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406 Pride reflects on the loss of Billings Loft nightclub

The Loft empty on Tuesday
Posted at 6:01 PM, Jan 30, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-31 12:39:42-05

BILLINGS — After 26 years of long nights on the dance floor, The Loft in Billings is taking a break that could be permanent.

"They come in and they leave everything at the door, their problems,” said Randy Napier, the general manager of The Loft for nearly 26 years, on Tuesday. "That’s the way it used to be."

It's been a long-time safe space for letting loose.

"We wanted to include everybody in here where it was safe and that’s how we’ve maintained for all these years,” Napier said.

Randy Napier
Randy Napier

The Loft Dance Club has been a Billings nightlife staple for nearly 26 years—but this Thursday, it’s closing its doors.

"Since Covid, the late-night dance crowd is just really not what it used to be,” Napier said. "We’re just putting this into hibernation. Our casino and everything else will stay open seven days a week."

Napier says the pandemic caused a drop in attendance at the Thursday through Saturday dance club that first opened in 1998 as a gay bar.

"Bill (the owner) had wanted to open up a gay bar for all the gay people in Billings. So we did and it was a great club. It was like a little 'Cheers' bar, everybody came in and had fun,” Napier said. "It became really popular and very crowded. So in 2004, we bought this and it took a year to renovate it and we moved in here. It is a very large building. We just opened it up to everybody."

The Loft sign
The Loft sign

The Loft had since rebranded as a safe space for all, and the LGBTQ+ community still called it home.

Now they’re left without many options.

"I think the biggest concern that I have heard is that, you know we’re losing a focal point and a dance club,” said Walt Donges, the vice president of 406 Pride, on Tuesday. "What we do to relax is to go to a safe place, and we dance and we have a few drinks and we enjoy that camaraderie inside of that."

Walt Donges
Walt Donges

Donges is the former president of 406 Pride, a Billings LGBTQ+ resource center, and says losing The Loft will have a large impact.

"It’s going to be a dynamic change for the LGBT community," Donges said. "We don’t have a single place that we’re going to back up to and go to now because we are accepted as an LGBT community pretty widely in the business world. And so going somewhere and having a good time as a gay person is still an option. But you won’t have that sense of security that The Loft had. They were always well-policed and controlled and had no problems."

But that doesn’t mean it’s the end for safe spaces.

"The Pub Station’s offering that, Grace United is now offering a queer adult night in the city. Phatty’s (formally Cajun Phatty's, located near Town & Country Grocery) is very supportive. Before they were in there, Midway was very supportive. Some of the breweries have been hosting our events,” said Donges.

Napier said The Loft isn't completely closing. The space can still be rented out and their mobile trolley, Lulu, will still operate. Wild Willy's Casino will remain open at its regular hours.

"If you want to do a bar crawl, give me a call. The trolley is still running seven days a week,” Napier said. “Everything is active, we’re just not doing Thursday, Friday, or Saturday dancing here. It’s going to be private parties and things like that."

Napier hopes to one day re-open the dance club and return it to its former glory.

The dancefloor at The Loft when it was open
The dancefloor at The Loft when it was open

Donges wanted to thank The Loft for 26 years of good times.

“We’re going to miss those opportunities but I wish Randy well and Bill," Donges said. "I hope that they have a good life. And retire! Because I’m retired and enjoy it!”

For more information on The Loft's announcement, click here.

For more information on 406 Pride, click here.