Tony Lantz: Finding a home in Philly, at U Bar

Tony Lantz: Finding a home in Philly, at U Bar

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“Fill with mingled cream and amber,

I will drain that glass again.

Such hilarious visions clamber

Through the chamber of my brain —

Quaintest thoughts — queerest fancies

Come to life and fade away;

What care I how time advances?

I am drinking ale today.”

— Edgar Allen Poe

Well, if you are in the mood for the queerest fancies or some cold ale, make your way over to Locust Street and see this week’s Portrait, Tony Lantz. The handsome former military man has been a staple for 15 years at U Bar (originally known as Uncles) and can be found pouring libations Wednesdays through Sundays.

PGN: Let’s start with your last name. Where does Lantz come from?

TL: It’s German/Irish, from my dad’s side obviously. My mother is from Sattahip, Thailand, which is where I was born. My dad was in the Army and my mom used to clean his bungalow and they fell in love. The result was my sister and then I came a little after. We moved to the States when I was about a year old. We were stationed in Hawaii and I went to school there for a couple of years.

PGN: Don’t suppose you had any precocious, also biracial, future presidents in your class, did you?

TL: Ha! I don’t know! Maybe. But I actually spent most of my formative years in West Virginia. That’s where my father is from and we moved there when I was about 7.

PGN: Have you been back to Hawaii or Thailand?

TL: No, but my aunt is planning a trip to Thailand next year and my younger brother is planning a trip to Hawaii the year after that.

PGN: [Laughs] You definitely spent your formative years below the Mason-Dixon line; I can hear a little Southern lilt in your voice.

TL: I lived in Wheeling, W.V., until I was 17 and then I joined the Navy to get out of there, but yeah, I still have a trace of the accent.

PGN: How did you end up here?

TL: I was stationed in Philadelphia for two years when the shipyard was still open and I fell in love with the city. I didn’t have a vehicle, so I loved the transportation system and I enjoyed just walking around people watching. I made some good friends too while I was here.

PGN: Was there much of a Thai community in Wheeling?

TL: A little bit. My mother had a lot of Thai friends there. She passed away from breast cancer when I was 13, but her friends would all come to the house and I remember them cooking all sorts of traditional meals and playing Thai poker for fun. 

PGN: What were some of your interests in school?

TL: I was active in radio communications. We had our own little station and I would play music and DJ. It was fun.

PGN: So Mr. DJ, do you know your song?

TL: Of course! “Almost heaven/West Virginia/Blue Ridge Mountains/Shenandoah River … ” John Denver. We had to sing that in grade school and junior high.

PGN: And you have two siblings?

TL: Yes, they’re both in Ohio now. They went west and I went east. I knew I was gay and wanted to go someplace where I could find other gay folks. For some reason, I thought there were no gay people in West Virginia.

PGN: Well, the media portrays big cities as the only place to find us.

TL: Yes, and I felt safe in Philadelphia. Even though the Gayborhood, where Uncles was and U Bar is, wasn’t the safest place back then. There used to be a lot of drug dealing and prostitution right out front, people would scream “Faggot!” through the window and throw things at the building. I’ve been there 15 years and it’s totally different now; now everyone wants to come in to the point where you sometimes feel, “Hey, this is our bar!” Before, it was fairly clandestine; you’d come in from the alleyway down Camac. Now we have open windows right out front on Locust Street.

PGN: I remember when the clubs used to get raided on a regular basis unless they paid off the police.

TL: And now we have LGBT officers coming in with their partners.

PGN: Didn’t there used to be an apartment on top of the place?

TL: Yes, now it’s a bed and breakfast called The Inn on Camac.

PGN: How old were you when you first came out?

TL: I was in the Navy from 1987-91and I was stationed here in dry dock for two years. When the ship got fixed, we went to Norfolk for two years and then when my time was up I came back to Philly.

PGN: Were you out in the military?

TL: No. In fact, I worked shore patrol for a few months and we would catch people and throw them out. It was horrifying. I did hang around with other people I knew were gay but it was unspoken.

PGN: What was the closest you came to being discovered?

TL: I was with a friend of mine in a car — we were actually changing our clothes to go out for the night — and a police officer caught us. He said that we were naked in the car and took us back to the ship but the upper command threw it out because he had no proof that anything was going on other than two guys changing for a night out.

PGN: Had there been something going on?

TL: Of course! We actually were changing our clothes when he saw us because when you leave the ship you are required to wear certain clothing — a collared shirt, dress pants, etc. — and we wanted something more casual. A lot of the servicemen would change in cars or wherever after leaving the ship so it wasn’t a big deal, but in our case we had been kissing shortly before the cop busted us for being undressed. Fortunately, he didn’t see that; he just knew something was up.

PGN: Were you going to a gay club?

TL: Oh no, we would have been too scared. We didn’t even know where they were. We were just going to hang out on South Street.

PGN: So when did you officially come out?

TL: I moved back here in 1991. A friend of mine in the Navy had a brother who started hanging out with me when I moved back. One day he asked if I wanted to go to a bar with him. I said sure and he took me to Uncles! I didn’t even know he was gay and when I stopped and said, “Uh, is this a gay bar?” he said, “Yes, aren’t you gay?” I of course stammered, “No … ” [Laughs] End of story. We were in a relationship for 10 years.

PGN: That’s funny.

TL: Yeah, this is actually his sister’s house. I bought it from her, then we broke up and he moved out and now I live here with my partner Doug and we’ve been together for 16 years. He’s the love of my life.

