As many of us in the community of Fresno, have likley heard already, there was a fire at one of Fresno’s most frequented and well know gay dance clubs/bars, the North Tower Circle.
In a conversation with owner Virgil Wigley, he said, "I received a call from my alarm company around 3:40am on Monday, September 26th, asking if I wanted a police unit dispatched to the scene because the alarms were going off." Initially, it was unknown as to whether there was a robbery taking place or not. A taxi driver soon after, reported to emergency officials that the bar was on fire and fire units were sent to the scene. Virgil and other North Tower Circle employees arrived at the bar around 5:00am, where they learned the bar had been damaged by a fire.
According to bartender, and long time employee of the North Tower Circle, Thomas FitzGerald, "The entire dance floor, all of the lighting, as well as the back patio were destroyed." Thomas also said, "There was severe damage from heat which melted all of the cash registers, games, straws, and the ATM machine." The bar owner also indicated that there is smoke damage to the entire bar, including the back office.
After the fire department had extinguished the fire, and fire investigators arrived, the owners and employees were allowed back into the bar around noon the same day. The insurance company is still assessing damages, and according to Virgil, he mentioned, "There is approximately $250,000 of damage to the building and anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 worth of damage to the contents within the bar. The investigation is still ongoing, and a final decision from the bars insurance carrier has not been officially made."
An accelerant was found towards the back of the building in an area around the stage, but fire investigators have not released further information as to what that accelerant was. As of now, the fire is not being investigated as a hate crime.
When asked about the future of the bar, Virgil made the comment, "If the building is a total loss, it may or may not be rebuilt, which will be decided by the limits on the insurance policy."
Employees of the bar have been instructed to file for unemployment as the insurance company, fire investigators, and Virgil make a decision as to whether or not to re-build and/or re-open the bar.
Until then, clientele are being referred to another bar owned by Virgil Wigley, the Red Lantern, which is located downtown on Belmont. All of the functions that would usually be taking place at the Circle have now been moved to the Lantern, including drag shows put on by the IDC and this years Leatherfest.
On a personal note, the Circle has served an incredibly important part in my life as a young gay man growing up in the city of Fresno. It was the first gay bar I ever entered at the age of 21. I have very fond memories with friends, staff, and many functions that have been held at the bar throughout the years. I wish the staff, James, Thomas, Chris and Earl, as well as the owner, Virgil all the best in whatever the turn out may be for the future of the North Tower Circle. You guys have provided many memories for the people in our community, myself included, and for that, you will always be remembered.
Contact the writer at: Nathan@gayfresno.com