SALISBURY — The LGBT-themed nightly events at a local restaurant and bar in this small city along North Carolina’s I-85 have ended among claims that the bar owner bowed to anti-gay pressure and gay event organizers failed to uphold their end of the business deal.

In the Dec. 13 issue, Q-Notes profiled some of the progress being made in Salisbury, including a look at the gay-themed bar nights at George’s Italian Grill and Bar. Community members and partners Ryan Olsen, 30, and Greg Ashley, 29, had organized the Wednesday through Sunday events. The town has no official gay or lesbian bar.

Less than a week after the Dec. 13 issue hit the stands, news that the gay nights at George’s were coming to an end made its way to the email list of The Greater Rowan County Gay Alliance, a small Salisbury social networking website.

“Some of you may have heard by now that George’s Italian Grill and Bar in downtown Salisbury has decided to stop hosting gay nights,” the email read. “This is in reaction to four local business owners stating that hosting gay events would ruin their business. Unfortunately George’s caved into the small amount of pressure from a few local bigots.”

Grill and Bar George Ortega denied the claims that he ended the events due to anti-gay business pressure. “That’s not true,” he told Q-Notes. “I treat everyone the same.”

Olsen said the internet-circulated claims about the closing of the gay nights were true and that a person close to Ortega had first relayed to them the story of the four businessman.

Ortega told Q-Notes that a lack of profit was the reason for the bar events’ end. “This is a business,” Ortega said. “We have to pay rent. We have to pay the mortgage. If we don’t make any money, how are we going to keep it going.”

Olsen said that during the seven weeks their events took place, bar revenue increased. “It was $200 the very first week and just seven weeks later it was $1000,” he said. “About four weeks into our events George came to us and wanted to give us Thursdays through Sundays, too. He needed to understand that those extra days weren’t going to take off like Wednesday. Salisbury is a small town.”

The bar owner also accused the couple of drinking too much and not fulfilling their end of the business relationship, which called on Ortega to staff the bar and Olsen and Ashley to take care of the door and entertainment. In exchange, Ortega would receive the bar monies and the couple would receive the money made at the door.

“It’s nothing personal — we treated them like family — but they got drunk and in the last moment, they lost the line,” Ortega said. “They are supposed to be hosts and security and try to make people feel fine without getting drunk themselves.”

Olsen flatly denied accusations he and Ashley were drunk while working. “We did drink, but we were not getting drunk,” he said. “[Ortega] allowed us to drink.” He added that he believes Ortega is using the money situation to hide the real reason for the events’ end.

The couple is currently looking for a new venue to host their gay bar event. Olsen said more information could be found in the future at

— Correction: In the Dec. 13 article on this issue,
Q-Notes incorrectly identified Ryan Olsen’s age as 39. He is 30. Q-Notes apologizes for this error.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

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