Colorado Springs has more than a few places where a person can find a bar with a great vibe, have a good bite to eat and enjoy it with a delicious cocktail that fits their tastes, made to order by a bartender who is both skilled and accommodating. But there’s something more to ICONS, the new LGBTQIA+ bar on Bijou Street co-owned by Josh Franklin and John Wolfe, who are fiancés. It occupies a unique niche in the city — one that has, to our memory, never quite been filled before. Not by the storied Hide ’n’ Seek, V-Bar, The Underground or sole contemporary Club Q.
“It’s vastly different from anything anybody has tried before for this community,” says Wolfe. “I think the community is to the point where there are enough people that just want to go have a conversation and meet new people, and not necessarily grind on the dance floor, but enjoy a nice cocktail and some entertainment and make new friends.”
Before opening ICONS, Springs native Franklin and native West Virginian Wolfe had long-running careers in theater, having written, acted in, directed and sung in Broadway and touring productions. But after Franklin returned for a Colorado Springs Philharmonic New Year’s Eve concert in 2019, he wanted to stay and put down roots. Despite the expansion of the Springs’ queer community (see Queer & There, Jan. 20, 2021), they were surprised to find that downtown didn’t have any gay bars at all.
“The motivation behind [ICONS] was opening up a place that we would want to go,” says Wolfe. “And kind of a broader spectrum of inclusiveness, you know. It really is open to everyone, and [accommodating] the different demographics within the queer community was important to us.”
“Everyone that’s come there has really appreciated that and felt that, whether they are male, female, black, white, gay, straight, trans… every single person feels at home in our space,” says Franklin.
The décor’s classy, with murals depicting famous icons of queer culture like Lady Gaga and The Golden Girls. Each restroom has a theme: One feels like a dressing room and features a mirror with a boa and several pairs of gaudy heels attached to the walls and ceiling in a fabulously tacky conga line. And they do one more major thing to make ICONS not only feel welcoming but special: Every bartender, Franklin and Wolfe included, sings. When we first visit, the two kick off the evening with a Broadway-grade duet that gets the whole bar laughing and applauding. And since we’re in the middle of COVID lockdowns, it’s worth noting that the “stage” area near the front looks like an aquarium. Tipping the performing bartenders is polite, but tapping on the dividing glass panels is clearly not.
Almost every drink on the menu has a name inspired by a queer or queer-allied celebrity, all of which started as dad joke-grade puns (a crucial part of Franklin and Wolfe’s relationship) before they became drinks. The Dolly Patrón, for instance, has a base of tequila and orange juice with crème de rose for a little sweetness, served in a pink glass in homage to Dolly herself. It’s exactly what it should be: fruity, easy to drink and strong. For those who want it dirty, the Ricky Martini’s made with Lee Spirits Co. Ginfuego, mixed with olive brine and served with two olives, a strong sip for drinkers who know what they want and want plenty of it.
For something a little more sensitive, the Frank blue Ocean, made with Mount Gay rum, has a tropical sweet booziness with a clean finish that puts us on our knees like a bad religion. And when Franklin and Wolfe came up with the name Bette Muddler, they riffed on an old fashioned, blending Axe and the Oak whiskey with orange bitters and maraschino cherries, then finishing with soda water. Of course, for simple, toast-worthy drinks, there’s The ICON, which cannot be topped. Bottom line, a simple mix of Chambord and on-tap Prosecco hits the spot whether at noon or at midnight. Finally, while it’s hard for a Moscow Mule to really stand out, the Elyxis Rose Mule, made with Absolut Elyx vodka and crème de rose, ticks all relevant boxes and has a little something extra from that floral quality.
As for the food, is it really a gay bar without some nice buns? Each comes stuffed with thick piece of meat from Sara’s Sausage in Palmer Lake (or, for vegans, a damn good vegan sausage that can only obtusely become a lesbian-friendly innuendo). The menu’s specialty hot dogs get their names from famous gayborhoods and queer-friendly cities. The Castro, for instance, comes on a King’s Hawaiian sweet bun, topped with “the San Francisco treat” of cheesy Rice-A-Roni and bacon bits, which sounds odd until the booze kicks in and Franklin and Wolfe have sung another charming duet, at which point it becomes just about the best drinking food out there. The Philly — “Center City” doesn’t have much of a ring to it — embodies the soul of the signature sandwich of the City of Brotherly Love herself, with excellent grill-char flavor on both the meat and the peppers and onions, plus plenty of cheese sauce. Consider also the West Hollywood, piled with avocado and fried onions upon which balsamic honey gets totally lost, or the Boys Town, a play on the classic Chicago dog.
For all that, it’s not a trip to ICONS without a mouthful of Franklin’s warm, salty nuts. His recipe blows us away. These mixed nuts come seasoned with brown sugar, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, smoked salt and fried onions, somehow achieving a can’t-get-enough savoriness with just a little sweetness and warming pepper heat at the end. We insist on introducing our second-visit guests to those lovely nuts as a matter of principle; we haven’t seen a snack quite so tempting at a bar in some time.
Stepping away from the restaurant-review curtain and speaking as a queer person, visiting ICONS wasn’t just a typical great time out. Having a space where I can be unreservedly, unapologetically and loudly queer, where I can swap saucy banter with the bartenders and be affectionate in public without worrying about potentially violent consequences, where people like me are the target audience instead of a bonus or afterthought, there’s no price that can be put on that.