PGN: How did you meet and what does he do?

TL: [Laughs] My ex and his ex were friends! We knew each other for years before we got together. He works at AutoZone as a manager; he’s very butch!

PGN: And have you put a ring on it?

TL: No, we will eventually. We have a daughter who’s turning 20 next week. She was 6 when we got together. I want to make sure they’re protected so we’re going to make it legal soon.

PGN: Speaking of butch, did you ever face combat?

TL: No, I was in service during the Persian Gulf War. When the war broke out, we had to sit in the water for three months, at the ready 24/7, 12 hours on and 12 hours off but we never got called. I would have made a career of it, but I knew I was gay and I didn’t want to have to hide it anymore. I’m glad I didn’t because I never would have found my dream job. I love bartending here.

PGN: What was one of your wackiest moments at the bar?

TL: I had this guy come in one day screaming about the alien invasion and telling me that I needed to shut and lock the big windows in front. He was shouting, “They’re coming now! Hurry! Close the doors!” We had a full crowd and I was trying to get him out and he was running circles around the bar ripping his shirt off as he warned everyone. We finally got him out but I did go and shut the windows. What if he was right?

PGN: Better safe than sorry! What’s the worst pick-up line someone’s tried on you?

TL: I had this guy offer to take me on a cruise in the Mediterranean. He told me that Carrie Fisher was going to be on the ship and then he said, “and you’d only have to pay half of the costs to go with me!” Not that I would have gone, but if you’re trying to pick someone up by offering to take them on a cruise, you don’t make them pay their way. But then he came back and told me he got to sing karaoke with Carrie Fisher on the ship so maybe I should have! JK!

PGN: I understand that you have a large collection of celebrity-encounter photos. How did that come about?

TL: When I was in the Navy, I would go to the Bob Hope shows. He used to do those USO shows and when he was in town, he liked to have servicemen come to his shows. I got to meet him once when I was stationed in California and take a picture shaking his hand. Also, working at the bar, people are always giving me tips about who is in town and where. I’m a big Adam Lambert fan, so when he was in town, some of my bar patrons told me that he was in a restaurant down the street, so I ran down and stalked … ahem, I mean, ran into him and said hi. A lot of the people I meet at the bar work at theaters and venues around town and they’ll send me a text: ‘Hey, if you want to meet so and so, they’ll be leaving the theater or hotel at this time,” so I’ll run down and shake their hand or get a picture. It’s fun!

PGN: You’ve got the inside scoop!

TL: I try! And if that doesn’t work, you can almost always pay for a meet and greet with most celebs.

PGN: Who was your favorite?

TL: Lady Gaga. She was just starting out and she was really nervous. Her hands were shaking and she said, “Yeah, I have a song called ‘Bad Romance,’ it’s doing really well.” I’m going to meet her in September again. It’s amazing to see how much she’s changed since then, so much more confident.

PGN: What was your worst celebrity encounter?

TL: The meanest was Cyndi Lauper. She just yelled at everyone backstage and was really impatient, but she put on an amazing show so I forgave her. I still love her. Justin Bieber was the worst. He was hungover and couldn’t be bothered. I took my niece and we were trying to do something fun for the picture since he was just standing there, so we struck a “Charlie’s Angels” pose. The photographer snapped the picture as he was rolling his eyes. It’s actually pretty funny.

PGN: Tell me about your daughter.

TL: She was going to EMT school but she went to see her first cadaver and that was the end of that. She just moved to Virginia with her girlfriend but I think they’re coming back. She’s a good kid. It’s funny, they’re engaged but we’re not!

PGN: OK, a few arbitrary questions. “Star Wars” or “Star Trek”?

TL: I love “Star Wars.”

PGN: Where were you when 9/11 happened?

TL: In the Bahamas with Doug. It was surreal because they had it on these jumbo TVs in the resort lobby, so it was everywhere you looked. It was heartbreaking. I went into the reserves after leaving the Navy so I wasn’t sure if I was going to get called back in or not. But it wasn’t likely as I’d been out for some time. As it was, we got stuck on the island for a few extra days because no planes were going to the States.

PGN: What was coming out to your military father like?

TL: We never really spoke about it, but when I brought Doug home to meet him he said, “Are you going to take good care of my son?” and when Doug said yes, he said, “And that other [expletive] is out of the picture?” and Doug said yes and that’s the only time it was ever mentioned. He passed away about a year later, about 15 years ago.

PGN: Which celebrity would be your hall pass?

TL: Chris Pratt, I love him.

PGN: Which one of the Seven Dwarves describes you best?

TL: I feel I am all the Seven Dwarves wrapped up into one!

PGN: What is your sign, and what traits of that sign do you have?

TL: Scorpio, we love hard and fall hard [laughs] and we dwell where we shouldn’t.

PGN: What would be one good thing about being the opposite sex?

TL: If I could be the opposite sex I’d enjoy changing my appearance often, hair and clothes and everything.

PGN: Best Christmas present ever?

TL: The best Christmas gift I ever received was a one-speaker boom box my parents gave me when I was 10, made me fall in love with music.

PGN: Have you ever been gay-bashed or discriminated against?

TL: I always felt like the black sheep of the world until I moved to Philly and realized I wasn’t the only person who was different and that it was OK. Philadelphia saved my life by accepting me with open arms. n

For more information on U Bar, visit www.ubarphilly.com.

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