooster’s with a silent auction of items donated by local businesses.
Rooster’s has still kept its charity work intact, too. Regular Lee Edmondson coordinated the annual “Toys for Tots” drive through his salon and other gay bars in West Palm as drop off points.
Before the election the bar converted its website into a voter registration and turnout site.
Wasson said city and county officials have stepped up with support as well — which has helped with the permitting process and other hurdles.
Architectural plans are nearing an end, Wasson said. Once final plans are submitted the small business loan process kicks into gear.
“It’s been a slow, arduous process,” he said.
He expects the architecture firm to be done with its plans in the next month or two. At that point final permitting can wrap up and construction can begin.
Wasson said when Rooster’s reopens; customers can expect some changes — but the bar will still look familiar. He said the size wouldn’t be significantly changed when it reopens, but there will be some nice surprises.
Wasson said it’s possible he’ll be able to open sometime in the summer, but that his ultimate goal is to be open by the end of September — which will mark Rooster’s 37th anniversary.
“We’re still holding it all together and looking forward to the future. When you own a business you feel responsible for your employees and family,” Wasson said. “The building on Belvedere Road is nothing without them.”
Find Rooster’s on Facebook by searching “HGRoosters.”