Milton Howard is a warm and quick-witted gentleman who has lived in North Carolina all of his life. Many Charlotteans and visitors alike have partied, chilled and relaxed in spaces Howard has managed or owned. For many, it was most likely The Nickel Bar, a quaint little bar and grill on the West side of Charlotte that remained in business for a solid decade. 

Howard is also a homeowner with a knack for growing plants and vegetables. His home is surrounded by lush banana trees. Guests who come to visit, depending on the time of the year, can expect a tour of the grounds and also look forward to gifts of plump and delicious tomatoes and tasty zucchini and collard greens he grows in his backyard garden. 

Inside you’ll find a welcoming and well-decorated home usually accompanied by cordials he skillfully mixes and maybe a slice of rum cake. 

During this candid conversation, Howard shares some of his thoughts on overcoming difficult and heartbreaking experiences, as well as how he finds joy along the way.

L’Monique King: Where in North Carolina are you originally from?

Milton Howard: Originally, Huntersville North Carolina

LMK: How long have you lived in Charlotte, and what part of town are you in?

MH: I’ve always been in Charlotte. Charlotte and Huntersville are right next door [to each other] and I live in West Charlotte.

LMK: It’s not easy to meet a native Charlottean. Why haven’t you ever relocated? Why have you stayed for so long? 

MH: It’s always been home and my connections, my roots are too deep here to have uprooted and left. I’m grounded in Charlotte. I love Charlotte. It’s big but not too big. It’s still a friendly town and a growing city with plenty of options. You can always get away, whether to the mountains or the beach or by plane to a travel destination if need be.

LMK: Are you partnered? Do you have a special someone in your life?

MH: Yes, I have a husband, Leon. We will have been happily married for three years on February 21st.

LMK: Congratulations and happy upcoming anniversary. As one of Charlotte’s first and few Black LGBT Bar owners can you share a little bit about how you got started?

MH: I became a Black LGBT club promoter in April of 1990. I became a bar owner in 2009. Nickel Bar was the original dream I had in 1990 but as with everything, God doesn’t give you things until you are ready or it’s in his time. In Feb of 2009 I became the owner of Nickel Bar. It was a safe neighborhood LGBTQ bar that catered to the community. It was a place where everyone could feel at home – a nonjudgmental zone. In 2019 the Nickel Bar property was sold and as a result, had to close.

LMK: Knowing that business ownership comes with challenges, what would you say was most difficult about operating a bar?

MH: Ummm, Loaded question. I would say keeping the community engaged. There were a lot of people who wanted to shit on the bar, calling it a hole in the wall and things like that. There were people who just didn’t want to see the bar succeed.

LMK: But it did succeed, and for 10 years at that. Do you miss operating the Nickel Bar?

MH: Uum, yes and no. <Chuckling> Yes, because I miss the people and making connections with them. No, because I love the freedom of not having to grind every weekend and holiday.

LMK: What are you doing now?

MH: I’m back to my original career [within the arena of] healthcare. I work with the Medicaid population, ensuring that they receive quality care. [Then, there’s Bar Argon.] Due to customer demand, Bar Argon opened. The owners saw a need for the Black LGBT community to continue the tradition that had been built at Nickel Bar. So now, I’m a guest promoter at Bar Argon.

LMK: What words of advice would you give to those interested in becoming bar owners?

MH: Business is hard. You have internet dating to compete with when bars used to be a primary location for meeting folks. Business can also be hard because of diversification as well. Diversification of the area has weakened the strength of the LGBT community and the feeling of community we experienced in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

LMK: As a Black gay trailblazer in the Charlotte LGBTQ Bar scene, what does Black History Month mean to you and why is it important?

MH: [It’s] everything. It recognizes the contributions of our community, from contributions to basic life needs to elements of entertainment.

LMK: In March of 2021 your 18-year-old son, Milton Howard II died. Having faced a parent’s worst nightmare, how do you stay sane after having experienced such a painful and unnatural occurrence?

MH: I don’t have a choice. I have another son and a grandson [Milton Howard II’s child]. I have to persevere. I have to be their history and I have to be a part of their future. I have to be a part of their decisions and their legacy.

LMK: As a father, what thoughts would you share or want to say to the parents of Tyre Nichols (the young man who recently lost his life at the hands of Memphis police officers) and others who have had the misfortune of outliving their children?

MH: You will never get past it. You’ll be reminded daily but you have to keep moving because as parents that is what we do, that is who we are, because we have too many people depending on us to fail them.

LMK: How do you find joy? What do you do for fun?

MH: Traveling!

LMK: Do you have a favorite travel destination?

MH: So far, Africa. There’s a game reserve I really like [and I like] Cape Town, Johannesburg and Soweto.

LMK: Share something most folks don’t know about you?

MH: I’m an avid reader of politics, culture and the arts.

LMK: As a final thought, what would you say are your dreams for the LGBTQ community?

MH: To reunite, and [make] this city a destination point.

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