By Melisa Szymanski
Address: 4019 Granby Street, Norfolk VA
My wife and I sat at a white linen lined four top table and while waiting for our server at MJ’s Tavern, and I before being greeted, I began fumbling with the recording mic I was using to interview the owner- I didn’t much about John Childers or MJ’s Tavern. I looked for John amongst the place’s patrons and soon realized at the dark mahogany bar with a group of people demanding his attention, the guy in the black cowboy hat was, indeed, John. I mean, it had to be. I approached him, and his energy immediately translated into that immediate feeling you get when you instantaneously like someone. Upon introductions, we decided to conduct this interview in his office, where it was a bit quieter but not completely free of the clatter and chatter of the bar, which I think he preferred, and while it took me a few minutes to coerce him back there as people were trying to talk to him, getting him to look at or sign something, or just craving his attentions, we got there. I see now why MJ’s is becoming a magnificent Norfolk staple for the community.
Its simple yet festive décor of pride flags, a video loop on a tv of its guests, and its warm comfortable vibe encompasses the candor and vigor of its owners. Jointly, John Childers and Mike Diaz, together since 2008 and married in 2015, opened MJs in 2012 with the hopes to provide a place where all are welcome, and a no hate policy is strictly enforced. I asked John why a bar like MJ’s when so many were closing in the area, he said he wanted, “to give people a place to be themselves. This is my home. You should feel like you’re at home here except when you leave, you have to pay your tab.” That’s not the only reason MJ’s is unique. Arguably, many would say “gay friendly” bars are no longer needed as acceptance and inclusivity progress in society, yet it was not so long ago LGBTQIA bars blacked out their windows to, in effect, hide what or who, was inside. MJ’s windows are not blacked out. The openness and visibility this bar gives is something John strived for, “when we decided to open MJ’s, we decided we were going to break the mold. And we had seen a restaurant in DC that was a restaurant by day and a bar by night. I said to Mike, ‘I am tired of hiding who we are.” and it may cost me some customers, but in the long run, people who are open minded will be ok here.” This is a big reason LGBTQIA bars are still, and will continue to be important as they are a place where anyone, regardless of orientation or identity can come to and feel safe. MJ’s doors are open to everybody. Whether to eat a delicious meal, have a stiff drink, become more involved in the community-they are part of many events and charitable organizations-, or just be yourself and have a good time with friends, visit MJ’s Tavern, where love is love, and all are welcome.
The full interview with John Childers is available. Please feel free to have a listen and learn more about MJ’s Tavern!