FLINT, Michigan — Since he was a kid in Flint, Robert Roland always dreamed of owning a bar. However, life and a 17-year period working for General Motors kept him from pursuing it. “I never had time because I had to go to work every day. And I didn’t want to quit my job to try it out,” he laughs, identifying the reason for the delay outside his business, Rob’s G Bar & Grill, which overlooks the Kearsley Reservoir off Layton Blvd in Flint.
Yet, when the opportunity finally arrived, Roland didn’t anticipate that he would have to reveal that he was a Black gay man publically. Never living his life in secret, particularly after having told his parents when he was 18 years old, he found a community in Flint where “it was 300 of us during those days,” Roland remembers. It’s how he and several others became famously known for their house parties that catered almost exclusively to LGBTQ+ people.
They became a staple for Flint’s then-large queer population, which slowly disappeared after the closing of The Triangle off Dort Hwy. It’s bringing back that community and making his bar inclusive to people from all walks of life which is central to Rob’s G Bar & Grill. Flintside caught up with the bar owner to discuss opening a bar in Flint, the services offered, and Roland’s goals for the future.
Flintside: What made you open a place like this in Flint?
: “A couple of people came to me and said they wanted to have a group and have a party and everything. We decided to do a picnic, and I did that, and I ended up here every day, six days a week. I always thought about running a bar but never had time because I had to go to work every day. I didn’t want to quit my job and try it out. After I look back, I wish I would have, but hindsight is 20-20, and I can’t go back and unwind.”
Flintside: When you look back at that dream, do you feel what’s happening today is in alignment with it?
: “If I had my bar in my 20s, we wouldn’t have lost the community. People seem real fractured off, and I wanna bring the community back. When I was in my twenties, we all knew each other by name and saw each other all the time. Now, people don’t know each other, and they come to the bar and have never seen each other before. [But] that’s the goal. You get people to come and have a good time together. I want it to be a nice, robust time. [Being a community is hard] if you don’t know each other. So, have a drink and make a friend.”
Roland seated outside his bar, recalling the heyday of Flint's vibrant LGBTQ+ community on September 20, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)Flintside: What does Rob’s G-Bar & Grill offer?
: “You can come when you’re 18 but can’t drink until 21. There’s no cover charge; we’re open six days a week. Tuesday through Thursday at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. Sunday, we’re open at 6 p.m. There’s Taco and Tequila Tuesday, Open Mic Night Wednesday, Thirsty Thursdays, Wells Fridays, Sassy Saturday, and Old School Sunday. Everybody has something they can do. We also serve catfish, chicken wings, and fries. We have the bar side where you can hear yourself talk. Then the club side where you there to dance.”
Flintside: You also allow people to rent the space to host different events. Please share a little bit about that.
: “It’s a one-stop shop. You get staff, the bar, and access to the kitchen. There’s a full kitchen, so you can’t go wrong. We do drag shows, listening, and album release parties. We had a mini-ball. We have a Halloween Party on October 21 with a $1000 costume prize. I want to become the spot where everybody knows they can come to be safe, feel comfortable and welcomed.”
Flintside: There’s a lot you offer, but were there any reservations about creating all of this?
: “I was a little nervous about advertising and basically telling the whole world. It bothered me a bit, but I’m glad I’ve gotten over it because I’m almost 50, and people have probably already figured it out anyway. And then feeling like you tried and nobody appreciated it. But I tell people all the time, this is the best job I’ve ever had. I enjoy meeting new people and having good conversations. I’m an Aries, so I like everybody having a good time.”
Roland smiles outside his business on September 20, 2023. (Anthony Summers | Flintside)Flintside: It feels like you’re on a mission with this bar. When it comes down to it, it’s not just a safe space for LGBTQ+ people, it’s an open invitation to everyone. Is that intentional?
: “I try to make it a family atmosphere. I want everybody to come here to know each other’s names. I want everybody to be cool like we used to be back in the day. And I want everybody to have a place where you can go and just let down your hair and be you without judgment. I want it to be all-inclusive — everybody’s welcome. I’m here. I’ll make sure it ain’t no problems.”
Flintside: There’s a generation that knows who you are, but a new one is getting introduced to you. What do you want people to take away from Rob’s G Bar & Grill?
: “I’ve always been here for the community. I will always be here for the community. You’ll find me pretty likable if you come and talk to me. If I can help anybody, I always will. I’m just that person. I want people to have a sense of community because we don’t have that much anymore. We have good vibes, food, drinks, and libations so I want everybody to give the bar a chance.”
Rob’s G Bar & Grill is located at 2713 Layton Blvd in Flint. Find and follow its Facebook page to learn more about the bar.
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